How did St Dunstan's start?
St Dunstan's was founded in 1915 by Sir Arthur Pearson Bt. GBE. Its remit was to help soldiers and sailors, blinded in the First World War. The loss of his own sight to glaucoma two years before the War didn't stop Pearson from running his newspaper empire and he knew that the war blind were no less capable. Pearson's vision was that, given training, the visually impaired could be transformed from recipients of charity to people who could lead independent, useful and satisfying lives. The idea was revolutionary in its day.
First World War casualties
St Dunstan's first home in London's Regent's Park, became the training centre and workshops for Pearson's new 'blind army'. Men came back from the battlefields having lost their sight from bullet wounds, bombs, shellfire and mustard gas poisoning. Many had also lost limbs or were the victims of shell shock. Before the end of 1918, over 1500 men had been taught new skills.
They went on to pursue such diverse occupations as massage, boot repairing, poultry farming, telephone switchboard operating and joinery. Such jobs might seem mundane today, when technology makes so much possible, but in a time when even the white stick didn't exist, these men were real pioneers.
Second World War casualties
The Second World War brought another generation of St Dunstaners. Many were taken prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East. Again their injuries went beyond blindness. Servicemen endured deprivation, cruelty and forced labour at the hands of the Japanese and became blind either as a result of injury or from the effects of malnutrition and beri beri. Women were also affected - many who worked in munitions factories lost their hands and sight as a result of accidental explosions.
Post war casualties
Men and women in the Armed Forces still lose their sight, often sustaining associated injuries. They still turn to St Dunstan's. The following list highlights a few casualties sustained during this time:
1954: Shot by Mau Mau guerillas
1966: Mortar attack in Aden
1973: Northern Ireland casualty
1982: Blinded during the Falklands Campaign
1991: Mine explosion in the Gulf
1991: Northern Ireland helicopter crash
1992: Blinded in Turkey
1995: Accident in Germany
2001: Bomb blast in London
In 2000 St Dunstan's extended its services to include those who had served their country and became visually impaired through an accident, illness or age. St Dunstan's continues to help all its members to achieve independent, fulfilling and meaningful lives following blindness.
The Archive department provides a service to members of the public, media and anyone seeking information relating to St Dunstan's. Maybe you're researching your family history and need information on a First World War St Dunstaner? Or perhaps you'd like to find out more about an artefact in your possession?
Whatever your query, please don't hesitate to contact our Archivist.
Phone: 020 7723 5021