Historical Photography Project celebrates our fabulous celebrity friends

25 January 2017 15:00

The early days of Blind Veterans UK saw many visits from celebrities of the day, who kindly supported our activities – stars of the theatre and cinema; sportsmen and women; writers, and others.

Some of these remain well-known to this day, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is remembered in particular as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Others have now faded from popular memory despite their popularity at the time.

One such is the actress and singer Lily Elsie. A child star of music hall, variety and pantomime, Lily went on to appear in theatre and operetta, and was perhaps best-known for her starring role in the London production of ‘The Merry Widow’.

Lily Elsie standing with 4 men, 2 in uniformLily, pictured left, with a group of our First World War blind veterans in Regent’s Park, appears to have visited us on more than one occasion and we have a number of photos featuring her. We also know that she took part in the Savoy Fair, held at the Savoy Hotel in December 1916, which was a fundraising event from which half the proceeds went to support our work. Although we don’t know the exact dates of her visits, photos such as that below which show her with our Matron, Frances Hughes, must have been taken between June 1916 and February 1918, as it was in this period of time that Matron Hughes was with us.

Lily Elsie dancing with gentleman accompanied by woman on mouth acordianAfter the war Lily appeared in two films, both of which had a First World War theme. In ‘The Great Love’, by the famous director D.W.Griffith, she was one of a number of celebrities of the day to have cameo roles playing themselves. Amongst the others was Blind Veterans UK’s first Patron, Queen Alexandra! Lily’s other film role was more substantial, in Maurice Elvey’s ‘Comradeship’. This film, in which she played the lead role of Betty Mortimer, also provides a link to us: the story is of a blinded soldier, who becomes romantically involved with Betty.

After a break from acting, Lily returned to the stage in the late 1920s, but sadly her health deteriorated not long after this and her acting career came to a premature end, although she lived on until 1962, reaching the age of 76. There is much more about Lily on the Miss Lily Elsie website, including many photos.