St. Dunstan's ww1 Postcards
(The house of miracles)
St Dunstan's ‑ the world famous organization for blind servicemen ‑ was founded in early 1915, "when few people thought it possible that a blind person could lead a happy and useful life." Its founder Sir Arthur Pearson, himself blind, was a remarkable man, and "although no one then realised it, the blind man's world would never be the same, after the formation of St Dunstan's" said lan Fraser, who was Pearson's second in command and had lost his sight on the Somme.
On Christmas Day 1915, The Illustrated London News informed its readers that, "in a corner of London's most beautiful park is a house where miracles are worked." It was to this house that soldiers and sailors were brought who had suffered the cruelest injury that war could inflict ‑ they had been blinded. The house was in Regent's Park and it was St Dunstan's Hostel. The world famous organization housed in the park issued a number of fund‑raising picture postcards during the Great War. This page is an attempt to describe the establishment of St Dunstan's, its activities and most of the postcards it published during that time.
This card, titled titled "St.Dunstan;s Hostel, Regent's Park, for Soldiers & Sailors Blinded in the War. " was one of a set of six. It has this caption on the back, "These men, who have given so much for the Empire are living not the passive half-life which is usually held to be the life of the blind, but a full life of interest and endeavor."
The first man to be blinded in the Great War 1914‑18 was
said to have been a Belgian soldier, "whose eyes were pierced by a German bullet
on the first day of the siege of Liege. " In the early days of the conflict,
nearly all wounded Belgian soldiers were evacuated to English hospitals for
treatment. Arthur Pearson, a newspaper magnet and entrepreneur who had lost his
sight in 1913, visited the blinded man and "chatted to him as only another
blind man could." He heard of two members of the British Expeditionary Force
(B.E.F.) who had been blinded in the fighting in France, invalided to England and
were now in a London hospital. Pearson promptly paid them a visit, and left "wondering what could be done for them when ... they were ready for discharge."
He was not worried that they "would starve, or have to beg, or be unwanted and
unloved" but about the fact that there was no adequate scheme for looking
after and rehabilitating blinded soldiers. He had pictured these men after
their discharge returning to their own homes, where, "for all the love that
might surround them, they would probably slip into hopeless and useless lives." And the idea developed of a hostel where they could "learn to be blind."
In early February 1915, Pearson ‑ who was on the Council of the National Institute for the Blind ‑ put his idea into practice. With the help of the British Red Cross Society and a grant from the National Relief Fund, he opened the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel in Bayswater Road. His first guests were the two blinded soldiers from the London hospital. By the end of the month there were 16 residents. As the property was too small to accommodate them all they moved to a country house which stood in 17 acres of ground in the middle of London. The house was the one in Regent's Park, owned by Otto Kahn, a New York banker, who placed it at Pearson's disposal absolutely free of charge.
St Dunstan's was not, as is sometimes thought, the patron saint of the blind and Pearson's hostel was not named after him. How was it named then? In 1830, the Third Marquess of Hertford built a house in Regent's Park. Shortly after it was completed, he heard that a church in Fleet Street named 'St Dunstan's in the West' was being demolished and that its "famous and remarkable [projecting] clock, one of the sights of London" was for sale. From being a young boy, the Marquess had admired the clock, so he bought it and had it installed on the outside of his new residence. When the clock moved, the name of St Dunstan's came with it and thereafter Herford's house was known as St Dunstan's Villa and later as St Dunstan's Lodge. When Arthur Pearson took over he called in St Dunstan's Hostel.
The 2nd London General hospital
Before going to St Dunstan's, many blind servicemen were sent to the 2nd London General Hospital, where a whole block was devoted to eye cases.The concentration of like-wounded men encouraged "a fellow feeling among the patients, who understood one anothers problems - and most important of all, enabled St. Dunstan's to get at us right from the start", wrote Ian Frazer. Blinded on the Somme, Frazer went on to become second in command of St Dunstan's, and then its chief, when Arthur Pearson died in 1921.
A blind soldier who was a patient in the 2nd London General in 1916, discovered that a man there was in an even worse position than him. He later recalled that, "as soon as we were well enough we had a lesson or two in braille, a foretaste of the way in which a man could 'see' with his hands and learning that a soldier in another ward had lost not only his sight but also his hands, was a salutary cure for self-pity."
Most blinded soldiers naturally found it hard at first to come to terms with their loss of sight. One who was soon to transfer from the 2nd London to St Dunstan's said, "One night, I tried to see and groped for the lamp above the dressing-table, pulled it down, and pressed it where my left eye had been. The bulb felt encouragingly warm, and I strained my nerves to try to see a glimmer of light.There was none of course. Yet I had to do it, I had to try."
The photographic postcard depicting wounded soldiers in 'hospital blues', was taken by Mr E. C. Cook of Fulham Road, London. Most of the men were suffering from eye wounds. Some were completely blind. In all probability they were patients at the "special block for eye cases" at the 2nd London General Hospital.
Heroes at St Dunstan’s
St Dunstan's was a voluntary organisation and as such was always in need of financial support. Pearson, its chief, was adept at persuading hard‑headed businessmen to dive for their cheque‑books and editors and journalists to mention the splendid work being done at Regent's Park. Private individuals also helped to raise money, some by putting pen to paper and composing verses praising 'Our Blinded British Heroes'. Their words were displayed on postcards and sold for one penny each. For instance, R.W. Griffiths ("Author of "Somebody's Boy", etc., etc.") wrote three verses under the title "Our Blinded Heroes" which appeared on a postcard. So to did did a number of verses titled "A BLIND HERO", which first appeared in the Daily Express.
The fund-raising verse card on the left was sold "IN AID of THE FUNDS of ST. DUNSTAN'S BLINDED SOLDIERS' & SAILORS' HOSTEL." The verses on the fund-raising card on the right were "Written on behalf of the Blinded Soldiers' and sailors' Care Committee." The card in the centre carried verses by L. Jones of Sileby and the proceeds from sales went to "...our blind Soldiers and sailors."
A Victoria Cross hero - Captain Angus Buchanan
One of the residents at St Dunstan's was Victoria Cross holder Captain Angus Buchanan, who received the decoration after he rescued "under heavy machine‑gun fire" two wounded soldiers trapped in No‑Man's Land. Buchanan was the only V.C. holder to be blinded in the Great War and St Dunstan's saluted him by issuing a postcard featuring this brave man.
This card was the first in a set of three and was dedicated to Captain Angus Buchanan V.C., who studied braille and typewriting at St Dunstan's. He was a student at Oxford university when the war broke out and in 1919 went back there to study law. He became articled to a firm of solicitors in Gloucestershire. In 1942, he told Ian Frazer, "I am still very fit and have plenty to do." He died two years later.
The Spirit of St Dunstan’s
During the first six months after opening, the number of patients at the Regent's Park home increased, and the staff, consisting mainly of V.A.D.'s, tried to bring out in them the "spirit of St Dunstan's" ‑ the concept of "earning to be blind". They almost always succeeded.
The public began to hear of the work being done for
soldiers, and it attracted the attention of many industrialists,
and others. For example, a Mr Begg, special artist for The Illustrated
News, visited the hostel in late 1915, to record the progress of the
On 25th December his moving and evocative drawings appeared as a
spread under the headline, "At the House of Miracles, Blinded Soldiers
and Sailors are Learning to Work and to Play". The special feature ended
plea. For "the aftercare of our blinded men a special fund is being
said, "To this fund contributions are most earnestly requested".
To encourage the public to give to the Fund, St Dunstan's released three (but possibly more) appeal cards. Each carried a different illustration, and were titled either "BLINDED FOR YOU" or "BLINDED". Printed details on the front informed the buyer that they were "Sold in aid of St Dunstan's Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors. Price one penny." The first card is shown above and the second and third below this text.
The card on the left was the second of the three cards mentioned above.and "Sold in aid of St. Dunstan's Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and sailors." Part of the text on the back reads, "The inmates are living, not the half-life which is usually held to be the lot of the blond, but a life probably fuller then they have ever known but for their blindness...These brave men have been blinded for you. Will,you not contribute towards their future welfare?" The card on the right was the third in the set of three. Part of the text on the back reads, "...they are learning things which we with seeing eyes might well believe that no man could ever learn."
This photographic postcard - depicting gas being released toward the Allied lines - was German in origin. In 1899, a Hague declaration laid down the principle that, "there was certain methods of combat that were outside the scope of civilised warfare." and the use of poison gas was one. Germany, one of the signatures to the declaration, had "pledged to abstain from the use of projectiles, the object of which,is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases." In spite of her promise, Germany was the first to use chemical weapons in the Great War, claiming that,"by not using projectiles, but instead by releasing the cloud of gas from cylinders," she had avoided breaking the Hague agreement.
Mustard-gas gave off a smell described as "like garlic or mustard". Initially, it caused irritation to the eyes, in serious cases it soon turned into "intolerable pain", which was often so intense the victim was given a shot of morphia. The patients' face "was frequently congested and swollen" and painful blisters and burns developed on the more sensitive parts of his body. Two days later the first deaths would usually occur, not necessarily from bums, but by damage to throat and lungs.
"The men's bronchial tubes were stripped of their mucous membrane by the gas", said Capt. Ramsay, RAMC. Another medical officer wrote "The victim has died with his windpipe clogged from top to bottom." Mustard‑gas was so potent that "men standing around the dismembered corpse of a victim at an autopsy could still feel its effects ten days after the initial poisoning". Less serious cases suffered skin burns and temporary blindness.
In 1918, the artist John Singer Sargent, then over 60 years of age, went to France and did several paintings of life in the back areas and one of them became famous, it was titled "GASSED". One day on the Doullens‑Arras road, he came across a Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.), which was busily treating victims of mustard‑gas.
Around the C.C.S. were several hundred men
lying or sitting on the ground. Many of them had recently been blinded
and were being
led in groups of six to a treatment area, each patient with his hand on
shoulder of the man in front of him. Seeing the potential for a great
Sargent started to record the distressing scene, and as he did so Haig
and stopped and watched for a while and "went away impressed."
of those helpless men is one of the most memorable of the war. It
by over 7ft and later appeared in miniature on a postcard.
A Set of Five Postcards IssuedAs terrible and bloody battles raged on the Somme in the summer and autumn of 1916, more battle‑blinded soldiers came under the care of St Dunstan's. It was probably in the late summer of 1916 that the organization issued a set of five postcards.
"BLINDED FOR YOU" A splendid and moving picture by R. Caton Woodville, which brings to life the noise and confusion of battle and the unseen danger lying in wait for a blinded soldier. Woodville, a painter in oils and watercolours, travelled extensively, often reporting from the battle‑front. For instance, he observed the Russo‑Turkish War of 1878, the Egyptian War of 1882, the Anglo/Boer War and the Great War. His illustrations regularly appeared in The Illustrated London News.
"MEMORIES." by Caton Woodville. The set of five St Dunstan's cards mentioned in the text and illustrated on these pages, are not difficult for the collector to find. This is presumably an indication that they sold well.
"PALS." It seems the wholesale use of guide dogs for blind ex‑servicemen did not begin until the early 1930s. Apparently, many of the men had been reluctant to use them, because of the pre‑war image of the blind beggar and his dog. Perhaps this card was meant to change peoples opinion.
"'WHEN NIGHT SETS IN THE SUN IS DOWN." This card Caton Woodville's haunting painting which depicted a blind soldier being led away in the aftermath of battle, while in the background shadowy figures tend to the dead and wounded. A memorable picture.
"YOU'VE NOT SAID HOW I'VE GROWED, DADDY!" This was Thomas Henry's impression of a blinded officer returning to his family. The text on the reverse of the card reads, "The ever increasing difficulties experienced by the blind women employees of the National Institute for the Blind in finding suitable lodgings for themselves has led the Council to provide a Hostel for their use at 38 and 40 Langham Street,W."
A Second Set of six Postcards
It was probably towards the end of 1916, that St Dunstan's
released another set of fund‑raising cards. They were six in number and presented in a white or buff-coloured envelope which carried the titles of the cards therein.
The sketch on the envelope was similar to one given to St Dunstan's by the famous Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers. The six cards were probably first put on sale at a performance organized by Lady Pearson. The first card - depicting the hostel and grounds - is the one illustrated at the top of this page. The remaining five, are identical to those in the first set - with the same captions and images.
The sketch on this envelope is similar to one given to
Dunstan's by the famous Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers. The six cards
in the set were
probably first put on sale at a performance organized by Lady Pearson.
The titles of the cards are displayed on the envelope. The first - a picture of the Hostel and
the grounds - is
illustrated near the top of this page. The images on the remaining five cards are identical to those in the
first set. The titles are the same too.
A Third Set of Postcards
In late 1916 or early 1917, a third set of cards was put out
by St Dunstan's. They were presented in a buff‑coloured envelope which carried
a sketch similar to the one on the envelope containing the 'second set'. Some
of the postcard captions printed thereon, were different, and can cause
confusion and perhaps need explaining.
This is the envelope which held the third set of six cards.The text is similar to that on the envelope holding the set of five cards, but the illustration is different. The figure being led by the young girl, this time appears to be dressed in civilian cloths and the girl is taller.
The first picture in the third set was new and captioned "Blinded", and is illustrated below. The second was also a new picture, but carried the same caption as that on a Caton Woodville card, which appeared in the first and second set, called "Blinded For You", The card is shown below. The third card was "Memories" and is the same caption and picture, as a card in the previous two sets. The fourth card, titled "Pals" is identical to a card in the previous sets. So too, is the fifth card "When night sets in the sun is down". The sixth one, carried a new picture and a new title "St Dunstan's Victory Over Blindness" This card is also shown below.
“BLINDED” This card was the first in the third set. Details printed on the back of it told the buyer that “Large sums of money are necessary for the aftercare of these brave men who gave their sight for us in the war, and a permanent After‑care Branch which will look after them all their lives has been established which asks for your practical sympathy on their behalf. Contributions will be gratefully accepted...”
“BLINDED FOR YOU.” This postcard illustration ‑ the second in the third set - is very similar to one which was “Especially drawn for St. Dunstan's Hospital sale” by Louis Raernaekers and titled “An inmate of St Dunstan's“. In1917, the London Fine Art Society said the drawing was “one of many contributions that the artist has made in furtherance of war charities”.
The caption on this card is "ST. DUNSTANS VICTORY OVER BLINDNESS." It was was a popular slogan under which Arthur Pearson made numerous public appeals for funds. He had a capacity for inventing phrases which expressed “what the young soldiers were feeling”. The card was the sixth and final one in the third set.
"Victory Over Blindness" was also the motto of the 'Australian Blinded Soldiers Association.'
In 1915, Seargeant-Major Middlemiss (2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers) was blinded by shrapnel during the Galipolli campaign and went to St Dunstan's to "Learn to be Blind." In 1916, he was asked by the Permanent Blind Relief War Fund to go to America and Canada on a year-long lecture and fund-raising tour. On 3rd May 1916, Robert and his wife, set sail for the U.S on the SS Adriatic. On the tour they met many influential statesmen, authors and actors and visited many cities including New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, Nashville, Cleveland and in Canada, Toronto. The Middlemiss' returned to England in May 1917. A report in the Review said, "The Sergeant-Major's eloquence bore wonderful fruit among the Americans." Rob Baker, (Collection and Archives Officer) of Blind Veterans UK, said. "The time he spent there represents a remarkable commitment for someone who, having enlisted at age 17, had no background in public speaking or fund-raising."
Help for Blinded Soldiers’ Children
It seems that St Dunstan's issued three sets of fund‑raising
postcards, (as mentioned above) and also several 'one‑offs' in aid of special
causes. For instance, the organization offered financial help to those men with
children, when it established "The Blinded Soldiers' and Sailors' Children Fund."
A discharged soldier or sailor blinded on war service did not receive any official allowance for any child born after his injury. St Dunstan's started a fund which would raise money "to make an allowance of 5/‑ a week for the children born afterwards."
"The Blinded Soldiers' and Sailors' Children Fund" was supported by a special postcard which
carried a picture from a painting by Gordon Brown, R.I. The card is shown on the left and is titled "THE CHILD HE WILL NEVER SEE!"
Gordon Brown's evocative painting also appeared on a poster which advertised a "Great Stage Ball" at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a fund-raising event and was "THE STAGES TRIBUTE TO OUR BLINDED SOLDIERS" The performance was a "Pageant of Play and Players" and the entire proceeds were "to be given to Sir Arthur Pearson's Blinded Soldiers' Children's Fund."
To publicise the 'Children's Fund' and at the same time
raise money for it, other cards were put on sale. Usually headed Illustrated
Programme, they were used by cinemas ‑ and probably theaters ‑ to
advertise their forthcoming films or performances.
In addition to the Illustrated Programme, most of the cards carried a serial number and the words "Keep this card. It may be worth £1." (presumably a lottery). The front usually carried a printed photograph (they appeared in various shades of sepia) of some military scene or other. Picture‑houses in many towns used the ILLUSTRATED PROGRAMME cards to advertise their films. An example is shown below.
This "Illustrated Programme" card was used by the Carlton Picture House in Wakefield, Yorkshire The picture of the front of the card, titled "BRITISH CONVOY ON THE SOMME." was typical,of the 'battle scenes' depicted on these cards.
In 1961, lan Fraser said,
"Men whose sight had been damaged in the early days of the [1914‑18) war, who had left hospital then with an adequate amount of vision, and when sight had since deteriorated to the point of blindness, would eventually nearly double our numbers.
Up to the present ‑ and the list is still not closed ~ we have had over 2,900 men who lost their sight through service in the First World War... Some good comes out of evil, and even war itself has produced its highlights of human conduct. Britain, and indeed the whole world, is the better for the existence of St Dunstan's, and its message will go on."
Sir Arthur Pearson, who died 1921, would have been pleased to know that the idea which inspired "The House of Miracles" is still alive and active today.
This year (2012) St Dunstan's changed its name to Blind Veterans UK.
It did so, "to help more people understand who we are and what we do, so we can help blind veterans...We know that not enough people are aware of us...We've thought long and hard about what we're all about - and our new identity captures this perfectly."
You will find the site of Blind Veterans UK here.