Sir Arthur Pearson with some of the first soldiers helped by Blind Veterans UK
Sir Arthur Pearson with some of the first soldiers helped by Blind Veterans UK

Our history

Blind Veterans UK was established in 1915, as large numbers of soldiers returned blinded from the battlefields of the First World War. Our founder, Sir Arthur Pearson, had lost his sight through glaucoma but was determined to help blind veterans continue to live independent and fulfilling lives.

Our original vision was much the same as it is today: no one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone.

In 2015, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Blind Veterans UK. As we enter our second century, we remain committed to giving blind and vision impaired former Service men and women the support they need to discover life after sight loss.

Blind Veterans UK was founded on 29 January by Sir Arthur Pearson, the founder of the Daily Express and a Council member of the National Institute for the Blind (now the RNIB). The charity initially operated as The Blinded Soldiers' and Sailors' Care Committee, and began by supporting two blinded soldiers in a house in Bayswater Hill, London. Soon afterwards we moved to a much larger property, St Dunstan's Lodge, in Regent's Park. Here we helped blind veterans learn new skills such as massage (physiotherapy), shorthand typing, telephone operating, poultry farming, carpentry, basket and mat making and shoe and boot repairing. Most went on to return to normal life after World War I and make a living with these newly acquired skills.


 Carpentry 1918



Ian Fraser was placed in charge of our After-Care work. As a captain in the King's (Shropshire Light Infantry), Fraser had been blinded by a bullet in the Battle of the Somme. Our After-Care (now Welfare) department continues to provide lifelong support and assistance for all our blind veterans following their initial training and rehabilitation activities.

By the end of the year, we'd trained over 600 blind veterans with another 700 still learning new skills at Regent's Park. Many of the veterans at Regent's Park were helped around the grounds by Ruby Smith (pictured below), the young daughter of the head gardener. A further 200 men were still in recovery and rehabilitation in additional facilities around the country, including in Torquay, Ilkley, Blackheath, Hastings and Brighton. Some of these were open for just a few years, but our West House centre in Brighton became an important part of the organisation for decades to come.


Little Ruby And Soldier

We moved headquarters from St Dunstan's Lodge to St John's Lodge, also in Regent's Park. Arthur Pearson dies, aged only 55, and Ian Fraser takes over as Chairman. He continued in this role for 53 years.


 Fraser Ian Captain The Young Chairman


We formally adopted the name of our Regent's Park training centre, officially becoming St Dunstan's.



Our training and rehabilitation work transfers from Regent's Park to Brighton, although London is still our administrative base.



Together with the National Institute of Blind People (now the RNIB), we produced our first talking books.

Our new centre at Ovingdean, Brighton opened as a convalescent and holiday home and training centre, just before the Second World War breaks out.


Brighton Ovingdean 1938


The new Brighton centre was also used as a war hospital for eye injuries.

We moved our training and rehabilitation work from Brighton to Church Stretton in Shropshire for the remainder of the war. 700 blinded service men and women were trained here, many learning new manufacturing skills on lathes and presses to enable them to go on to factory work.


Church Stretton St Dunstaners

We left Church Stretton and returned to Brighton with 1,673 blind veterans of the First World War and 686 from the Second World War.

Our administrative headquarters moved to 191 Old Marylebone Road, London.



Our blind veterans use their first talking books on tape.

Training is provided in how to use the new long cane.


 St Dunstaner using the long cane



Blind veterans Tony Parkinson and Ray Peart competed in the Paralympic Games (then known as the 'Olympiad for the Physically Disabled') in Toronto, Canada.



Together with the RNIB, we evaluated the Kurzweil: the first reading machine to instantly convert print into speech.



Terry Bullingham was our first veteran to join as a result of being blinded in the Falklands conflict.


Bullingham Terry Head

We moved headquarters to our current location in Harcourt Street, London.


HM The Queen visited our main Brighton centre to open the new South Wing. This provided additional facilities and extra accommodation for our blind veterans and their partners.

We closed our building in Kemptown in Brighton and transfered its facilities to the redeveloped main centre in Brighton.

We changed our constitution to allow veterans who have lost their sight since finishing their service to register for our free support. Applications rose substantially.

Ray Hazan, who was blinded in Northern Ireland, is elected as our President.

We opened our Sheffield centre, offering rehabilitation and training in the north.

Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man, who had joined us in 2005, dies peacefully at our Brighton centre. The funeral is held with full military honours at St Nicholas Church, Brighton.


Henry Allingham at Ovingdean 2007 

We opened a new centre at Llandudno in north Wales.

We officially became Blind Veterans UK, to help more people understand who we are and what we do. We also launched our No One Alone campaign, to recruit new blind veterans in need of our lifelong support.


Blind Veterans UK's Brighton centre celebrated its 75th anniversary.


Blind Veterans UK marked the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.


Blind Veterans UK celebrated its 100th anniversary.


Sign up to our e-newsletter