firechildren August 22nd, 2020

Hamba Kahle, James A kind and gentle giant has died. James Partridge. It was a pleasure to know you. We first met when I brought little Dorah (3) to Britain. Her face and hands were burned away. After initial surgery at Moorfields Eye Hospital at some stage, I can’t quite remember when, but it was early 1998, James came to meet us where a generous family had accommodated us in Takely, Essex. Of course he was shocked to meet Dorah. Everyone was. But he hid any negative feelings that he felt and started to link us to other kind people, surgeons, disability specialists. And so the strands of our lives plaited together. We might not talk for ages, then daily, then big gaps again. But it was good knowing that he was there because he understood. To lose one’s face to fire, not that many people have in common. James visited our base in South Africa on several occasions. He met many of the child and young-adult burns survivors that we help. He gave his first book to some of them. James visited squatter camps with us to understand the root cause of many African burns injuries – poverty so dire that it is beyond the average Briton’s understanding. He saw our work to find pragmatic alternatives to the open fuel lighting, heating and cooking sources which carelessly or violently had altered so many burned children’s lives. He lectured to students at the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School. Once we visited a Catholic mission, Sizanani, near Bronkhorstspruit together. Even though the nuns and nurses looked after people with a range of disabilities, they could not help but stare at James. He noticed – as all of us in the burns fraternity always notice – and he disarmed them with his deep voice, direct gaze, firm handshake and a broad smile. “What’s the matter?” he said, “haven’t you ever seen someone from Britain before?” They laughed with relief, because it was the gentlest way to tell them off for their rudeness. That was just part of the magic of James. When one of our volunteers needed a desk in a London office, he made space for him at Changing Faces near Euston for a couple of months. And when we were beset with cruelty by Harrow Council Social Services, James wrote and explained how ignorant the social workers’ approach was. He was astounded at their audacity to challenge the number of operations that Dorah had had, on the basis of no medical training whatsoever. He explained to them with graphic images, how much surgery he had had and that if Dorah had not been born into poverty in another country, how much more surgery she should have had. James was incensed when he read a Harrow social worker’s report where she suggested that Dorah’s face should be covered by a scarf in public and told us that the Council had breached the Equality Act. He offered to come to Court with us, even when he was ill with cancer and undergoing regular medical treatment, to fight for the human rights of a burned child. You are gone too soon, James. So many will miss you. Thank you for being a personal friend, a friend to Dorah and Tristan, and a friend to Children of Fire. Bronwen Jones BEM, Founder, Children of Fire, Johannesburg, South Africa