Rebuilding Lives (Current Exhibition)

The Work of the St Dunstan’s charity and its successor, Blind Veterans UK

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From 2014-2018 this museum joined others across the UK in marking the various centenaries of the First World War. Now we turn to consider the post-war rehabilitation of the injured, suffering from eye loss or severe visual impairment…a process that would last for many decades into the future.

This exhibition features objects and photographs on loan from the Blind Veterans UK archive, alongside paper items from the College's own museum collection.

Already by 1915, increasing numbers of blinded servicemen were returning to the UK from the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. The newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson, who owned the Evening Standard and had founded the Daily Express resolved to help them. He himself had become increasingly blind from glaucoma since 1908. In 1913 he had become President of the National Institute for the Blind (later the RNIB). In 1915 Pearson formed the Blinded Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Care Committee to provide a hostel, training, rehabilitation and lifelong support to those affected.

Training included general skills such as Braille, typewriting and in a range of occupations such as mat making, poultry farming and telephony. Sports and other recreational activities played an important role in rehabilitation. Pearson’s vision was that, given training, the wounded men could be transformed from recipients of charity to people who could lead independent, useful and satisfying lives. The idea was revolutionary in its day.

The training centre’s first home was at St Dunstan’s Lodge in Regent’s Park. This housed 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. They did not suffer their sight problems in isolation…many had also lost limbs or were the victims of shell shock. Before the war had even finished, over 1500 men had been taught new skills.

This exhibition is located on the first floor of the College. It may be seen as part of our Full Building Tours, or visitors wishing to see only this exhibition may enquire about its availability at other times.

Due to the worldwide Coronavirus alert the museum is currently closed to visitors until further notice. We hope that the run of this exhibition may be extended to allow visitors to see it.