‘Do not pity the blinded soldiers, but try to understand them. Give them all the sympathy and help you possibly can. Encourage them in their growing spirit of
independence.’ [Sir Arthur Pearson, 1918]
“The gates to St Dunstan's Hospital, London. A charitable organisation established in 1914 by newspaper proprietor Arthur Pearson (later Sir Arthur Pearson G.B.E), St Dunstan's sought to assist blind ex-servicemen and women in attaining as normal a life as was possible and earn a living. During the First World War, the newly founded rehabilitation and training centre was based at St Dunstan's Lodge, a large residence in Regent's Park that was loaned by the American banker Otto H. Kahn. "St Dunstaners" could train in physiotherapy, shorthand typing, telephone operating, poultry farming, carpentry, basket and mat making and shoe repair. Braille was also taught. Sport was key part of rehabilitation and they enjoyed rowing, swimming, walking races and tandem cycling. Retaining its name, the charity moved to a new location following the war. St Dunstan's continues to support blind and visually impaired ex-Service men and women today.”
[AWM Photo PO6305.001 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1256172?search]
1916 – Letter from Sir Arthur Pearson in regard to the addition of Regent’s Park College:
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tue 12 Dec 1916 (p.7):
WORK AT ST DUNSTAN’S
Wonderful work is being done at St Dunstan’s Hostel, London, in the way of training and educating soldiers and sailors who have lost their sight in the war. Blindness is not talked of as an affliction at St Dunstan’s, but as a handicap, and that is the way in which the men there are facing their blow. They are learning with rapidity and facility to get the better of the handicap. They are learning to read and write in Braille, to manipulate the ordinary typewriter, and to write the wonderful Braille system of shorthand, to do netting, carpentry work, the repairing of boots and shoes, the making of basketware, telephone operating, the art of massage, and other occupations.
As the result of the recent heavy casualties, the numbers of these blinded men, the most pathetic victims of the struggle, are increasing with alarming rapidity. Sir Arthur Pearson, chairman of the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors’ Care Committee, makes an appeal on their behalf. He writes: –
“I am glad to say that we have just been most generously lent Regent’s Park College, a very large establishment quite close to St Dunstan’s, which will enable us adequately to cope with the situation so far as housing is concerned; but I confess to anxiety with regard to the provision of sufficient means to enable us to care properly for those men after they have passed through their period of training. The National Institute for the Blind, of which I have the honour to be president, has taken upon itself the task of looking after them for the future, and has established an after-care branch, which will, I believe, deal with this matter satisfactorily. There is no point in training a blind man and setting him up in an industry unless one is prepared to supervise his work, to purchase for him his raw material, to assist in marketing of his goods, or to help in securing him continuity of employment should his work be such as that of the masseur or the cobbler. Will you, I wonder, be so generous as to allow me to ask your readers for help in this important direction? We have received a great deal of gratifying assistance from Britons oversea, not only in the matter of personal contributions, but as the result of entertainments of one kind or another which have been organised for the benefit of the men of St Dunstan’s. We have, or have had, under our care nine blinded soldiers from the Commonwealth, and several more who are still in hospital will be with us shortly.”
1918 – Sir Arthur Pearson’s Third annual report of St Dunstan’s (extract):
The West Australian (Perth, WA), Fri 26 Jul 1918 (p.8):
ST DUNSTAN’S HOSTEL – WORK AMONG BLINDED SOLDIERS AND SAILORS
“TRAGEDY TURNED TO JOYFUL CONTENT”
The hon. secretary of the W.A. Braille Writers Association (Mrs L.J.G. Macgregor) has received the third annual report of St Dunstan’s Hostel (England) for the training and re-education of soldiers and sailors blinded in the war. As is well-known, the founder of St Dunstan’s, Sir Arthur Pearson, lives in a world of darkness himself. For three years he has directed and controlled all that has been done for the welfare of the men in residence at St Dunstan’s, and for the care of those who have passed through its hands. What is done for them is shown in the following extract from Sir Arthur’s report:–
“I confess to being very proud of St Dunstan’s. I regard it as a place of wonders. The wonders of tragedy turned to joyful content, of helplessness turned to capability, of courageous resolution in the conquest of apparently overwhelming difficulties, of dauntless determination and of truest heroism. The ambition of these men is to be once again normal citizens, like others in their capacity for happiness, like others in fruitful effort. When they come from hospital to St Dunstan’s they begin an existence which is new. They live and work always in the night. They must learn again to walk, for those who walk in the night do not walk as those who walk in the day. They learn what others, blinded like themselves, have done and are doing. In the early stages of his disability a newly-blinded man requires help in the simplest matters of everyday life, and great care is taken to initiate him into the best methods of re-adapting himself to his new conditions.
The re-education and training is divided into two sections, the classroom and the workshop. In the schoolroom men are taught to read Braille and learn to write in Braille with the aid of an ingenious little machine. Typewriting is also taught. The typewriters used are ordinary Remington machines, with the addition of a Braille scale. Special machines for the use of men who have only one hand have been built by the Remington Company.
Netting is the simplest handicraft which a blind man can learn, and may be called a paying hobby at which it is easy to make a few shillings a week in spare time. In the workshops the largest number of men learn cobbling, and in the course of seven months can learn to sole and heel a pair of boots. Cobblers are also taught mat-making. Basket-making is also taught in many varieties. Another industry in the workshops is joinery, which includes the manufacture of ornamental tables, corner cupboards, picture frames, tea trays, etc. The men acquire these industries in a quarter the time usually supposed to be necessary to teach a blinded man a trade. Reason for this is found in the employment of blind teachers. The outlook of a man becomes different when he finds himself in the hands of a teacher who works under the same handicap as his own.
Beyond the workshop is situated the poultry farm. There men are taught poultry keeping on practical and up-to-date lines. They are taught rough carpentry, and learn to make hen-coops and other things of use to them.
The following letter from Private Hills, A.I.F., Sydney, New South Wales, who received this training in St Dunstan’s, speaks for itself: – “I had over 500 eggs from the half-dozen pullets in their first six months in a strange climate and after a very rough trip out from the old country. The work of developing my small farm is progressing favourably, and the end is well in sight now. When I am finished I shall have ten pens 16ft. by 30ft. to accommodate 15 layers each!”
Three occupations are taught to the men who do not wish to follow a manual occupation. First comes massage. This training is conducted on the most modern and scientific principles. A large number of men have become duly qualified masseurs, and as example of their proficiency it may be said that medical officers of hospitals have stated that the blind men of St Dunstan’s are the most competent members of their massage staff.
Another of the more special occupations is the shorthand writing, combined with typewriting in its highest form of excellence. Telephone operating is the last of the occupations taught. The blind telephone operator cannot, of course, work in exchanges where the flashlight system is in vogue, but where the drop-shutter system is installed, and although the shutters are apparently identical, in a few weeks he can tell by sound which has fallen, and proves himself to be as competent as a sighted employee.
The men are taught to play as well as work. They learn to row, swim, dance, and are taught indoor games such as draughts, chess, cards, etc. Rowing is a great feature of summer life at St Dunstan’s. The more proficient are trained by some of the leading coaches of the day, and compete in races on the Thames. Almost every man learns some kind of musical instrument, and those with any aptitude for singing receive lessons in the art. The spiritual needs of the men are cared for by an Anglican and Roman Catholic chaplain.
Four hundred and thirty-four men have passed through St Dunstan’s (March, 1918). Of this number, 90 per cent have been fully trained and set up in the occupation which they have learnt. The hostel and its annexes now contain 580 men. When the training of a man has been completed he is provided with an outfit and a good stock of raw material on leaving St Dunstan’s. His work is supervised, and raw material is supplied to him at cost price, and assistance is given in the matter of marketing his goods. This ‘after care’ system has been carefully organised upon a permanent basis. To the public I say, ‘Do not pity the blinded soldiers, but try to understand them. Give them all the sympathy and help you possibly can. Encourage them in their growing spirit of independence.”
Letter from an English visitor to St Dunstan’s:
Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), Sun 7 Jan 1917 (p.26):
BLIND IN ‘BLIGHTY’
Soldiers at St Dunstan’s
A HAPPY COMMUNITY
The following are extracts from a letter written by an Englishwoman in London. This lady has visited Australia on several occasions, where she has many relatives:
“There is a very wonderful hospital, St Dunstan’s, for the blind soldiers only, started and supported by Sir Arthur Pearson, himself a blind man. I felt afraid at first to go there, being told the sights were so painful; and, without doubt, to see these blind lads must make one’s heart ache. But of all the cheerful, happy lads you ever imagined, these are the happiest. I am told that they come in there broken and disheartened, and in a week all is changed. They begin to learn trades of every sort, and each man learns to feel that there is a future before him, and not just a hopeless outlook. They do not go to St Dunstan’s till their eyes are healed. One man, frightfully disfigured by liquid fire, blind, right arm gone, and only three fingers on the left hand, was cheerily learning to read Braille. They all learn to use the Braille typewriter. They learn carpentering, shoe-making, basket and rug making, massage, and poultry-keeping. All are taught voluntarily by men and women teachers, many of the teachers themselves being blind. Some already are earning a living as masseurs, and their touch is so delicate they are very clever at it. There is a swimming pond at St Dunstan’s, where they learn to swim; also a piano and gramophones. Once a week they have dances, and each one can ask his ‘best girl.’ Some of the ladies even teach them to waltz. Was there ever such a happy community? Sir Arthur Pearson, being blind, intuitively directs all arrangements. You see men walking so quickly and easily, you doubt their blind for a moment. Strips of carpets are over the floors, which visitors are requested not to stand on. The feel of the carpet directs the men, and railings with different-shaped knobs direct to right or left in the garden. They play chess; the white pieces are small rounds, and the black a larger size. The poultry-keepers learn the different sorts of grain by feel and touch. In fact, one thing after the other fills one with amazement and admiration. Sir Arthur Pearson has a large purse and a very large heart.”
Letters from War Workers:
The Sun (Kalgoorlie, WA), Sun 19 Nov 1916 (p.11):
Chats with the Cats
“Miss Dorothy Gurner, sister of Mr Arthur Gurner, of Kalgoorlie, writes a most interesting letter in regard to St Dunstan’s Hospital for Blind Soldiers, which has been established in England, and in which she is a nurse. Her description of hundreds of strong and healthy young men who have been stricken down with blindness, is enough to make the heart bleed. What is more, a number of the patients are Australians, and the nurses have to give them a tremendous amount of attention for they are as helpless as babies. As may be expected the men sometimes become very deeply depressed and then the work of the nurse becomes trying but for the most part the boys bear their great misfortune bravely, and even cheerfully. Miss Gurner says: “Two hundred soldiers have passed through St Dunstan’s and we had over 130 in residence here now. No words of mine can adequately describe the horror of it all. Every day we are brought face to face with the full tragedy of war, each day one realises it more as these splendid young men – in many cases boys in their teens – come in shot to pieces by the German bullets and hopelessly blind for life. Some too with both hands gone. These we have to look after like babies, feed them with a spoon, and put their cigarettes in their mouths and light them. Many have only one arm and some have lost both legs as well. Yet for the most part all are cheerful and bright and I can tell you that I am beginning to look with positive reverence on the heroism of some of these lives. No words of mine can describe the pluck with which they face life.”
At the hospital they are taught the Braille system, typewriting and various trades and occupations with the object of enabling them to battle through their lives. The hospital is maintained by voluntary contributions with assistance from the Prince of Wales fund to back it up. It is with the object of assisting this hospital that the Kalgoorlie Dramatic Society is staging a special performance of “The Idler” on Wednesday, November 29, and it is hoped that a substantial cheque will be raised for this most deserving of all causes.”
Australian Christian Commonwealth (SA), Fri 16 Nov 1917 (p.14):
AN AIR RAID IN LONDON
An Adelaide girl, who is a V.A.D. at St Dunstan’s Hostel for soldiers and sailors blinded in the war, writes to a friend in Adelaide: –
“I don’t think you will get much of a letter this week, as we were up last night till 3 this morning with the worst air raid there has been. All their energies were concentrated just here, and it was perfectly terrific. At 11.30 we got the warning, and almost simultaneously the firing began in the distance, and then the tremendous throb of a machine or machines circling overhead. They must have been flying very low, for it was so distinct. They hovered right over us, just going round and round, as we could tell by the sound, and I got out of bed to throw on some clothes in case we were wanted. At that moment the most deafening explosion took place. This great solid house shook, and the force of the concussion threw me on the table. This was followed by more and more, getting louder and louder, and when the bombs were not shaking the place our big guns were. I can tell you it wasn’t a bit funny. In absolute darkness we dressed and went downstairs. There was not a light in the whole place except the moon, and it was so weird to see figures in various stages of dress or undress creeping about. All the orderlies were up, and many of the men were already in the cellars, and the rest refused to leave their wards, as it had got quieter, though the occasional tearing, cracking sound reminded us that bombs were being dropped. Everyone was sure that we had been hit by the position of the planes, and the adjutants from the annexes came tearing over in pyjamas to see what the damage was. When all the men were settled we went on to the terrace, and could see the brutes moving just overhead by the flashes, as they let loose a bomb. It was such a clear night that streaks of light showed us where they were. By this time it was past midnight, and as I was feeling very anxious about M…. I tried to get her on the telephone. However, they would not give me any number, and that made it worse. But there was nothing to be done, so I just had to wait. Just as we thought all was quiet back they came again to the same spot and dropped bomb upon bomb – I think nine on Primrose Hill and thereabouts. Just behind here it was all much too near to be comfortable, I can tell you, but just to the right of us there was a noise like a prolonged clap of thunder, only more so, followed by a whistling, shrieking noise, which was too awful for words. This was an aerial torpedo, or two which dropped on the Edgware Road, and also one on Bourne & Hollingsworth’s, in Oxford Street. I have never heard anything like the noise; one felt one’s last hour had come. But that was the last of the worst of it, though they kept hovering round and round, and the ‘all clear’ signal was not given till 3 am. Then I thought I would try to telephone to M…. again, and after some delay got an answer to find that they had hardly noticed it at all that side. After that I went to bed, but sleep was out of the question. This morning we found that a bomb had dropped in the garden here, another in Regent’s Park, about 200 yards away, and several just about, so it is not surprising we were disturbed. The ground being soft they buried themselves, and didn’t do the damage to us they would have if it had been hard. In a house a street away from here everyone was killed, and the casualties in Edgware Road, which is quite near, are too terrible for words. It makes a fellow feel pretty shivery when one realises how near one was to it. That bomb in the garden is only 100 yards away from the house, and one can’t help wondering if this is their objective, since they came back twice, and that morning they were over were said to be taking photographs. We do look like a munition factory, with all these low-lying buildings all round, for the annexes almost connect. The Temple station is wiped out, I believe, and the damage in the Strand has been awful. They just missed the Charing Cross Hospital, which is a military hospital now and full of wounded men. They say they are on their way again to-night, but I will post this letter to you to-morrow, so you will know when you get it that we are all right.”
The Mail (Adelaide, SA), Sat 5 Jan 1918 (p.7):
TEACHING THE BLIND SOLDIERS – GREAT WORK AT ST DUNSTAN’S
AUSTRALIANS FAVOUR POULTRY-FARMING
Few institutions are doing better work for injured soldiers than St Dunstan’s Hospital for the Blind in England. A South Australian lady, who is engaged there as a V.A.D., sends the following account of the institution and the work it carries out: –
“The house and grounds formerly belonged to Lord Lonsborough, but were bought from him by Otto Kahn, a German-American, who, after war was declared, gave it as a home for blinded soldiers and sailors for the duration of war. He himself has gone to America. The original house is not very large, and has been added to considerably, mostly by wooden buildings built in the grounds and used for sleeping wards, workshops (where the actual trade is taught), and also for schoolrooms, where Braille typing, &c., are taught. It also has recreation rooms and chapels. Besides the St Dunstan building there are two other buildings adjoining – the college and the bungalow. The three buildings are run quite separately, with their own wards, recreation rooms, and dining rooms, but the workshops at St Dunstan’s are used by the men from all places. These three places only take non-com officers and men. Commissioned officers have their own building at Sussex place, but they, too, use the schoolrooms and workshops at St Dunstan’s, being brought down every morning.
HOW THE BLIND “SEE”
“The two lounges or recreation rooms at St Dunstan’s, in which I work, are fine rooms. One is in the original house, and was the ballroom. The other is a wooden building. The inner lounge is fitted up with two long rows of easy chairs and couches running the whole length of the room, which is carpeted except in the places that the men walk. From this they know that as long as they keep on the linoleum they cannot walk into obstructions. By running their sticks along the edge of the carpet they can tell all the turnings, and also have the advantage of hearing each other approaching by the footfalls on the hard floor. In this lounge they each have a locker in which to keep their string and silk bags that they make and any other of their belongings. There are small tables at the back of the easy chairs, on each of which is a typewriter, and these are nearly always full with men writing their letters home or to friends. The men also do a great number of silk and string bags on frames, which they sell for 2/6 each. There are a piano and a gramophone in the room. The former goes practically the whole day, some of the men being very clever at it.
“The outer lounge is the quiet one, where the piano must not be played, where the men can type or read or be quiet. It is also where the concerts are held, of which there are a great many. From these rooms there are rails running to all the workshops, wards, round the grounds, and even three miles round Regent’s Park, a circle where any of the men can find their way and get plenty of exercise. In the case of steps a patch of stones is laid down about a yard away, and that is always known as a warning.
POULTRY FARMING FOR AUSTRALIANS
“The workshops are a big set of buildings. Here the men are taught mat-making, basketmaking, joinery, and boot repairing, the latter being the one that takes the most men. In another building there is the poultry-farming, taken up mostly by the colonials, especially by the Australians, practically all of them going in for this branch of work. They are taught to know every breed by the touch, and the correct way of feeding, breeding them, and also to make coops, nests, &c.
“The massage room adjoins the Church of England Chapel. Mr Tucker, the curate, is in charge, and has a number of services. There is also a Roman Catholic Chapel. Another big group of buildings is the schoolrooms, in which Braille (reading and writing) typewriting, netting and string bag making are taught. Braille or dot-chasing, as the men call it, is not a favourite with many of them, who find it difficult, but they seem to learn the typewriting without an effort. They work from 9.30 till 12 in the mornings, from 2.30 till 4.30 in the afternoons.
“Besides the buildings in Regent’s Park there are two annexes at Brighton, one at Blackheath, and one at Torquay. The men are sent to these places when they are off colour and in need of a holiday. Some of the nervous cases have been sent away to one of these places during the air raids. Altogether there are just about 500 men at the St Dunstan’s buildings, and there are, I believe, 110 waiting to come in. There are a large number of V.A.D.’s and orderlies. The latter do all the hard work – floors, washing up, &c. The V.A.D.’s wear the usual V.A.D. costume, blue dress, white apron with a red cross on the front, cuffs and collars and cap, quite a pretty uniform. We are always called ‘Sisters’ by the men.
“All the men from the British Isles are discharged from the Army or Navy. It is only the colonials who still wear their uniforms. No man is admitted into St Dunstan’s unless his sight is either gone entirely or so poor that he cannot see to work at any ordinary trade. No one with one good eye is there; in fact, very few of the men can see anything at all. It is quite a happy, jolly place. There is practically no depression at all. The men always look on the funny side of everything and are always ready for a joke. They love dancing, and have dances two evenings a week, which are always very largely attended.
“The following are two little incidents that show the spirits of the men. I was talking one day to a Canadian with both eyes gone. He was asking my advice as to what coloured eyes I would like, brown or blue, when he got his glass ones. He said to me, ‘You see, Sister, I think I will have brown, the same as I did before, but I think I shall get a blue set as well. It would be so handy, you know. If I were out with a girl who liked blue eyes and I had my brown ones in, and she said she liked blue best, I could just slip my brown ones out and slip my blue in, and she would be awfully taken with me. Then, you see, if I didn’t like the girl I would keep my brown ones in and she would bring me straight home. Don’t you think it would be a cute idea?’
“One day in the lounge a visitor was talking to one of the men, and she suddenly saw another man across the room that she wanted to speak to. She had a small suitcase with her. ‘Oh, just keep an eye on my suitcase, will you, please? I won’t be long,’ she said as she hurried off. The man calmly took out a glass eye and laid it on top of the case and went off. When the lady returned she found that her words had been literally carried out.”
The Brisbane Courier (Qld), Sat 6 Apr 1918 (p.6):
THE BLIND BATTALION
AN INTERESTING LETTER
Mrs Walcott, sen., of Brisbane, has received a letter, dated January 11, from a nurse in the Blinded Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Hostel, St Dunstan’s, for which an appeal was published in these columns on Tuesday, in which she says: – “It has been bitterly cold – our pipes all frozen – no water, and the water frozen into really thick ice in my bedroom jug. I groaned aloud, for I quite thought we were in for a repetition of last winter, and now has come this thrice-blessed warmth and thaw. May it long remain. Oh, how I hate the winter! This bungalow is terribly cold. It is built to house 200 men, and it is very much indeed a ‘temporary’ building. As some one remarked very truly last week, it is just a kind of summer house in a garden, where one would take tea, and it really is so.
“However, Sir Arthur Pearson manages to get coal, in spite of all difficulties. He sent me rather a nice little note at Christmas, thanking me, and saying my work was much appreciated, and that he was off for six weeks abroad, to make arrangements about the soldiers of Italy, France, and United States sooner or later to be blinded in this war. Blind many will be, poor lads, for the snipers seem to enjoy aiming at their eyes – my word, they don’t miss their aim, either! I wonder if there is a ‘Sir Arthur’ in Germany who sees after the German blind – poor boys, there must be many blind there, too.
“More and more absorbed do I get in my work, and I seem to know so many of my boys individually and really well now. They are so easy to talk to, so easy to get on with. I read and read to them – if I stop to take a breath almost comes a chorus, ‘Carry on, sister, carry on,’ and carry on I do. All the time their fingers are flying over their netting frames, and you could hear a pin drop. I often wish I had not to go off duty; I would far rather be reading to my boys. To-day as I went to say good-bye before going off, one boy – such a handful of a boy – but a special favourite of mine, begged me to stay on and read. How nice of your aunt to be so interested in me and my work – of course, I can quite understand her interest in my Australian boys and men. We have seven just now; three are very tall, and very slim of limb, and not one eye amongst them. Poor lads – just the sockets left. One – a great favourite of mine – is deeply in love with an English girl he met up north. He is older – has a wee bit of sight in one eye (can discern night and day). He is just now back again in hospital for two more ‘patching-up’ operations, and his girl sends her love letters (nice strong ones, too) to me. I journey over to No. 3 General Hospital weekly to read them to him, as he cannot bear strangers reading his love letters to him. I sympathised with this, but Wandsworth is a terribly out of the way place to get to. I had a nice talk this morning with another Australian – a young fellow, so good-looking, but no eyes (beautiful glass ones, of course). He and I had a great discussion on marriage. He thinks he ought to give his girl up – that it is not fair to saddle her with a blind husband. I gave him my views. These men are very easy to talk to, and especially so the Australians. I much prefer them to the Canadians, though I like both.
“It is such a changed London now; many of the big drapers’ shops do not open at all on Saturday now. House keeping is now a really dreadful business…My cousins have been obliged to flee from the air raids in Devon, the constant strain of being brought down night after night proved too much. Theirs is a very hot corner (Essex). A poor woman was killed, in her bed, in a house close by to them. I suppose we may soon expect more raids now. I don’t mind them when alone, but with all these blind and shell-shock men it really is a serious business. Waiting round for the ‘all clear’ signal seems endless; nothing to do really, and yet one must be there, and reassure the men, and that has to be carefully done, for they are sensitive about minding it at all, and yet they go to bits, and tremble all the time, so much so they cannot light a cigarette. I wonder if this wrecking of the nervous system will last these boys for the rest of their lives; if so it is a serious outlook….”
Leader (Orange, NSW), Mon 24 Jun 1918 (p.6):
THE ST DUNSTAN’S INSTITUTE
Mr J. Dwyer, manager of the Gasworks, has received a letter written to his sister, Mrs Watson, whose son lost both eyes in the war, telling her of how the blind are treated in the great hospital at St Dunstan’s. The letter is from Mrs Noel Farquharson, 41 Montpelier Square, Knightsbridge, London, and is as follows: –
“I thought you would like to hear something of your boy, and lately at St Dunstan’s he gave me your address, and said I might write to you. I am sure he tells you very little of himself – and you’ll just be anxious to know more about him.
First let me explain that I am what is called a ‘lounge sister’ at the Bungalow, St Dunstan’s. This is a large annexe, where we have nearly 200 men, and the college is another annexe. We were so disappointed when he did not come to us, but I think he had some friend at the college. All the same, most of the Australians are at our part, and we all, of course, think it’s the nicest! St Dunstan’s the main original building is a little way off in the same grounds, and is a rambling sort of place, not so easy for blind men to get about in as ours, which was built especially for them, but the men are extraordinarily happy at all three houses, and the cheeriest and bravest of folk. You’d think working there would be the saddest thing in the world, but it isn’t. Such fun goes on, such games and music and noise and laughter as well as work. Everything possible is done to help the men forget their tragic loss, and the first edge of helplessness, and sorrow is worn off in the society of some hundreds of other men equally afflicted. When I last saw your boy, his poor eyes were still bandaged up, but he looked so tall, and straight, and strong, and so brave. He said he was quite used to the dark now. We talked a little about you, and he said, “Mother feels it more than I do.” So when I wrote I made up my mind to tell you this. The spirit of him! He’s been to Brighton since, and I hope to see him at the Bungalow next week, and hear more of his doings. The sister at St Mark’s Hospital told me he was the most popular boy there, utterly uncomplaining and always brave and cheerful. His two poor dear eyes are gone. You know that? But the artificial eyes they make are so wonderful, that very often I am deceived and think they are natural.
I’ve forgotten to tell you that I was born in Australia, and have passed through near where you live, that is why Watson felt he’d like me to write to you, and when I tell you I have already lost two dearly-loved of my four brothers in this terrible war, and have a boy of my own (but he’s only 10, and too little to fight) you’ll understand the intense sympathy I have for you?
We lounge sisters have nothing whatever to do with the wards and nursing. We are merely lay helpers, and spend our duty hours in the lounge, reading to the men, helping them with their netting (they knit bags all their off-time)! playing, walking with them or writing for them, preparing and serving their tea. They recognise us at once by our voices, and it is a privilege to be with them. Two days ago I was alone in the quiet lounge with some of the men, when in came the Queen and Princess Mary and Prince Henry. She stopped ten minutes or so, talking to me and the men, and was so sweet and sympathetic with them all, and admired the bags they had made. Later she went on to the college – but I have not seen your boy yet to ask if she had a talk to him. Several of our Australians did. I hope so much you will write to me if you care to, and if there is anything I can possibly do for you or your boy. I hope you will tell me?
This terrible war cannot last for ever, and it has done all the harm it possibly can to your poor boy, and the time will not be so long now before he is with you again. I think he will like doing massage. He was so interested when I told him that in Japan it is a profession kept entirely for the blind!
With every good wish for you and my most earnest sympathy with you in the heartache your boy’s trouble must mean to you (but remember he says he feels it less).”
Tambellup Times (WA), Wed 17 Jul 1918 (p.4):
The Blind Anzacs
A lady, in writing to her relatives in the district, gives the following interesting account of St Dunstan’s Hospital for Blind Soldiers, where she is working as a nursing sister:–
“I am glad the people are interested in St Dunstan’s. It’s the most wonderful place filled with the most wonderful men God ever made, and it is a privilege to work for them, only it is a little depressing to see the number and the regularity with which the men come in. We are opening a new annexe, which has just been built, shortly, which will hold 250 men, and most of that space is already booked. When I last wrote I said it was 14 Australians we had – now it is more than 28, and there are still more to come. If you could see most of these men when they come in, broken men, you would understand how much any help is appreciated here that helps to change men’s lives as these have been changed. Of course these men are but a drop in the ocean, but the Anzacs will appeal to you most. Once having got to that stage their powers of resistance are such that they will for ever have a firmer grip on themselves, but left to sit by their own fireside with nothing to do, and always considered a drag on their own folk, they don’t stand a fighting chance. Get them to feel independent and all is well. Now here is a case in point, as you are interested. Eighteen months ago a Scotch sailor was blinded. No one told him of St Dunstan’s, and for 18 months he sat moping in his own home away in the north of Scotland. One day a few weeks ago one of our men, who had passed through and was out in the world on his own, happened on him and told him all he was missing. He didn’t wait for anything, not even to let us know so that he could be met, he just came. A soldier at the station noticed him and brought him up, and this is what the man says now: ‘I had not known anything but misery for the past 18 months till I came here, and directly the doors were opened to me I was in heaven, and its full of angels and Sir Arthur is the King himself. I have never been so happy.’ Then he told us that it was all so beautiful that he cannot believe it yet, and for three weeks he was afraid to go to sleep unless he should wake up and find it was a dream. He came in ‘just anything,’ but we dressed him out in a new outfit, and the pride he takes in himself is beautiful to behold. ‘But I don’t know myself’ he keeps saying with tears in his blind old eyes, for he is not a young man.
“I have just had a letter from one of the Australians, and am quoting it to you as it shows the tone that is caught here, and it is hard to believe that it was written by a totally blind man. He is away on a holiday at Minehead as he was not well. This is the letter: –
“ ‘Dear Sister, – A few lines as promised. Everything is going fine with me, but I was quite knocked up with the journey, but after careful nursing have quite recovered to my old self again. We are simply having a glorious time fishing, motoring and exploring. We visited the famous old castle known as Dunsted Castle owned by the famous old family the Lutterills. The weather is simply lovely, and the grounds here are delightful, full of the most glorious flowers. I am so happy and contented, and as fit, never better. I have quite changed color, in fact I am joining the concert party on the beach as a natural coon. Trusting this will find you in the best of health and spirits. Should be delighted to hear from you. – Yours sincerely, Tiny.’
“This name is because he is the biggest man there is by a long chalk, but if you didn’t know you would hardly take it as a letter from a blind man, would you?
“I think what would interest you as much as anything would be the dancing. Every Tuesday they are taught dancing by professionals, and every Friday there is a dance to which they are allowed to ask their own special lady, and there is a band and refreshments too. You would be surprised to see the way these men dance, and do all the new fangled dances, too, and how they enjoy it. Last week there was a dancing competition for them, and the judges were Madame Genee, Unity Moore and Nelson Keys, and the whole thing was a ‘success fou.’ Of course they danced with sighted people, and on this occasion their partners were mostly the sisters. The judges promised to dance with the winners afterwards, and they were awfully delighted.
“Mary Gaunt (daughter of judge Gaunt, Victoria) came up last week and lectured the men at one of the annexes, on China. Lecturing is not her long suit, but she spoke to men more than lectured. She told them of her travels, and you could have heard a pin drop. All the time she was speaking the men were listening hard and were making string bags at the same time, for they realise now that the happiest men are those who are busiest, and they never waste a minute. The money, of course, goes to the men themselves, and some men who never sleep make these under the bed clothes all night. The bags are made on a frame. Mary was awfully struck by the men, but it also upset her a good deal. I discovered that one of them had, in pre-war days, been a printer, and the last thing he did was to print her “Woman in China,” so of course they were mutually interested in each other. I took him out to tea with her at New Eltham, and it was a great day for him, and greater still when she gave him a signed copy of the book. The thing that surprised her most was that he knew our voices. I spoke to one man in passing who answered me by name, and another in the distance called out ‘good evening, Australia!’ and she gasped ‘how do they know?’ But they don’t even wait for that, and often as I have walked through a ward they have recognised my step and called me, but I go by many names there, ‘the sister of many voices’ is one, as they declare I have a voice for every day of the week. It changes so much, and some call me the ‘rising sun sister.’ They go so much by voice, and take the expression from it that other people do from your face. For instance, a boy who has been here for a very long time asked me one day if the place was getting too much for me, and when I asked him to explain he said ‘when I first came your voice was always gay, now it is nearly always sad.’ That just goes to show how much on the alert one has to be, for the great part of our duty lies in keeping them cheerful. Of course the place is a tragedy, and no one comes to us unless they are hopeless cases, so you may imagine it cannot but help affecting us when they come pouring in, some of them being mere boys. I think we all realise that the happiest women to-day are those who are necessary to someone, but my soul sickens at the sight of all the pitiful consequence of war, and its always the innocent that pays the price, while the responsible ones go free. My feelings are that the most we can do for them is little enough in the face of all they have given, and the woman who can still frivol and talk about the war as a topic of the day instead of the only one, does not yet realise that we are up against the stark facts of life and death, and there are many who still hardly know there is a war on. Let them come to St Dunstan’s for one hour and they will see all these men disfigured and shot to pieces by those vile German bullets. It is a sight enough to break the heart of a statue, and if they don’t realise it its because its so much more comfortable for them not to, and there are many like that, I am afraid.”
Women Workers at St Dunstan’s: http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/166.html
*Frances Hughes, also known affectionately as “Sister Pat, from Ireland” was appointed Matron of St Dunstan’s in August 1916
*Miss Dorothy Pain, O.B.E. – Head of the St Dunstan’s Braille School
Some Australian Workers (and Entertainers):
*CORLETTE, Ruby (Mrs, nee Saunders)
*COX-ROPER, Edith Mary (Mrs, nee Tindale)
*DEANE, Dorothea (Dorrie) Alice (Mrs, nee Lord)
*EASTON, Margaret (Peggy) Neill
*FARQUHARSON, Noel Eve (Mrs – nee Griffiths)
*GRIFFITH, Frances de Burgh
*GURNER, Helen Dorothy
*HALL, Marie Suzette Watson
*HILES, Olive May
*MACLEOD / MCLEOD, Blane (Blanche) Rankine Robertson
*STIRLING, Alice Mary
*WENDT, Lois Muriel Koeppen
*Kingston-Stewart, Arthur (Arthur Hermann Otto), singer – trained the SD choir
*ODonnell, Manus - entertainer
*Telfer, Maude – Singer
By December 1919, 72 Australian officers and men had passed through St Dunstan’s, and 33 were still in training there.
Some of the blinded Australian soldiers who trained at St Dunstan’s:
*ARCHER, Robert – Pte 4134, 5th Bn
*ARMSTRONG, Joseph – Sgt 1036 (MM), 21st Bn
*BAKER, Percival Allan – Pte 2517, 19th Bn
*BARFIELD, John Henry – Pte 5985, 11th Bn
*BARNETT, Frank Horace – Pte 3167, 49th Bn
*BILLINTON, Robert – Gnr 1531, 10th FAB
*BLACKETT, William Alexander (Alec) – Pte 3685, 6th Bn
*BOND, George Boag – 3334, 5th Pioneers
*BRANEGAN, James Matthew – Pte 3011A, 60th Bn
*BUCKLEY, James Frederick – LCpl 16, 42nd Bn
*CARTER, Arthur William – Sgt 2120, 17th Bn
*CARTER, Lancelot Eric (Nick) – LCpl 4752, 53rd Bn
*CLARKE, Mervyn Ephraim (Dick) – 879 / Lieut, 11th Bn
*CLIFTON, William George – Pte 6312, 26th Bn
*CORBOY, Thomas – Pte 2394, 46th Bn
*CRAIGIE, Alexander Henry – Pte 2666, 44th Bn
*DIGAN, Daniel – Pte 4798, 48th Bn
*DRISCOLL, Percy – Cpl 3729, Cyclist Bn / 6th Bn
*FANKHAUSER, Claude Augustus – LCpl 1944, 5th Bn
*FARRELL, James – Pte 6921, 25th Bn
*FARRINGTON, Leslie James – Pte 2650, 54th Bn
*FLATT, Harold – Pte 2940, 15th LTMB
*FOLLAND, William Francis – Pte 5334, 18th Bn
*FORDYCE, Harold Stanley – Pte 2828A, 37th Bn
*FOXTON, Herbert Crowther – 863 / Capt, 25th Bn
*FRY, Gordon Leonard –Pte 1518, 12th Bn / 51st Bn
*GIBSON, Benjamin Harold – Pte 4704, 23rd Bn
*GIBSON, Donald Stewart – 1459 / Lieut, 5th MG Bn
*GIBSON, Thomas – Pte 4039, 30th Bn
*GLEW, Elmer – Pte 1451, 8th Bn
*GUNN, James Edwin – Pte 6088, 22nd Bn
*HARDY, Howard Newton – Cpl 90, 27th Bn
*HARDY, Robert Holtham – Pte 2384, 24th Bn
*HARRISON, John Southern – Bdr 1055, 2nd FAB
*HILLS, Charles Henry – Pte 1568, 2nd Bn
*HUGHES, Frederick Harold – Pte 3108, 56th Bn
*HYDE, Frank – L/Cpl 780, 36th Bn
*JAMES, William Joseph Wearne – Pte 3929, 16th Bn
*JEROME, Samuel Keith – Pte 1892/ 1760, 2nd Bn
*JOYNER, George Frederick – Pte 235, 5th Bn
*KELLOGG, Harold John – Pte 4736, 27th Bn
*LEYDEN, James Joseph – Gnr 28323 (MM), 13th FAB
*LYNCH, Patrick Joseph – L/Cpl 2679, 54th Bn
*MARRIOTT, Francis (Frank) – Lieut, 12th Bn
*MARSHALL, Allan George – Pte 2809, 16th Bn
*MARSHALL, Frederick – Pte 5864, 17th Bn
*MATHESON, Ernest Charles – Tpr 722, 9th LH
*MATRENIN, Gregory Michaelovitch – Pte 4166, 26th Bn
*McCONNELL, Allan Foster – Pte 4557, 2nd Cyclist Bn
*McNAB, John (correct name McWHIRTER) – Pte 2299, 16th Bn
*MORRIS, Frank Luke – Pte 5435, 19th Bn
*MULLIN, Vernon Isaac – Pte 2163, 7th Bn (POW)
*MURRAY, Charles Jeffery – Pte 3899, 11th Bn
*PAYNE, Arthur Charles – Pte 869 (MM), 34th Bn / 53rd Bn
*PETRO, Joseph – Pte 2175, 36th Bn
*REDMAYNE, Samuel – L/Cpl 5443, 8th Bn
*RENNIE, John Andrew Gibson – Pte 2158, 26th Bn
*ROSS, Peter – Pte 1902, 36th Bn
*SKEWES, Richard Henry – Gnr 2450, 49th Btry, 13th FAB
*SMITH, William Harrison – L/Cpl 2404, 22nd Bn
*STAFFORD, Benjamin – Pte 4890 / 4602, 9th Bn
*THOM, James Waddell – Pte 4625, 29th Bn / 39th Bn
*TREGENT, Dudley Ackerley – Sgt 16068, 7th FAB
*TWOMEY, Edward John – Pte 6351, 2nd Bn
*VANSELOW, Leslie Ernest – LCpl 7093, 22nd Bn
*WATSON, George Victor Emanuel – L/Cpl 2024, 17th Bn
*WHITE, Thomas Henry – Pte 2174, 8th Bn
*WILLIAMS, Henry John – Pte 3156, 7th Bn
[Note: Many of these soldiers have had profiles of their life and service added to their service records at the Discovering Anzacs website]
Care for blind soldiers Post War – and the tragic death of Sir Arthur Pearson:
The Herald (Melb, Vic), Wed 16 Apr 1919 (p.9):
BLIND MEN CARED FOR – OFFICER COMES TO AUSTRALIA
Captain Gilbert Nobbs, a sightless soldier, formerly of the London Rifle Brigade, has come to Australia partly for the purpose of establishing a connecting link between St Dunstan’s, the well-known English institution for the blind, and Australian soldiers who have passed through the course of training provided for blind soldiers.
His aims are to look to the welfare of blind soldiers generally, and to maintain in Australia the special influences which are a feature of St Dunstan’s, in order that men may not revert to that feeling of depression that immediately follows the realisation of their affliction.
“The after care of a blind soldier,” said Captain Nobbs today, “is a very important thing. When a man is trained in different subjects at the institution, he finds a new usefulness in life. By the inspiration aroused he loses the inward fear of dread first experienced. The idea of the training is to make the man realise that his handicap is not as enormous as he first anticipated. When the blinded man returns to Australia he wants some influences to care for him, and guard him in his enterprises, otherwise the value of the training received may be lost.”
“Thirty-one Australians have passed through St Dunstan’s,” continued Captain Nobbs, “and there are 50 still in training. They are not the depressed men you would imagine, but happy-go-lucky and full of life. By games, competitions, sports and pastimes, as well as the training, the men are inspired, and the appalling feeling of anxiety as to the future, felt when in the pride of health and manhood they were struck blind, is lifted.
“Altogether 1400 British soldiers have passed through St Dunstan’s. They are the cheeriest lot of men to be seen anywhere. They roll about the lawns in their gambols, play leap-frog, and indulge in other recreations, to the wonder of spectators.
“They are a fine lot of fellows, the Australians. The game spirit that predominated when ‘going over the top’ is still there. I am sure the people of Australia will give them every help in maintaining such a spirit.”
After-care Red Cross committees are being formed in the different States for the purpose of looking after the returned blind soldiers. These committees will be affiliated with St Dunstan’s. Captain Nobbs speaks highly of the Melbourne body which is already working under Mrs J.W. Fraser, the secretary, whom he specially praises.
The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Mon 12 Dec 1921 (p.2):
DEATH OF SIR ARTHUR PEARSON
LONDON, Friday – The death is announced of Sir Arthur Pearson. Sir Arthur died as the result of an accident. He accidentally slipped in his bath, and striking his head against the tap, became unconscious. He fell into the water, and was drowned. Sir Arthur Pearson, who was blind, was the president of the National Institute for the Blind.
Observer (Adelaide, SA), Sat 4 Mar 1922 (p.38):
Miss Lois Wendt, writing from Burmah to an Adelaide friend, says: – “The death of Sir Arthur Pearson under such tragic circumstances was a terrible shock and personal grief, and during my two years of V.A.D. work, at St Dunstan’s Hostel, during the war, he was a dearly loved and frequent visitor. Being blind himself, he was a truly wonderful man, and by his cheery disposition and wise counsel he brought a great joy and hope into darkened lives by teaching them that they could still accomplish many things and lead useful lives. Some of the men when they first came into the hostel, and on awaking in the morning, would turn their faces to the wall and give up. Nothing could be done with them until Sir Arthur was sent for, and had a talk, and made them believe that blindness was not the end of all things, and that there was joy and hope still left in life. He himself was a shining example of the truth of such teaching, and if he, being blind, could accomplish such great things, surely they could accomplish lesser things. To know how they acted up to the teaching one had to live among them at St Dunstan’s, and watch and admire them both at work and at play – cheerful, happy souls. To me, personally, it was the happiest two years of my life, and among my most treasured possessions is a letter from Sir Arthur Pearson, received just before sailing from Australia, thanking me for what I had done, and assuring me that my services had been very greatly appreciated. I dread to think what an irreparable loss his death is to the blind, but although dead, he yet speaketh, and his good works follow him.
The Register (Adelaide, SA), Tue 1 Dec 1925 (p.12):
From CAPT. IAN FRASER, C.B.E., M.P., Chairman of St Dunstan’s (founded by Sir Arthur Pearson for Blinded Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen), Regent’s Park, London, N.W.1: – I have much pleasure in enclosing herewith copy of the tenth annual report of St Dunstan’s. The way in which public sympathy and support for our work has been maintained gives us confidence that the permanent character of our responsibilities is widely recognised. It is evidence, we feel, that the people of the Empire are determined that not only shall the men who are still going blind as the result of their war service have equal opportunities with their earlier handicapped comrades, but that our pledge for lifelong after-care of all war-blinded men shall be fully redeemed. We shall be grateful if you will emphasise that as we depend entirely upon voluntary support, any future decrease in this must jeopardise the completion and efficiency of the services we can render our men. May I take this opportunity of thanking The Register for the always-ready assistance it has given St Dunstan’s in its columns in the past?
Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW), Sat 2 Feb 1935 (p.7):
MEN GOING BLIND
From War Gas Effects
Sixteen years after the war, men are to-day still being admitted to St Dunstan’s Hospital (England), blinded by poison gas attacks of 1917-18.
This instance of the delayed, creeping horror of poison gas, which, after years of growing misery and pain, is now robbing its victims of their eyes, is given by Dr Reginald Bickerton, ophthalmic surgeon at St Dunstan’s, in the “British Medical Journal.”
Whereas last year, of the 27 new cases of war blindness admitted, non was due to gas, this year five of the 19 new cases are gas cases.
The other 14 are due to the postponed effects of head wounds, in which the scarring of the brain has gradually affected the optic paths and optic centres.
Dr Bickerton cites the case of a man aged 44 who was gassed by shell at Ypres in 1917. He had to give up his business this year.
Another, 37 years old, was gassed near Albert in 1918. His eyes were closed, and he was unable to open them for two weeks. They began to give trouble again this year.
CAUGHT BY SHELL
He had been caught by a shell which exploded in the entrance of a tunnel in which he was operating a signalling lamp.
“Most of these men,” Dr Bickerton adds, “lost their jobs through failing vision.
“Some are unemployable because of the appearance of their eyes and because of the uncertainty of being able to carry on without continual breakdowns.”
Edited by frev