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    Kindly Lightly Book

    This week we concluded our 100 objects with the Kindly Lightly: The Story of Blind Veterans UK book.

    The book Kindly Light: The Story of Blind Veterans UK was written by Andrew Norman, the grandson of one of our First World War blind veterans, Thomas Waldin.

    The book, published on the 24th September 2015, tells the story of Blind Veterans UK, formerly known as St Dunstan’s, from its origins in 1915 to the present day. Founded by Sir Arthur Pearson 100 years ago, many inspiring stories from blind veterans are retold in the book as well as a great account of the charity’s history.

    Andrew, who qualified in medicine after being educated in Zimbabwe and Oxford, is now an established writer whose published works include biographies of Thomas Hardy, Adolf Hitler and Charles Darwin.

    The book is available to buy here.


    Blind veteran celebrates Blind Veteran’s UK’s centenary with a special medal

    As we continue to celebrate 100 years of proud service and support to blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women throughout 2015, a special medal to mark the occasion has gone on sale.

    One veteran that has bought this medal is Dorothy Senior, an 86 year-old from Woodley in Berkshire. Dorothy has been supported by the charity since 2010 and is encouraging others to do the same and support what she describes as “the most wonderful charity”.

    She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1947 and was posted to Fighter Command in Middlesex. She then went onto No1 Parachute and Glider Training School in Upper Hayford and was discharged in 1950 as a Leading Aircraftswoman.

    She recalls that experience saying, “I packed parachutes at the training school which was very complicated and obviously a great responsibility. “I absolutely loved my time in the WAAF and wouldn’t have swapped it for anything.”


    Dorothy began to lose her sight much later in life due to age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), a major cause of blindness and vision impairment in older people.

    She has been registered blind for last five years.

    After learning about Blind Veterans UK from a friend at the Berkshire Association for the Blind, she attended an induction week at the Brighton training centre and has been back for holidays since joining in 2010.

    She recalls her induction week at Brighton saying, “That first week was absolutely brilliant. We tried all sorts of activities and equipment. I particularly enjoyed archery and got a bullseye on my first go! I also enjoyed the art and crafts and it’s surprising what you can do when you get a little help.”

    Dorothy decided to mark the centenary of Blind Veterans UK by buying the centenary medal as a keepsake. The front of the medal features the Blind Veterans UK Centenary logo and the reverse bears the St Dunstan’s (the former name of the charity) torch. 

    She says: “I wanted to get the medal to support such a marvellous charity and to celebrate what they have been doing for the last 100 years. It sits proudly on my dressing table.“Buying this medal is a brilliant way to help Blind Veterans UK and get a little piece of history. I hope lots of people will go out and get one.”

    The medal is priced at £17.00 and available to buy online at shop.blindveterans.org.uk or by calling 0300 111 0440.


    Lathes and Metal Work

    This week’s object in the Blind Veterans UK 100 objects centenary campaign looks lathes and metal work training.

    Metal work was introduced to St Dunstan’s during the Second World War.

    A machine shop was set up at Church Stretton to train blind veterans and the industrial hut included a capstan lathe, a router and an outfit for upholstery. Those with a higher aptitude learnt to operate the lathers, drills and presses with something of a normal factory atmosphere and background noise.


    Most blind veterans that received lathe and metal work training often had a job lined up before they finished. The men not only earnt a good wage but enjoyed the camaraderie and social activities that came with working with sighted men.

    Some men had the advantage of previous experience, for example Stoker Petty Officer Dufton. He was blinded in action just as he was completing a special two year Mechanicians Course but that didn’t hold him back. He went on to become the Chief Designer at Miles Martin Pen Company and produced the ‘Biro’ ball point pen.

    He worked with a braille dictionary of metals and a set of special precision instruments that St Dunstan’s supplied. In 1960 he gained his Associate Membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and in March 1961 was appointed Director of Research at St Dunstan’s.

    Over one hundred men were working in factories by the end of 1942 and the number steadily increased as the war went on and so did the range of jobs taken on.


    Church Stretton Plaque

    The latest object in the Blind Veterans UK 100 objects centenary campaign looks at the plaque presented to the people of Church Stretton.

    A plaque was unveiled in October of 1987 as an expression of gratitude from St Dunstan’s to the people of  Church Stretton for the warm friendship they gave blinded veterans and their families .


    In 1940, St Dunstan’s, now Blind Veterans UK, relocated it’s services from Brighton to Church Stretton, in Shropshire, as result of the Second World War, staying there for six years. Although the locals were doubtful and apprehensive of the arrival of “blinded soldiers”, the charity received a wonderful welcome.

    700 blinded service men and women were trained in Church Stretton, many learning new manufacturing skills on lathes and presses to enable them to go on to factory work.

    The plaque is carved in wood with the lettering picked out in gold leaf and beneath, handmade by Norman French, is braille representation of the wording. The plaque now resides in the Church of St Laurence.


    Angus Buchanan’s Victoria Cross

    The latest object in the Blind Veterans UK 100 objects centenary campaign looks at the first blind veteran to receive a Victoria Cross.

    In 1917 Captain Angus Buchanan was awarded the Victoria Cross for his ‘most conspicuous bravery’ during action at the Falauyah Lines the previous year.

    He assisted two men, one of them wounded, who had come under heavy fire and he was also badly wounded in the exchange.

    In February 1917 he was wounded again, this time in the head, causing him to lose sight in both eyes.

    Angus had won a scholarship to Oxford in 1913, where he was a noted sportsman, but cut short his studies to sign up. By the time he returned to university, he would be one of the British Army’s most celebrated soldiers.

    Captain Buchanan is the only one of our blind veterans who has been awarded the VC. He came to Blind Veterans UK (then known as St Dunstan’s), and learnt braille and typewriting. He went on to study and obtained a degree in Law at Oxford University, and then became a partner at a law firm in Coleford, Gloucestershire in 1929. He died on March 1st 1944 and is buried at Coleford Cemetery.

    Angus Buchanan’s VC is now on display at the Imperial War Museum.Angus Victoria

    History of Beekeeping Training

     The latest object in the Blind Veterans UK 100 objects centenary campaign looks at the history of beekeeping training for veterans.

    2013 saw the arrival of bees at our Llandudno centre. However, this is not the first time that Blind Veterans UK has been involved with bees.

    As part of the Country Life area established at St Dunstan’s at Regent’s Park in 1915, veterans were encouraged to undertake training in poultry farming, market gardening as well as beekeeping.

    A lack of references in archives to involvement in beekeeping suggests that this wasn’t so popular with veterans, however there is a notable exception in Samuel Keith ‘Jerry’ Jerome.

    Jerry served in the First Australian Imperial Force and was wounded at Gallipoli, losing his left eye and came to Regent’s Park for training in 1916. Soon afterwards he married Marjorie, the voluntary nurse who had looked after him in hospital and it was with her assistance that Jerry set up his own apiary in the 1920s.His father had kept an apiary and Jerry drew upon his childhood experience of assisting him, growing his hives to 60 by 1930.

    Wedding of the Jeromes February 1917

    Wedding of the Jeromes February 1917

    In 1933 Jerry and Marjorie wrote two sketches about bees which were broadcast on the BBC’s Children’s Hour programme, and their hives continued to grow and thrive.

    After Marjorie’s death in 1957, Jerry remarried and his second wife, Vivien, shared his passion for beekeeping. Vivien continued with her bees following Jerry’s death in 1966 and she also remained actively involved with Blind Veterans UK. In 1992 her short story ‘A Bee Line…’, written under the nom-de-plume of Queen Bee, won first prize in our Short Story Competition.

    Vivien passed away in 2013 at the age of 103.


    Marion Rees wins ‘Volunteer Award’ at this year’s Founders Day Awards Ceremony

    Congratulations to Marion Rees who has been awarded ‘Volunteer of the Year’ in the Blind Veterans UK Founders Day Awards.

    Marion has volunteered with Blind Veterans UK for over 5 years as a befriender at our training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton. Her work involves spending time with the blind ex-Service men and women who now live at the centre who are often too ill or elderly to get out and about.  Her dedication has provided a lot of comfort to residents and helped to combat their sense of isolation.

    Marion Rees

    Marion Rees

    Marion says about her experience of volunteering at Blind Veterans UK: “I’ve always been a keen volunteer and first got involved with Blind Veterans UK when I moved to Saltdean. I enjoyed it so much, that I’ve stayed for 5 years.”

    “I enjoy talking with the blind veterans, every single one of them has such a fascinating and individual story to tell – and they love to tell it! If it wasn’t for my time befriending I wouldn’t ever get to hear such fascinating tales”

    “Normally I visit the centre about once a week for two or three hours and I thoroughly enjoy my time there, which fits in great with my schedule as now I am retired.”

    About winning this award Marion confesses “I had no idea that I had even been nominated for this award. I was shocked and obviously very pleased. It has been a great experience and I feel very humbled.”

    If you are interested in volunteering for Blind Veterans UK we have lots of exciting opportunities across the UK, you can view our full list here.

    Chain saw artist creates an Owl carving in our new centenary garden

    A brilliant and talented chain saw artist has been creating a beautiful carving for the launch of our new centenary garden.

    The garden is part of a number of exciting projects that we are launching this year to celebrate the charity’s 100 years of service.

    Owl carving 2

    The new garden will be based at our training and rehabilitation centre in Llandudno, and celebrates two years of effort by many volunteers to restore the overgrown woodland to a usable space where veterans can walk, sit and enjoy woodland crafts within a natural environment.

    When we first acquired the Llandudno Centre woodland it was badly overgrown and a struggle to walk through the trees as they were surrounded by cutting brambles, dead wood and thick undergrowth.

    Over the past two and half years it has taken various groups of volunteers to help us clear and open up the woodland so we could create a 1.6m wide path with walking rail, together with benches, gazebos and a wood craft work shop to enable our blind veterans to access, make use of and enjoy the outdoor environment.

    One of these artistic volunteers is local chain saw artist Mark Earp of Hebsta Chain Saw Art who very kindly donated his time to create a beautiful owl on a dead sycamore tree close to the woodland entrance.

    Here is a picture of Mark carving in the detail:

    Owl artist
    And we are delighted to reveal, this stunning final ornament in the photograph below! We really appreciate all the time that Mark has put into creating this piece of art which will be greatly enjoyed by all visitors to the garden for years to come.

    To find out more about how we help blind veterans please visit: www.blindveterans.org.uk/how-we-help

    You can also help us reach out to more veterans. If you know someone who is eligible for our support please contact us today www.noonealone.org.uk or call free 0800 389 7979.

    Driving forward: The Blind Veterans UK Taxi

    As one of our 100 objects we’re exploring the Blind Veterans UK branded taxi. The reason we have selected the taxi is that it has sat with us for over 17 years and taken veterans, staff and supporters on many important journeys during its time at our headquarters in London.

    The Blind Veterans UK Taxi

    The Blind Veterans UK Taxi


    Although the taxi’s main purpose is to bring vision impaired veterans from their homes to our headquarters in London to visit our clinic, where their sight is reviewed by a clinician, they can benefit from the comfort of travelling safely in our own taxi.

    In the back of our cab, we’ve taken Simon Brown who lost his sight in Basra for a special dinner with Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. We’ve also had royalty in the back of our cab; including the likes of Prince Pavlos and Russian Princess Jean Galitzine who had once modelled for Vogue.

    The cab would have been used recently to take 99 year old blind Prisoner of War veteran Ron Freer to the Blind Veterans UK 100 year plaque unveiling but because of his wheelchair needs we used a different vehicle to support him. The vehicles are always selected to support the best welfare of our veterans.

    Ian, our Chief Taxi Driver said “I’ve heard so many fascinating life stories in the back of this cab – everyone special and every one very unique. I have learned so much detail about the lives of the people that Blind Veterans UK support and am proud to be a part of their vital services”

    The Taxi as you can see is not just a safe space to travel, but is a symbol of the support and welfare we provide to veterans.

    If you would like to read our previous 100 blog post click here or alternatively visit our website to see all of the objects we have launched so far!

    Talking Books: A fascinating reveal from the 100 Objects Campaign

    “It ought to be possible, I thought, to record human speech. Theoretically, it should be possible to record whole books.”

    Captain Ian Fraser, Blind Veteran and Chairman of Blind Veterans UK 1921-1974.

     The latest object in the Blind Veterans UK 100 objects centenary campaign is the talking book. The initial concept and then later the talking books themselves were dreamt up by Captain Ian Fraser at a Blind Veterans UK early rehabilitation centre.

    Many soldiers who returned home blind from the First World War had given up hope of ever reading again. While the literacy of blind people had always been a concern, particularly among religious leaders who feared for their interaction with the bible, it had been tolerated to an extent. RNIB and Blind Veterans UK brought an urgency to the issue. War-blind soldiers who could not read Braille were now experiencing a new found illiteracy; a very isolating experience.

    CaptureBlindFor You

    Advert from Blind Veterans UK Review

    Fundraising images such as these from the Blind Veterans UK Review brought realisation to the British public about the debt they owed to disabled ex-Service men and women who had fought and served in the First World War.


    Captain Ian Fraser

    Ian Fraser began receiving support from Blind Veterans UK after being shot through the eyes by a German sniper at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. After the death of founder Authur Pearson in 1921, Fraser took over as chairman which he held for 52 years. While listening to a gramophone, Fraser considered whether speech could be recorded the same way. He began experimenting by recording scraps of poetry and speeches in a makeshift studio on the grounds.

    Captain Ian Fraser at Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation centre

    Captain Ian Fraser at Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation centre

    The Sound Recording Committee

    The RNIB established a Sound Recording Committee in 1934 and Anthony McDonald recorded the first ever talking book in a rudimentary studio in Regent’s Park. The Talking Book library began a two year trial in 1935 and membership was free for anyone who owned a talking book player. These ranged in price between £3.15s and £6.10s, however Blind Veterans UK subsidised these machines by £1 for any veteran with severe sight loss.

    Talking Book Player

    Talking Book Player

    The talking book initially comprised of 10 double-sided records and the first recordings available were Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon, and The Gospel According to St. John.

    While the US Talking Book library received government funding, initially the UK’s did not. Instead it relied on essential donations. By far the most generous benefactor of the programme was philanthropist Lord Nuffield. In a letter of thanks, Fraser wrote to Lord Nuffield “You in turn after Louis Braille, have created a revolution for the blind”.

    A new found independence

    The talking book was singular in its provision of independence for blind veterans. A major appeal of the talking book was that blind veterans no longer felt they were imposing on friends and family by requesting them to read aloud. One veteran even remarking “talking books are never tired, never argumentative and never in a hurry, bless them.”

    Helen Keller considered boredom to be the biggest threat to blindness but with the creation of the Talking Book, recreational opportunities for the blind were now considerably expanded.   Providing blind veterans with the ability to enjoy books once again had an unprecedented effect, in particular on the mental health of the newly blind. Whereas previously they may have felt disconnected, talking books engaged blind veterans once more with the world around them.



    With thanks to Matthew Rubery for his help in providing information about this object – for more about the history of talking books see Matthew’s article http://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/article_free.asp?pid=from_shell_shock_to_shellac_the_great_war_blindness_and_britains_talking_book_library


    To find out how else we support veterans with severe sight loss click here.