MOST people under 40 probably think of polio as something that happens 'abroad', but it was a terror here in Great Britain in living memory.

Rotary is launching its End Polio Now campaign on Tuesday, February 23, and Ledbury Rotarian Jan Long has talked to four local people who caught the disease.

She said: "By learning about polio through the first-hand experiences of local people, we can get some idea of the crippling impact it has on lives and the suffering this disease which strikes indiscriminately causes."

In 1955, Cathy Smart, who now lives in Oatleys Crescent, fell ill after swimming at the old outdoor Ledbury pool. A burning fever had her bedridden for 10 days until the doctor ordered her to hospital, where she stayed for 11 months.

Her most frightening moment was when she was encased in plaster of paris, after which she was left in a small isolation room for the plaster to harden. No one explained the cast would eventually be removed and she thought she would have to live in it for ever.

Cathy's parents had to spend six weeks isolated in their own home, which hit them hard as her father, a builder, was unable to go to work.

Eventually Cathy was allowed out of isolation and many months of physiotherapy aided her recovery. Her spirit and determination helped her cope, and she eventually learned to walk again.

Although she retains a slight limp, Cathy has since led a completely normal life. She said: "I think it is very important that people should learn about the effects of polio. The Rotary Club in Ledbury is doing a good thing in creating an awareness of this debilitating disease. Polio is only a plane ride away and we must ensure it never reaches these shores again."

Ron Collins, of St Katherine's, was just 14 in September 1945, and on holiday with his family at Teignmouth, where he went swimming. He fell ill and remained in Tewkesbury hospital until next the April, interrupting his education .

His treatment proved long and often painful. To keep himself occupied, Ron helped with sterilising surgical instruments, and he thinks the work of checking equipment and carrying out small repairs inspired him to a career in engineering.

When Ron was discharged, he wore a calliper, walked with crutches and an arm in a splint and sling. Although he visited a physiotherapist regularly and overcame his disabilities through many hours of special exercises, he always walked with a stick.

Ron still lives in Ledbury and suffers from related pain and, because his left leg overcompensated for the damaged right, he had to undergo a full knee replacement and ankle operation.

He said: "It is very important for people to learn about this terrible disease, which has no cure. People today know very little about polio and yet only 30 years ago it was still highly infectious. It is of crucial importance for polio to be eradicated and I want to offer Rotary Clubs around the globe my congratulations on all their endeavours."

Catherine Macdonald, of Bridge Street, was six when she and her sister contracted polio. They were more fortunate than most, as their father, a GP, recognised the signs; they were sent to Monsall Hospital in Manchester where tests showed a speedy recovery could be expected.

Catherine passed her time in hospital knitting scarves for her teddy bear. She still recalls her sadness when she was not allowed to take her scarves home because everything had to be incinerated.

She later became a PE teacher in Ledbury and, though she sometimes suffers from aching muscles and fatigue, still does voluntary work.

Catherine said: "I know I was one of the luckier ones who managed to recover from what was usually a crippling disease. I hope we never see the like of it again in this country and I applaud the remarkable work being done by our local Rotary club."

Alan McKecknie, then of Redmarley contracted polio aged 21, after swimming in the river at Tewkesbury.

He was transferred to a special unit near Bristol and placed in an iron lung. After six months, he moved to a hospital in Oxford where he was given intensive physiotherapy. Alan found the camaraderie of those around him a great comfort; he and his friends took to having wheelchair races in the corridors.

He has been wheelchair-bound for half a century, but has not let this prevent him living life to the full. An entrepreneur and business man, he has travelled extensively.

He is bravely stoical about polio, even joking that he "never expected to be around this long and has made the best of a bad situation". He suffers from post-polio syndrome and has bad days of ill health with severe discomfort and breathing difficulties. When asked about the Rotary campaign, he simply said: "It's wonderful".