• "Victory Over Blindness" - St Dunstan's Hostel for Blinded Soldiers

AWM Photo PO6305.001 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.” An appeal from Sir Arthur Pearson: The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tue 12 Dec 1916 (p.7): BLIND SOLDIERS 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.” Letters from War Workers at St Dunstan’s: 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, etc., 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, etc. “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, etc. 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. TWO INCIDENTS “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): BLIND SOLDIERS 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 you 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) *FORSTER, May *GREGORY, Maud *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 Heather 'Frev' Ford
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