One shocking outcome of the Great War was the number of soldiers who returned home with permanent injuries to their eyes, many being blinded for life. David Melling was serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers and was just 18 when he lost his sight:
‘I was the end man of the line and we were firing when a bullet came, and all I knew was that I couldn’t see and that I was lying on the floor of the trench, with one of our chaps bandaging me. I was left there while they went on firing. I don’t know how long I was lying there; but I was terribly thirsty, and drank two bottles of water – my own and one I took from a dead man near me. I could not see him, but I felt by groping about his equipment that he was a British chap.
‘There weren’t enough of our men to hold the trench, and they were forced to retire and leave me. The Turks came up the trench. They were fearfully excited, and I thought it was all up with me then. I never gave myself any hope.
‘The Turks were running about the trench looking for our chaps. They ran over me, no doubt thinking I was dead. I was lying on my side, with my hands covering my head, holding the bandages to stop the blood from coming out. I knew then that I had lost my eyes. I felt as if all the bones in my body were broken with the Turks running over me and stepping on me.’
A prisoner of war, David Melling was repatriated and started the long process of rehabilitation, learning to Braille, how to type and how to become a poultry farmer which became his career until his death aged 60 in 1957.
This rehabilitation was a radical departure from previous years where men tended to be treated as a burden and no longer of use to society after they lost their sight. To pay for this treatment in the days before a National Health Service, men relied on charities such as St Dunstans and the National Institute for the Blind to provide this treatment. These charities raised funds in a number of ways, including selling postcards for small change and today we are looking at a pair of these postcards sold by the National Institute for the Blind.
The first card is entitled ‘Memories’ and was painted by the famous military painter R Caton Woodville. In the image a blinded soldier in his hospital blues sits in a bench, holding his cap and stick and thinks of his life before the war and the sports and activities he enjoyed then and presumably wont be able to enjoy again:
The rear of the card reads:
The Home Teaching Branch of the National Institute for the Blind is a very valuable one. It sends out visitors to the homes of the blind in various parts of the country, who acts as the part of “guides, philosophers and friends” in the best sense of the word. There are a number of blind people who have good reason to be grateful for the unobtrusive and valuable work carried out by the Home Teachers.
The second card depicts another blinded soldier, hugging his canine companion tight and entitled ‘Pals’:
The back of this card reads:
The soldiers and sailors blinded in the war have learnt to be blind at St Dunstan’s in Regent’s Park and many are still learning. After their training they go to their own homes or are set up in new ones to carry on the trades they have mastered. Large sums of money are necessary for the after-care 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 by the National Institute for the Blind which asks for your practical sympathy on their behalf.