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 streaming 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 memorable members:
* 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.