M. Chairman,


If you happened to have been

in Bordeaux,  in    Southwest  France..  last year 

you might have seen a  newspaper 

in which the  Headline  on  page  one   read    

 “Sarah's leg has been found!”      


What did this mean?


Well, there is a Medical school in Bordeaux

and someone had been  poking around

in the basement of the Anatomy Bldg

and had come across a  preserved body part

which they somehow concluded.

was the leg of famous French actress

Sarah Bernhardt…  

amputated by a Bordeaux surgeon in 1915.


A Spokesman for the medical school

said that Bernhardt’ leg had not been lost…

just forgotten. and now it had been found

and was to  be put on display…

to honour famous actress.


Well, hold on here, not so fast…


A  local historian pointed out  

that the specimen was a left leg,

and it was the right leg

that Bernhardt had amputated.


The whole episosode was a little embarrassing

but nevertheless it serves to remind us

about this amazing woman.


Who was she?


Sarah. was French. 

She was  born in 1844…

Her parents were shady characters

but she…

was beautiful, talented, and hard-working…


and as well being

unconventional, extravagant, and emotional,

she was ideally suited for a life

as an actress in the theatre


She joined the Comédie Française

which was a sort of vaudeville comic Opera.

She did  her first performance

at the Odéon Theatre  in 1869.


The same, year,  1869

she met a medical student, named Samuel Pozzi,

who attended the  Paris Faculty of Medicine.


There were lovers for the next 10 years

during which time they both became


she..in the French theatre

and he as a surgeon and famous gynaecologist.

They remained fast friends

for the rest of their lives.


Many years passed.   

Sarah’s  right knee became increasingly painful …

she had arthritis.


By 1914 she was   71 years

and she also had kidney disease,

but she was still working full time

and wanted to keep doing so.


So Sarah began to talk of

amputation…. and a false leg.


Dr. Pozzi had previously operated

on her to remove an ovarian cyst .

He had found the whole exercise stressful 

so he  was reluctant to proceed.

Instead, he put Sarah

in a plaster (of Paris) cast for 6 months….


1914 was of course the first year of WWI.

Georges Clemenceau ,

the French Prime Minister,

regarded Sarah as a “national treasure”

so he arranged for her to move to a villa

in the south of France, in Bordeaux.

as he did not want her to be captured

if Paris fell to German forces.


This gave Dr. Pozzi an out.

He referred Sarah to his former student,

Dr. Denucé,   now a professor of surgery in Bordeaux.


When Sarah presented herself there

Denuce removed the plaster cast

and found that she had

tuberculous arthritis of the joint.


Sarah, ever the actress, pleaded  with him:


“Don't Argue…

I have perhaps ten or fifteen years to live,

why Condemn me

to suffering for another fifteen years?

With a wooden leg

 I will be able to recite, maybe even perform…”


It was a compelling argument.


Telegrams flew back and forth

between  Bordeaux and Paris

as the two physicians  conferred.                                      


The result was that on Feb 22 1915,  

Bernhardt was wheeled into the

Bordeaux hospital operating room .


The anethestist happened to be

Mademoiselle Coignt, who later recalled

that at the time she herself  felt

as if she was in the Acting theatre….

not the operating theatre.


The patient was wheeled  in on a stretcher,

singing in bravura style the opening bars

of the French national anthem  Marseillaise”...

“Ye sons of France…awake to Glory”….


She then declamed,

“Mademoiselle, I'm in your hands…

let's go, quickly, quickly.”

And to Dr. Denucé she said,

“Darling, give me a kiss!”…..


instead of which, they gave her an anaestheic..

some ether…tourniquet on,  leg off  in 15 min,

and the diagnosis of 

tuberculosis of the joint was confirmed. 


A few months later…

Bernhardt was back at work…..

A passionate French patriot

she  supported the French troops

in any way she could.


Encumbered by a wooden leg as she now was

she had to be carried on a stretcher

by two  porters, to get as close

to the battle front as she was allowed to go.


There she would set  up shop…

in some old barn in a ruined French village.


Her Audience were French soldiers

who emerged from the trenches

to see her performance.


They would assemble in front of

a hastily constructed temporary stage.

The flimsy curtain  would be drawn open

to reveal a wisp of an aging woman…..

propped up in a shabby armchair

so….at the outset,

the audience was not expecting too much.


But then,

as soon as Sarah began to recite

the opening sentences of some patriotic French piece….

a miraculous transformation would occur. …


Her genius on the stage…

illuminated the crowd  

and by the end of her performance….

the men  were on their feet cheering …

so inspired were they by her words….


It was the pinnacle  of  Bernhardt’s career…..


Bernhardt  kept on performing

almost until she died  in 1923.


On here gravestone in a Cemetery in Paris ….

is emblazoned a single word…..

“Bernhardt”…. …


Such was her reputation at the time..

nothing else needed to be written.



M. Chairman.