Blind Veterans UK - changing the way society views blindness

21 December 2016

In the hundred and one years since Blind Veterans UK was founded, it has not only helped vision-impaired ex-Service men and women to live independently with sight loss – it has also fundamentally changed the way society views blindness.

Rev. Andrew Nugee Archives

One such example is the Rev. Andrew Nugee, who became a trailblazer as the charity’s first blind veteran to be ordained.

Andrew enlisted with the 9th Rifle Brigade on 19th November 1914 and served until July the next year, when he was wounded at Hooge, a Belgian château that served as headquarters for the British Army. Hooge was the site of intense fighting during the War, and was regularly shelled.

Andrew’s wound meant that he had to have his right eye removed, though he continued to retain some sight in his left eye. He came to what was then St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK) shortly after. He learnt Braille, typing and poultry farming, alongside the many other men (then known as St Dunstaners) who had been blinded in the war, at our then headquarters in Regent’s Park, London.

Following his training in Regent’s Park, Andrew initially intended to become a fruit farmer and he took a course in this. However he felt a calling to the church and first of all returned to Magdalen College, Oxford, where had been for a short time prior to receiving his commission. Andrew proved to be a talented student and in his first year, he was awarded the College’s prestigious Pillsworth Exhibition for the undergraduate “who appears to have made the best use of his time during the year”. He then went on to study at Lincoln Theological College and was ordained in 1921. He had got married the previous year, to Elizabeth.

Andrew went on to have spells as a vicar in Surrey, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire, where he used a Braille copy of the Bible to deliver his sermons, Andrew returned to active involvement with the charity during the Second World War as our Chaplain. In his first sermon, he told the congregation: “I go forth to this new work feeling it to be the most important of my life. I wish to be of service to St. Dunstaners here, and to St. Dunstaners generally.” We had in 1940 moved our training and rehabilitation work to the safety of a small town in Shropshire, Church Stretton. Andrew would play a vital role in helping hundreds of newly blinded men and women adjust to their new surroundings and situation.

After the war Andrew went to the village of Crowthorne, Berkshire where he served as vicar from 1946 until 1960. He and Elizabeth then moved to Oxfordshire, where Andrew served as both Vicar of Broadwell and Rector of Kencot. Elizabeth sadly died in 1963 and Andrew got married again, to Zeala, later the same year. Andrew retired in 1967, and died in 1977.

Andrew’s story is now told through his own memoirs. Edited by his great-nephew Julian Walker, these have just been published for the first time under the title ‘Through A Glass Darkly’ (Bank House, 2016).