St Dunstan’s is gone – Blind Veterans UK is here

Changing names is never easy. St Dunstan’s has had to move very carefully. Nearly a century old, and trusted by the blind, it shed its name in February to become Blind Veterans UK.

The charity was set up in 1914 by the founder and owner of the Daily Express, Arthur Pearson, who had lost his own sight through glaucoma. He wanted to establish a rehabilitation and training centre for the soldiers who had lost their sight in the First World War.

The American banker Otto Kahn lent his house, St Dunstan’s Lodge in London, to the charity. By the end of 1918 the charity had helped over 1,500 soldiers, or St Dunstaners as they came to be known.

In 1938 the centre at Ovingdean, near Brighton, was opened. It was intended originally to be a convalescent and holiday home for St Dunstaners. This centre is still there. It sits alone on the edge of the village in an unapologetic building, whose front facade is like the side of a great ship that streams footpaths down towards the shore.

In 1940, just as the charity extended its services to those blinded while serving in the auxiliary services, women’s services, munitions factories, the police, the fire services and civil defence, the war forced it to evacuate its residents from Brighton to Shropshire.

In 1946 with the war over the St Dunstaners returned to Ovingdean. The charity was then responsible for over 1,600 members from the First World War and nearly 700 from the Second World War.

Since then the wars and conflicts have kept coming, and the charity has had to keep pace.  At the beginning of this year it decided that the time had come to rebrand. The name St Dunstan’s was removed from the charity’s three centres at Ovingdean, Sheffield and Llandudno, and replaced with the bold new lettering of Blind Veterans UK.

The charity hopes that the name change will make it easier for people to understand what it does. It wants to reach those ex-servicemen and women who are blind, or severely vision impaired, who may not realise that they are entitled to support. Its message is that any blind person who has served in the Armed Forces at any point in their lives, even if only for national service, is entitled to the support of Blind Veterans UK.

You’ll probably see the charity’s new logo now you know it’s out there. Their tie is not shy!

Some moments this millennium:

2003 Billy Baxter, who lost his sight serving in Bosnia in 1997, rode solo at 165mph on an unmodified motorbike (a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R) at Boscombe Down Airfield.

2005 Nigel Whitely, ex-Royal Navy who lost his sight due to a tropical disease, won a gold medal in an archery competition in Italy.

2009 Henry Allingham (at the time of his death the world’s oldest man), died aged 113 at the centre in Ovingdean where he had been cared for during the last few years of his life.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2019

8 thoughts on “St Dunstan’s is gone – Blind Veterans UK is here

  1. During my time in Manchester I heard tell of a DART TEAM which actually played the game in pubs about the city. The apparently stuck a pin into the bullseye and threw from the line and were very accurate!.
    I have no cause to doubt this as a few members of the M/car Fire Brigade with whom I served spoke of this many times. Can you please confirm this.
    Antony Conway, retired Chief Fire Officer, Hong Kong

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello – you are right about the darts team! Blind Veterans UK have sent me some information from their archives which I will include in a short post. Unfortunately they had nothing on Manchester in particular but I hope that you will enjoy what they have managed to find. I aim to have the piece up in the next few days. My thanks again to you for your query, and to Blind Veterans UK for their help. Georgie

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  2. To any Blind Veteran I would share… My Grandfather, Christopher Brennan WW1., raised three children… My father Daniel Watkins WW11., raised three children… Without St Dunstans caring, training and support, this would not have been possible for both men. Enjoyed holidays at Ovingdean and Rottingdean as a child. Now, six Children and nine Grandchildren later, I can say we all share a debt of gratitude to St Dunstans. My Father and Grandfather were the most cheerful men I knew inspite of the affliction of blindness. Dad only had one hand. We had a great upbringing and learnt to put our toys away or they became trodden on ! The cat and dog learnt the same lessons ! Later… Dad enjoyed his Grandchildren playing keyboard, piano and guitar and singing to him. Mum and Dad both Rest In Peace, Cambridge, New Zealand. My Father was a God-fearing and God-loving man.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just came across this helpful and informative blog while researching about St Dunstan’s. I worked with WW1 Veterans as an escort. My job was to accompany them for walks along the Promenade or to a coffee shop, pub or bookies. I felt so privileged to hear snippets of their stories as I helped them to enjoy the sea air.
    Thanks to this blog I’m now much more up to date about this wonderful charity and so glad that their wonderful work continues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Am delighted you found the blog helpful – it was one of the first I ever wrote. Also so pleased to hear about your time with the veterans…having someone to talk to can make such a difference. All the best Georgie

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