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    St Paul’s Cathedral to display stunning altar embroidery by First World War blind veteran

    An incredible embroidery, part of which was embroidered by a blind First World War soldier nearly 100 years ago, is to go on display at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the first time in over 70 years.

    World War One soldier, Sergeant-Major George Eades, was one of 133 wounded First World War soldiers, who embroidered an incredible frontal nearly 100 years ago which will go on display at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the first time in over 70 years.

    Born in Berkshire in 1870, George was already an experienced soldier by the breakout of the World War One. He had served in 39th (Berkshire) Company of the Imperial Yeomanry, a volunteer cavalry regiment, during the Boer War.

    George then emigrated to Canada and went to serve in the First World War as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, before being blinded after a head injury at St. Eloi in 1917. George then came to Blind Veterans UK, where he received support to help him live independently with sight loss.

    Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and we have been providing rehabilitation and training to vision-impaired veterans for nearly 100 years.

    ©St Paul’s Cathedral

    ©St Paul’s Cathedral

    While at Blind Veterans UK, George trained in typewriting, Braille, basket-making and poultry farming – all despite his blindness. A talented embroider, George was also part of a team of disabled First World War veterans which produced a stunning altar frontal for St. Paul’s.

    The frontal, which depicts the Holy Grail, was presented to the Cathedral in 1919, but was stored away for safe-keeping during the Second World War. This will be the first time since the War that the frontal has been on display for the public.

    Blind Veterans UK’s magazine, Review, described the embroidery at the time as “designed to represent victory gained through suffering, its centre panel portraying the Holy Grail in golden silk, representing suffering, and those on either side bearing the palms of victory”.

    While at Blind Veterans UK, George also led a contingent of blinded soldiers on their Armistice Day celebrations. The group marched to Buckingham Palace, where King George V personally accepted their salute.

    George went back to Canada and, with the training he had received from Blind Veterans UK, became a poultry farmer. He later became a teacher for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), where he taught the same skills he had learnt at Blind Veterans UK.

    George returned to his native Berkshire in 1922 and made baskets in Reading until sadly passing away in 1927.

    The frontal will be unveiled on 3 August, nearly 100 years after Britain declared war on Germany and will stay on display until 2018, the centenary of the end of the War.

    If you know an Armed Forces or National Service veteran struggling with sight loss request free support by calling 0800 389 7979.

     

    Teaching the art of weaving

    89 year old Brenda Bryon, who joined the ATS in July 1943 and served in Bournemouth, has recently led an art and craft workshop at our Brighton centre, focusing on the art of weaving.

    A talented craftswoman, Brenda lost her sight later in life, but still continues with her love of craft thanks to the support she has received from Blind Veterans UK.

    Brenda works on one of her weaving projects at Blind Veterans UK in Brighton.

    Brenda works on one of her weaving projects at Blind Veterans UK in Brighton.

    As part of her current work, Brenda hosted a craft session with Blind Veterans UK staff and other veterans. She did a fantastic job of demonstrating a variety of craft methods and approaches, sharing her incredible knowledge of weaving and making products to the Art and Craft team.

    Esther Freeman, Member Activities Manager at Blind Veterans UK in Brighton, said: “Brenda’s session will allow us to pass on these wonderful skills to other veterans – all of which are accessible and can be completed by members regardless of their sight loss.

    “The Art & Craft team learnt so much from the session, Brenda was a brilliant teacher and has very generously donated her equipment to the Department to allow us to use at the Brighton Centre.

    “Thank you to Brenda, we look forward to sharing some more images of items made using Brenda’s techniques and equipment.”

    Brenda with one of her finished weaves

    Brenda with one of her weaves

    It was only last year that Blind Veterans UK’s art and craft workshop was redeveloped to provide a better working environment for our veterans. The development was funded by the late former trustee and Chairman, Charles Skey, of Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund and was a milestone project to mark the 75th anniversary of our Brighton centre.

    The redevelopment has meant that there is more accessible and flexible space where we can hold bespoke craft sessions such as this recent training with Brenda, and pass on much loved skills to others.

    Interview with Sarah Phelps the writer of the BBCs landmark WWI drama The Crimson Field

    The BBC has commissioned more than 2,500 hours of programming that will span four years to mark the centenary of World War I. The season started in early 2014 and will run through to 2018 on BBC TV, radio and online across international, national and local services. The BBC’s programming offers a unique way to understand a war that changed our world, reflecting the centenary from every perspective.

     

    One of the original dramas to launch the centenary programming schedule is The Crimson Field by Sarah Phelps that will be screened on BBC1 at 9pm from Sunday 6 April 2014. It tells the story of women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) and military nurses in war time France from 1915 in a tented hospital off the coast of France. Here we bring you an interview with Sarah Phelps.

     

    The Crimson Field stars Oona Chaplin (The Hour, Quantum Of Solace), Hermione Norris (Spooks, Cold Feet), Suranne Jones (Scott And Bailey, The Secret Of Crickley Hall), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey, Scott And Bailey), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave, An Angel At My Table) and Marianne Oldham (WPC 56).

     

    Catherine Goodier: How does it feel that The Crimson Field will launch the BBC centenary programming?

     

    Sarah Phelps: It feels absolutely terrifying. You just really, really hope that as a writer you’ve done it right. You’ve done it justice. And you’ve created a world which is alive now so that the people in it aren’t living history, they’re living the moment as it happens. They don’t know that we’re in 2014 looking back nearly 100 years. All they know is that they are in 1915 and they’re responding to it as it happens. The world is at this stage and they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They don’t know what’s going to happen in a week’s time. They don’t know how long the war is going to last. They don’t know the radical changes that will happen. They’re just falling in and out of love and making friends and making enemies and trying to establish their own lives within this world of the war.

     

    Catherine Goodier: What was the origin for The Crimson Field?

     

    Sarah Phelps: We were filming [the 2011 BBC adaptation of] Great Expectations and we were coming to the end of the shoot. The people I’d been working with asked me to read The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn MacDonald, who is a historian. It was a history of the nurses, both military and volunteers [VADs] during WWI. I read it and found it captivating. It was part of a World War One that I didn’t know about, one I’d never really heard about. I started reading a lot of histories about the First World War coming at it from loads of different directions.

     

    The BBC was very keen to have a drama that launched the centenary of the Great War. I perhaps came at it from a slightly different angle. The vision of the war is of the trenches and young men in the trenches and we wanted to have something that gave a different experience – one that gave a women’s experience, one that would get those women and men to tell a story of what England was, what Britain was then and the changes everyone was going through. It became really exciting.

     

    I didn’t know about the Voluntary Aid Detachment. I know that sounds fearfully ignorant, but I had no idea that women in Britain had volunteered in absolute droves to go all over the world nursing men with just a few months training under their belts. They were catapulted into this extraordinary situation where the whole idea of what a man is and what a man should be and what a woman is and what a woman should be was absolutely flipped on its head by what the war did to them.

    “We begin in 1915 when the first wave of VADs went to France. Up until that point there had been a handful of military nurses who were struggling to cope. Then this influx of civilian nurses and civilian girls of voluntary nurses came in and it was a huge culture clash as well, which is really fascinating.

    “Obviously it changed as the war went on. In the first instance as I understand it from my research the guidelines to be a VAD was that she had to be over the age of 23 and she had to be unmarried. That meant that for a lot of these women their only experience of men may well have been fathers, or brothers, or the odd beau, the odd sweetheart. Certainly not men in absolute desperate dire straits of anguish, of unbelievable pain, of terror and of general nakedness. They had to look after some of those men as though they were babies. They were catapulted into this and the guts, and the spine and the passion it took to do this and what really comes across in a lot of my reading is there were a few who weren’t able to cope with the reality of nursing, but the majority of young women, my God they stayed.

    They lived in tents in the most extraordinary weather conditions in the depths of winter. And they really stepped up and nursed men in absolute extremisms. It’s extraordinary. One of the things that comes across is that sometimes you read descriptions of some of the VADs who very clearly edited their letters home and their journals. And there was a sort of sense that they were meant to be published or that they were giving a view of the war that was palatable for the people at home. They weren’t really telling the full truth as it was happening in front of them. They’d say things like ‘the Tommies are such dears and they never swear ‘. Well men straight in from the battlefield with bits of bone sticking out of their leg in absolute agony will tend to swear, but you get the sense that actually they’re protecting the men with their words. They’re so protective towards them.

    And it astonishes me as well about the extremes they witnessed. They gave descriptions of terrible head injuries for which they could do absolutely nothing of course. And terrible gas injuries, which lead to men drowning in their own lungs. And these young women and the military nurses sat by their beds and kept them company. And were there. It just astonishes me. There were a couple of sisters whose diaries  I read when I did my research and their training seemed to basically consist of knitting balaclavas and learning how to roll bandages. Then they were suddenly thrust right into the eye of the storm as it were, probably looking at each other wide eyed before they rolled up their sleeves and blooming well got on with it. I absolutely love them for it. I truly do.

     

    Catherine Goodier: From your research what were the powerful images that stayed with you?

     

    Sarah Phelps: There was the most incredible image, which I’ve built into the second episode, which is the sound that a fork made on the edge of a bowl as a young VAD whisks up egg white in a dark ward to do the two hourly feeding of a young man with absolutely the most appalling facial and head injuries possible. You know egg flip, which they gave men who’d had jaws shot away and it’s just a beautiful description of the tsk, tsk, tsk of the fork on the edge of the bowl as this young woman stands there in this dark ward as she tries to spoon just enough protein down a young man’s throat in a desperate hope of keeping him alive.

     

    Through my research it really came across that in August 1914 these hospitals would probably have been a couple of tents, a surgical tent a couple of ward tents and a handful of nurses and orderlies. Within a couple of months they have exploded in size to cope with the men coming down from the Front. And what came across very strongly to me was that these hospitals were constantly evolving. They’re just growing and growing and growing and growing in order to cope with the influx of wounded men.

     

    I read incredible descriptions of the need for structures on the floor in between the beds and nurses hoiking their skirts up to clamber over the men so their skirts wouldn’t get caught on the bits of bones that were coming out of legs.

     

    Catherine Goodier: Did the characters come to life quickly?

     

    Sarah Phelps: The characters did kind of spring to life immediately. I wanted to tell a story about England as well. A lot of the young VADs were from well to do backgrounds which they had to be as it was voluntary and they didn’t have an income. I wanted to create variety in the characters so that you could tell different kinds of stories about their lives so they weren’t all just upper middle class and a bit posh as a way to put variety into their lives about where they have come from and what their lives would have been.

     

    So one is very young and has lied about her age so that she can go and be a VAD and do her bit for the brave boys. One is that bit older and is already considered on the shelf and a failure as a women because she has failed to get married and to have children, which is what she’s been trained for. And one of them comes from quite a dark background and the big story is being told through her eyes as it were.

     

    There’s an orderly who’s quite a rough lad and surgeons who come from different backgrounds and different places. And there is my civilian nurse and her story is a big part of the first series and my two military nurses, both of whom are utterly professional and utterly wedded to the job, which of course they had to be. Military nurses weren’t allowed to marry at this point. They were as dedicated as a nun. They made a promise, they made a pledge. You didn’t marry. You gave your life to the service of nursing. We have those two women a senior nurse and a Matron who has just been given the job as Matron to run the hospital.

     

    Catherine Goodier: Did you feel protective of your characters as you put them in hell?

     

    Sarah Phelps: One of the things is that yes they are in hell but at the same time it is almost the moment in these dark four years, this dark crucible when so many other things crack open and the 20th century begins. Medicine and surgery make an incredible leap forward. When you read about what was available to the surgeons and the doctors and the nurses in 1914 it’s stunning that actually anybody survived the onslaught of heavy industrial warfare. You don’t have blood transfusions; there is no way of storing blood. They’d only really just discovered blood typing. They could do person to person transfusion but that was really rare. Pain relief was pretty blunt, just Morphine or variants of morphine. In terms of using anaesthesia there’s awful descriptions of men having to be held down when they’re being given chloroform because they hated going under so much and sometimes operations would be performed while patients were awake with a kind of local anaesthetic.

     

    By the end of the war plastic surgery has begun. By the end of the war they’ve found a way to store blood for blood transfusion by using citrate and it makes this huge leap during those four years. It’s also a time when something has re-evaluated in the way that men would be understood and women would be understood. They would be different forever after these four years. Yes they’d go through a process where after the war everybody would go home and go hang on a minute that’s not my job — you can stop being a munitioness and earning your own money and get back into the kitchen. But something really radical changed and also an understanding of what happened to the mind under extreme duress. That happened as well because where we’re writing now, now when they’re talking about shell shock they didn’t know what shell shock was. They didn’t really understand what was happening to men when their bodies appeared to change because of the pressure their minds had been put under. They really didn’t understand it. But by the end of it they do.

     

    It was hell and it was terror. In a lot of my reading there would be terrible, terrible shocking things like barbarity and terror and cruelty and yet at the same time you hear the most extraordinary descriptions of singular acts of courage and bravery and shining humanity which absolutely takes your breath away, which reminds you what this war is about. It is the very, very worst that we are capable of and the most beautiful, shining and extraordinary best, sometimes at the same time, at the same moment, in the same few feet of trench.

     

    I love all of the characters. Even though they come for various reasons. Some of them have come to escape the past. Or some of them have come to escape that horror of being viewed as a failure as a women, as a spinster, as life being over. But the war gives them that opportunity to actually be something else, to be something different to be bigger than their own small world. It’s extraordinary really. It really is.

     

    Catherine Goodier: What was it like selecting the actors?

     

    Sarah Phelps: Sometimes people would walk in and they’d open their mouth and you’d go ‘oh there they are’. Suranne Jones came in to read for my character Joan Livsey, a civilian nurse from Liverpool who is a reservist and is a very frank and funny and open modern women, but with this story behind her. And before Suranne opened her mouth I went ‘there she is.’ You know the minute they’re there. It was the same for the actors for my young surgeons, both of whom in The Crimson Field come from completely different worlds and yet they’re the most unlikely of friends. The actors walked in and there would be a look in their eye or a way they stood. And there they are again. You always get that little thrill that goes through your blood. When we knew we had the girls that was really exciting, when we knew we had Kitty, and Rosalie and Flora there in front of us. You put them together as a threesome and say ‘there they are’. Very, very different people all with their own prickles and their own uncertainties, but here in France for a reason.

     

    When they were filming I was writing and I watched the rushes at home and there would be times I’d watch it and I’d just be totally blown away and I’d think ‘look at that that’s lovely.’ I would have liked to be on set everyday but you do have to let it go. It’s a bit like dropping your kid off at the school gates for the first day at school. You have a little cry but if you brought the kid up right it’s going to be fine, it’s going to play in the sandpit, scrape its knee, have a few bumps and grazes and then make friends and be independent. That’s what you hope for.

     

    Catherine Goodier: Did you have family members who were involved in WWI?

     

    Some of the stories that have gone into The Crimson Field are stories from my own family background. My great uncle Hubie was gassed when he was in The Artist’s Rifles. He was trained by Henry Tonks who went on to develop the tin noses shop. I had my great uncle’s experiences at Dunkirk. My grandfather’s experience going from Normandy pretty much to the gates of Belsen during the Second World War. I’ve drawn on aspects of their characters for some of the men. And I’ve drawn on my grandmother and great aunt’s for aspects of the characters and the back stories of the VADs and nurses.

     

    Catherine Goodier: Is there part of you in any of the characters?

     

    Sarah Phelps: They’re all a little bit me to be honest. Even if they’re male or female or middle aged or very young, or bad tempered and prickly and very difficult, or rather insouciant and charming.

     

    I have one character who at 6 o’clock says I will have a cocktail. That got to look like an act of courage to me. I don’t care what’s being chucked at us. I don’t care what’s happening I will have a cocktail and it will have an olive in it and I will stay smiling and I will stay happy because I refuse to be cast down. I think because they’re my people they all have a certain quality of me in them, but in the main I’ve just made them all up.

    I just really hope I’ve done it and them justice and begun a process by which you can tell a really epic story because it is an epic story. It’s got such an epic scope and while the war is going on and while these poor men are flooding down from the front with terrible injuries or terrible mental and emotional and psychological anguish, but at the same time people are grabbing at life to live every minute that they can.

     

    What comes across very strongly in all of my reading is that you live very, very intensely during a time of war. It would seem rude and churlish to not live intensely while all around you people are suffering and dying. I wanted to show the cheek and the optimism because what comes across is that Tommy irreverence and that cheek and that optimism and a kind of wisdom and generosity. And that incredible thing about the very best that humanity can offer each other like great bravery, great personal sacrifice and then people shrugging it off and going ‘oh well it’s nothing.’

     

    The Crimson Field by Sarah Phelps will be screened on BBC1 at 9pm from Sunday 4 April 2014. And yes Sarah has done everyone justice, as having watched the first episode this is an epic story that is brilliantly told. I would like to thank Sarah Phelps for speaking with me and for being brilliant and Ruth Neugebauer of the BBC drama team for arranging this interview.

    Blind Veterans UK provides free support to ex Armed Forces and National Service personnel with sight loss. Find out how to refer someone.

     

     

     

    William McLean writes of The Rose of No Man’s Land, published in the July 1920 Review

    William McLean was a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery who was blinded in the First World War and came to our training centre in London’s Regent’s Park. Here was have reproduced an article he wrote for the July 1920 editionof the Review about the Roses of No Man’s Land and his experiences. He also wrote of our very own roses, the VADs and nurses at our centre in Regent’s Park. Before that be being with The Rose of No Man’s Land by, Jack Caddigan, James Alexander Brennan.

     

    There’s a Rose that grows in No-Man’s Land

    And it’s wonderful to see,

    Though it’s sprayed with tears, it will live for years in my Garden of Memory.

    ‘Tis the one red Rose the Soldier knows

    ‘Tis the work of the Master’s Hand,

    Midst the War’s Great Curse Stood the Red Cross Nurse:

    She’s The Rose of No-Man’s Land.

    I wonder how many of us ever think how true those words are? I was standing on the ground where one of the greatest battles of England was fought some years ago, and as the scent of the Rose came to me, my mind travelled back to when we were in France. We were advancing, and the Hun was well ahead of us. There were streams of villagers coming along the road, glad to be free from the Hun, and amongst these was a young woman, carrying a large bundle on one arm, and in her other hand she carried a small book. She sat down to rest, and we got into conversation with her, and she showed us a small rose that she had in the book. She had kept this since the beginning of the War. It was given to her by a sister who had gone to nurse the French soldiers, and who had not been seen or heard of since. It was not until I stood on this old battleground that I recalled this incident, and then I thought of these words. “The Rose of No Man’s Land.” I thought then of this Nurse — perhaps in an unknown grave in what was once known as No Man’s Land, and this brings the words of another song to my mind: “For You a Rose — For Me there’s just a Memory.”

    And I wonder to how many other people today, especially soldiers, these words would convey the same meaning. It is only those who were wounded who know what it was to hear the soft voice of the Sister who dressed his wounds and cared for him during his days of sickness and pain. The soldier received the loving care of “The Rose of No Man’s Land” and for her — “There’s just a Memory.”

    Today there are many of these roses who are loth to fade still giving their fragrant scent to us at St Dunstan’s.

    A Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery, William McClean was blinded in the First World War when he came to Blind Veterans UK, then St Dunstan’s. The roses he referred to at St Dunstan’s were of course the VADs and nurses at our Regent’s Park training centre.

    You can listen to an audio recording of The Rose of No-Man’s Land by William McLean Blind Veterans UK Review July 1920, read by Lewis Johnson March 2013:

    Photography training in Lewes

    I was delighted to attend the recent Blind Veterans UK photography week organised by our activities team in Brighton. The holiday is a popular training week for many of our veterans and ensures that they develop their photography skills through a varied programme of activities and projects.

    The group includes a range of experiences, some who have been photographing anything and everything for years, for example; Keith Harness, who has ‘spent hours alone in the studio with one rose’, to the other extreme of veterans who are just rekindling their love for photography and building their confidence after losing their sight later in life.

    During the first day of photography, the group focused on photographing the transport and bookings department with a strict brief to base their photographs on transport, colourful images, and creative settings to avoid landscape style pictures! The brief really helped the group to get into the swing of the photography holiday and they followed this session with a trip to Brighton pier and the big wheel.

    The photography holiday is to continue until Friday, with eleven blind ex-Service men attending; Ray Mundey, Mark Pile, John English, Tony Gilbert, John Pullinger, Mark Threadgold, Keith Harness, Will Phillips, Ray Thomas and Wilf Lindley.

    On the morning of April Fool’s day (1 April) it was a pleasure to the group of eager photographers in the lounge of Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton centre. It was a great day to join during the week as the group were enthusiastic to get out into the sunshine and they were joined by more volunteers to assist them in their adventure into local town Lewes.

    Famed for its Sussex Archaeological links, Lewes is a town that rewards exploration, including its Priory ruins and castle. It’s also famous for Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’ which was initially gifted to the town. Unfortunately due to the scandalous content the people of the time kept it under a tarpaulin for over 20 years until it was eventually purchased and revived by The Tate in London.

    After a short bus ride from Blind Veterans UK’s centre in Ovingdean, the group set off to Lewes to arrive at Lewes Castle. I was to lead a fantastic group of three men and a dog; including Photography week organiser Keith Harness with beautiful guide dog Valdess, the enthusiastic 83 year old Ray Munday and Will Phillips, an extremely interesting individual who has worked for years on the accessibility of museums throughout the world for the vision impaired.

    After some initial investigation into Lewes Castle and the view over Lewes, the group ended up on the back streets of Lewes with Ray discovering tiny pubs, no surprise really with Lewes being home to seven Victorian breweries. My group enjoyed photographing the signature on the front of the pubs and went on to enjoy the threads in various men’s clothes shops, which were all extremely quaint and cute! I began to pick up some photography techniques from veteran photographer Keith and snapped away to get interesting reflections in shop windows.

    There was no shortage of sights to photograph in Lewes including small bookstores and best known streets such as Keere Street where we captured the most interesting and unusual features. With the sun beating down we headed off to Lewes Priory for lunch. The Priory was founded by William de Warenne and his wife between 1078 and 1082 on the site of a Saxon Church. William was a Norman baron with extensive lands in Sussex and England, and he was the one who made Lewes the first Priory in England. It became of the wealthiest monasteries in England and went on to be occupied by the troops of King Henry III in 1264 during the Battle of Lewes. Overlooking the historical site we enjoyed lunch and reviewed our current photographs.

    Ray Mundey, who did National Service with the Royal Air Force, expressed his continued love of photography throughout his life, saying he always felt aged 53 rather than 83 when he is behind his camera lens. Esther Freeman, Art and Craft Manager said Ray ‘became alive’ when he was taking photographs so it was quite inspiring and moving to be amongst veterans who, despite their sight loss, were continuing with their passion of photography thanks to the support of Blind Veterans UK.

    Keith Harness, the chief organiser for the photography week, only has use of one side of his body due to a head injury some years ago. Having travelled over from his home of Germany for the week, he is extremely independent and does a remarkable job of taking beautiful photographs with the use of just one hand. He is the man who has all knowledge on photography and his guide dog Valdess was the perfect accompaniment to the group.

    Will Phillips served with the Army Catering Corps but due to his deteriorating sight moved onto working in museums, one of which was the Fareham museum where he was responsible for the camera and military collection. He has a real fascination with cameras and a wealth of knowledge on museums. He has even continued with cookery training through Blind Veterans UK and how he can learn to prepare meals despite his sight loss. It was inspirational to hear his positivity and determination to continue with his independent lifestyle.

    After lunch we wandered through the Priory and headed back into the town to find a rest stop. After boarding the bus we drove to the stunning Stanmer House for photography in the grounds and a visit to the tearooms. As an extremely grand building there was plenty to photograph and many of the group were able to take some excellent images.

    After the final stop of the day the group headed back to Blind Veterans UK’s centre in Brighton. Ray reported that he had enjoyed a ‘marvellous day’ and all of the photography opportunities that Lewes had to offer. In the evening the group would have the chance to view and discuss their images using large screens and swot up on their photography knowledge with some video led training.

    Portraiture was the subject of day three of the week, but I’ll let you catch up on Keith Harness’ blog about the full week’s activities once he has put it together.

    It was certainly a pleasure to spend time getting to know some more of the veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK.

    Photographing veterans

    Recently we’ve been working closely with Middlesex University, having had a visit from photography student Elisa Tuckey. Elisa has been to our Brighton centre to photograph some of our veterans as part of her project called ‘Identity’. She speaks about her experiences at Blind Veterans UK and why she chose to include our members in her project:

    Joy Philipon by Elisa Tuckey

    Joy Philipon by Elisa Tuckey

    Hi my names Elisa Tuckey, I’m currently studying Photography at Middlesex University. I have developed this recent body of work through one of my assignments on the theme of ‘Identity’. 

    Idris

    Idris

    I wanted to portray how these particular members of Blind Veterans UK have retained their identity and progressed through their extraordinary life experiences.  

    Ever since I was a child I have always passed the Blind Veterans UK centre in Brighton and have always been intrigued as to what goes on. I was extremely happy when they got in contact and there were members willing to have their portraits taken. 

    Margaret Howard

    Margaret Howard

    Sybil Henderson

    Sybil Henderson

    Terry

    Terry

    Norman Perry

    Norman Perry

    I visited the centre three times and every experience was rewarding as I feel I learnt a lot, not just about the individual members but how amazing the charity is!  

    I found my visits very inspirational hearing all of the remarkable stories each member told me. It later made me consider about my own identity and how I have a long way to go until I really have a sense of who I am! 

     I found the facilities at the centre absolutely astounding, especially the arts and crafts area. I was surprised at the variety of activities and how they were achieved was truly unbelievable.   

    I’d love to visit the Blind Veterans UK centre again, I feel I have gained a new insight into something I would otherwise be unaware of as well as some new friends! This is such a brilliant charity that has great enthusiasm and no boundaries as to what can be achieved. 

    Blind Veterans UK provides free support and services to Armed Forces and National Service veterans who are struggling with severe sight loss. If you know a veteran with sight problems request free support from Blind Veterans UK.

    Dignity is at the heart of everything we do

    This year staff, volunteers, and veterans celebrated Dignity Action Day at Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton Centre on Friday 28 February.

    Dignity in Care Ambassador Dame Joan Bakewell says: ”Dignity Action Day highlights a more respectful way of behaving towards vulnerable people. The very old and the very young clearly need our respect, but it wouldn’t do any harm to spread the dignity message across the population – then we can all benefit.”

    Mabel recites the poem "Crabbit old Woman" to staff, veterans, volunteers at Blind Veterans UK in Brighton.

    Mabel recites the poem “Crabbit old Woman” to staff, veterans, volunteers at Blind Veterans UK in Brighton.

    At Blind Veterans UK we believe that promoting the dignity of everyone who uses our services must be at the heart of everything we do every day.  To demonstrate our continuing commitment to Dignity in Care, we produced a mosaic designed by the Arts & Crafts department that was made by some of our resident veterans and staff.

    The mosaic was unveiled on Friday by centre manager Lesley Garven and has since taken pride of place in the centre.

    Blind veteran Ernest Wilson who lives permanently at Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton said:  ”I enjoyed being able to be part of making the mosaic, it’s marvellous”

    As well as the unveiling of the mosaic, one of our resident veterans Mabel Haynes recited the poem ‘Crabbit Old Woman’. Mabel said “I was very honoured to be asked to recite the poem and I hope everyone enjoyed it”.

    Dignity in Care Champion Christine Carlton read the response from the nursing team.

    Christine said: “Mabel did a fantastic job as it’s a long poem. As the Blind Veterans UK Dignity Champion, my motto is ‘promoting the dignity of everyone who uses our services must be at the heart of everything we do everyday’, hence the heart mosaic.”

    Anita Pontin, Health Care Assistant at Blind Veterans UK spoke of the day and said it was a “good team effort” and “I enjoyed working on the mosaic”.

    You can find out more about Dignity in Care online.

    Dignity in CareDignity in CareDignity in CareDignity in CareDignity in CareDignity in Care
    Dignity in CareDignity in CareDignity in Care

    Dignity Action Day, a set on Flickr.

    Valentine’s Day at Blind Veterans UK

    To celebrate Valentine’s Day, staff, veterans and volunteers at Blind Veterans UK have been making decorations for our Brighton centre in preparation for the Valentines Tea Dance on Friday 14 February. 

    The Tea Dance will take place throughout the day, with veterans having the opportunity to take part in dance classes taught by professionals and accompanied by musicians and the best love songs! 

    Carol Wrightson and Ray Falmer enjoy making Valentine's cards whilst on a holiday at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre.

    Carol Wrightson and Ray Falmer enjoy making Valentine’s cards whilst on a holiday at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre.

    Our Brighton centre is also spreading the love to the art and craft workshop. Special love themed craft sessions have been taking place in the run up to Valentine’s Day, with veterans trying their hand at decorations and, of course, Valentines cards, which were posted to partners, wives and husbands from a secret location! 

    Jerry Lynch, a permenant resident at Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre, makes a Valentine's card.

    Jerry Lynch, a permenant resident at Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre, makes a Valentine’s card.

    The group were taught how to make beautiful silk scarves with a heart shaped aperature cut out so that the scarf could be posted inside the card and could be seen through the heart, very tactile, beautiful and romantic! 

    Later on during Valentine’s Day there will be a pamper session for our blind veterans, where they can relax and enjoy treatments such as manicures, pedicures, massage and facials. 

    Valentine's decorations in the lounge at Blind Veterans UK's Brighton centre.

    Valentine’s decorations in the lounge at Blind Veterans UK’s Brighton centre.

    To find out more about the free services we offer blind Armed Forces and National Service veterans, visit the No One Alone campaign website, or see how we help veterans with the variety of training and activities on offer at our three centres.

    The art of willow weaving

    At the end of January, the Llandudno Art & Craft Department worked with three members who wanted to learn about willow weaving. 

    The week included a master class with a local expert Helen Waterfield from the Woodland Skills Centre in Denbighshire, North Wales. The veterans who look part learnt a range of skills in particular they learnt how to make 3D plant support shapes and fish platters. 

    Blind Veterans UK Shop was opened on Regent's Street on 28th June 1922.

    Blind Veterans UK Shop was opened on Regent’s Street on 28th June 1922, which sold various weaved baskets and items.

    In the early years when Blind Veterans UK was founded, and was operating from St Dunstan’s Lodge in Regent’s Park, blind veterans were trained in new skills such as massage (physiotherapy), shorthand typing, telephone operating, poultry farming, carpentry, shoe repairing and more significantly basket weaving. Most of the veterans went on to return to normal life after World War I and made a living with these newly acquired skills. 

    From our archives: Blind veterans learn the art of willow weaving.

    From our archives: Blind veterans learn the art of willow weaving.

    Nowadays the same principals live on. Through teaching veterans the skill such as willow weaving, it ensures that they feel confident to carry on working with willow at home and regain their independence after sight loss. 

    Gary Tomlinson makes a mask from willow.

    Gary Tomlinson makes a mask from willow.

    One of the veterans who took part was John Pulling. He said “This training has been a chance for me to have a new hobby, something productive for me to do at home. Once I get a picture in my head, I carry on and before I know it I’ve finished.  I’ve learnt a lot about willow during this time.” 

    John Dix practices willow weaving at Blind Veterans UK in Llandudno.

    John Dix practices willow weaving at Blind Veterans UK in Llandudno.

    Another veteran who took part was Gary Tomlinson, who said “I don’t like the word inspired but I feel inspired. I’ve got lots of ideas and am keen to carry on at home making willow items.” 

    John Pulling gets stuck into willow crafts.

    John Pulling gets stuck into willow crafts.

    John Dix, who recently backed our No One Alone campaign to spread the word about the free services we offer blind veterans, said “The training is exemplary.  It enables me to do things I wouldn’t be able to do without. It’s so helpful; you cannot exaggerate, as it’s beyond that.” 

    To find out more about the free services and support we offer blind Armed Forces and National Service veterans, or to refer someone visit our No One Alone campaign website.

    Blind veterans exhibit work at Two Worlds Exhibition at the Trinity Art Centre

    In the light of the huge redundancies announced by the MOD, Kent-based Town & Country Foundation (the charitable arm of Town & Country Housing Group) set themselves the challenge of engaging with veterans and supporting them in their return to civilian life. As a result, the Two Worlds project was formally launched in January 2013.

    The “Two Worlds – from Service to Civvy Street” exhibition was the first in a trilogy by the housing association that will culminate this year, the 100th anniversary of the First World War. It featured photos and an accompanying book of stories of 13 ex-members of the Armed Forces that span a number of decades from World War Two veterans through to those who served in the Falklands, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

    The second in The Two Worlds trilogy of exhibitions, ‘Transition’ launched in early January at the Trinity Art Centre in Tunbridge Wells. Working with groups of veterans from across the south east, the exhibition features work made by ex- servicemen and women and explores the idea of the two very different worlds of military service and Civvy Street that they have had to journey between.

    The Lead Artist on the project Jane Churchill explained, “We want to look at the theme of Two Worlds and the often challenging experiences that veterans find themselves having to negotiate as they return to Civvy Street. We have created 3D installations, pieces that explore the symbolism of doors and journeys. We’ve create a regiment of doors to highlight an element of each ex- serviceman or woman’s journey. This allows the audience to gain an insight into some of the contributors’ life stories and experiences. We can literally pass through the doors of the experiences expressed in words and images by the veterans themselves.’

    Kevin Alderton is the Two Worlds project lead veteran. Kevin served in the army for 12 years before a vicious assault received when he was on leave resulted in him losing his sight and being discharged in April 2000. “When I lost my sight and was discharged from the army, it was the support of Blind Veterans UK, a charity for blinded ex-servicemen that helped me rebuild my life. So I am fully aware of how important this kind of project can be.”

    “As part of Two World’s I’ve been running veterans awareness courses at various organisations in the south-east to try to make people aware of the problems ex-servicemen and women face. Peer to peer support is key and I want the project to be able to make a real difference at what can be a very difficult time. Jane’s art programme is part of helping servicemen come together, share their stories and also to access any support they might need. The project has already delivered tangible results. By remaining reactive and flexible throughout, we have strived to meet the specific needs of both individual veterans head-on, as well as developing useful and innovative services for the community as a whole.

    A further exhibition will take place in October 2014 – November 2014 provisionally titled “Our History – families, memories and mementos of war.”

    The programme is constantly reaching out to veterans and their families, and always welcomes confidential approaches from anyone who may need its support. Please contact kevin@fromservicetocivvystreet.org.uk