Blind Veterans UK pays tribute to 'Old Contemptible' blinded double-amputee soldier ahead of WWI centenary

1 July 2014 15:09

A leading military charity, which will be celebrating its centenary in 2015, is paying tribute to Alan Nichols, of one of the very first soldiers to land in France at the outbreak of the First World War.

Blind Veterans UK, commemorated Alan Nichols, who lost his sight and both his hands in an explosion while on active duty. Founded in 1915 to support blinded veterans returning from the Front, we now supports over 3,500 vision impaired veterans and will celebrate our centenary next year.

Alan served for the vast majority of the War before being blinded and losing his hands in a horrific training accident.

Rob Baker, our Information and Archives Officer, said: "With support from Blind Veterans UK, Alan went on to have an incredible life after sight loss - including building some of the very first World War Two-era air-raid shelters.

"As Blind Veterans UK prepares to celebrate its centenary, we are paying tribute to the lives and achievements of those who, like Alan, lost their sight in the Great War - and were later provided help and lifelong support by the charity."
Alan worked as a butler before signing up with the 3rd Durham Light Infantry in 1907. When the War broke out, Alan was an 'Old Contemptible' - one of the very first British Service personnel to land in France.

He was first wounded in 1914, but continued serving for another three years. Alan lost his sight, as well as both his hands in an accidental explosion while working as a bomb instructor at South Shields in 1917.

Alan first came to Blind Veterans UK's training centre in Regent's Park on 30 April, 1917, where he learnt Braille and typing - no mean feat for a handless man.

Blind Veterans UK supplied Alan with a specially-fitted Remington typewriter - the 'shift' key was adapted to allow Alan to use it with his knee and the letter keys had a metal case which corresponded to Alan's prosthetic hand to help him type accurately.

Alan foresaw the coming of the Second World War and, in 1938, built one of the first air-raid shelters in his own garden. Alan's design was similar to the ubiquitous Anderson shelters which later saved many people during the Blitz - a 10ft by 8ft by 18ft hole, covered by two sheets of perforated zinc, concrete and 3ft of earth.

Alan designed the shelter to be airtight when the door was closed so as to protect from gas attacks as well as shelling.

Following his training at Blind Veterans UK, Alan went on to lecture and fundraise for the charity, as well as the RNIB. He went on to live in Leeds, London, Kent and Cornwall, before settling in Portslade, near Brighton, until his death in 1959.

Rob Baker adds: "Captain Sir Ian Fraser, a contemporary and fellow blind veteran, wrote that Alan was completely undaunted and always made light of his grave disability. He remained a huge inspiration to Blind Veterans UK's members and helped lay the foundation for the charity's first few decades.

"The soldiers who 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 - something the ex-Service men and women who are supported by Blind Veterans UK continue to do today."

Alan Nichols was just one of the blinded WWI soldiers to be helped by Blind Veterans UK. Today, the charity supports over 3,500 blind and vision impaired veterans - no matter how or when they lost their sight. For more information about the charity and its work, please visit

Blind Veterans UK Information and Archives Officer Rob Baker is available for interview.