Blind Veterans UK commemorates soldier blinded during World War I battle 100 years ago this month

1 September 2014 16:56

Blind Veterans UK will be celebrating our centenary in 2015, and we are paying tribute to the “indomitable spirit” of a London soldier who was blinded in service 100 years ago this month.

Blind Veterans UK, are paying tribute to George Smith, who lost his sight in a shell explosion during the Battle of the Aisne, which took place 100 years ago this September. Founded in 1915 to support blinded soldiers returning from the Front, we now support over 3,500 vision impaired veterans and will celebrate our centenary next year.

As a member of the "Old Contemptibles", George was one of the first British soldiers to land in France at the beginning of the Great War. He was also one of the first to be wounded in action during the Battle of the Aisne in September 1914. Despite his wounds, George was captaining Blind Veterans UK's football team only a few years later.

Born in 1884, George was already a soldier long before the War, having enlisted with the 2nd Grenadier Guards in 1904. When War broke out, he served as part of the British Expeditionary Force and served until his discharge from the Army in 1916. Within the first few months of the War, George suffered a bullet wound to the elbow during the Battle of the Aisne - the skirmish that followed the Battle of the Marne, Britain's first major military victory of the conflict.

George also lost most of his sight during the Battle when he was caught in a shell-blast on 14th September 1914. His wounds meant that he had to have iridectomies - operations to remove the iris - in both eyes. He came to Blind Veterans UK, then known as St Dunstan's, in 1916 and later captained the "Dunstonians" - Blind Veterans UK's football team.

George trained as a basket maker at Blind Veterans UK and would go on to live independently with the skills he learnt and continued to make baskets for most of his life - even adapting his home to accommodate a basket workshop. Despite the difficulty caused by his wounded arm, which made certain techniques very difficult, he only gave up the craft due to ill health in 1949.

When George first came to Blind Veterans UK's St Dunstan's Lodge, he was living in Highbury, North London, but would go on to live in Fenny Compton in Warwickshire, Leicester and Brighton. George passed away suddenly in 1959, aged 75, at Pearson House, one of our former centres in Brighton.

Rob Baker, Blind Veterans UK's Information and Archives Officer, said: "George was one of the very first soldiers to be blinded in the First World War, but his indomitable spirit led him to achieve incredible things - not least of which was him captaining a blind football team.

"The number of soldiers who, like George, came home blinded from World War One inspired the formation of Blind Veterans UK, a charity which still supports thousands of vision impaired veterans.

"With the charity's help, the soldiers who returned blinded from the Front went on to demonstrate incredible, truly awe-inspiring courage in the ways they discovered life after sight loss. As with George nearly a century ago, sport continues to be a big part of the lives of ex-Service men and women who are supported by Blind Veterans UK today."

George Smith was just one of the blinded WWI soldiers to be helped by Blind Veterans UK. Today, we support over 3,500 blind and vision impaired veterans - no matter how or when they lost their sight.

If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or National Service who now suffers with sight loss (including age-related sight loss) request our free support by calling 0800 389 7979.