Celebrating Royal Ascot

22 June 2017 15:00

This week is Royal Ascot. Queen Anne first saw the potential for a race course at Ascot Heath in 1711. The first race meeting was held that August and racing has continued there for over 300 years. This has reminded us of our blind veterans who have enjoyed horse riding.

Photo of blind veteran Jockey Woods on a race horse with groom

Ernest ‘Jockey’ Woods, as his name suggests, had a background with horses working at a horse racing stables prior to enlisting. He served as a Private in the King’s Own Rifles and lost his sight at Arras in 1917. After coming to us he went on to pursue poultry-farming as a career, in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. He married Mary Walker (in a joint ceremony with fellow blind veteran David Munro and his bride Alice Chambers) in 1921.  He continued to enjoy riding, and our photo here shows him in racing colours, seated on a fine looking horse. Jockey died in 1957.

Black and white photo of blind veteran Billy Watson on a horse

William “Billy” Wyndham Watson was the son of a farmer and lived his early life at Farglow Farm, near Carlisle. He enlisted as a Trooper in the Northumberland Hussars, a cavalry division of the Army, in 1915 at the age of just 17. He served in France, was blinded there in August 1918 and was taken prisoner by the Germans. However, with the war soon ending he was repatriated in October.

William joined us in March 1919 and learnt typewriting, poultry farming and to play the piano. He left our headquarters in Regent’s Park in March 1921 and went to a new home, Townfoot Farm near Hayton, Northumberland. The photo shows him on a horse there. William married Beatrice Lowther in 1926 and they had a daughter, Joan. He, like Jockey, did poultry-farming work until 1955, when sadly his health began to fail. William died in 1960.

Today at our Llandudno centre we offer equine-assisted therapy as part of our life skills training for our blind veterans; it is fascinating to reflect on how Jockey, Billy and others of our blind veterans were encouraged to ride long before this was established as a therapeutic practice.

To see more stories from our Historical Photography Project click here or check our Facebook page for our #ThrowbackThursdays.