For Parliament, it’s height, not sight, that you need

8 June 2017 10:00

On general election day we feature some of our early blind veterans who stood for Parliament.

Lord Ian Fraser in top hat outside House of Parliament in 1924Lord Ian Fraser, our Chairman for 53 years, was blinded in action at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He joined our charity later that year and by 1921 he succeeded Sir Arthur Pearson as our Chairman. In 1922, he became a member of the London County Council. By 1924 he was elected as Conservative MP for North St Pancras. He lost in 1929 but being re-elected in 1931.

Ian became a BBC Governor in 1936 and had to step down as an MP, as it was not then permitted to hold both positions. He later returned to politics, becoming MP for Lonsdale in 1940 and remaining so until 1958, when he joined the House of Lords.

Black and white photo of our former Patron Lord Fraser MP standing outside House of Commons

Lord Fraser later wrote about his experiences in Parliament, insisting that his being tall was an advantage that outweighed what others might have seen as the disadvantage of being blind: ‘…being blind is little handicap in Parliament. I found that it does not even make it difficult to catch the Speaker’s eye. Height, not sight, is what you need there and I have plenty of that.’

Fred Martin had been serving in the Gordon Highlanders when his sight failed. As a journalist before the war he had worked at the Aberdeenshire Free Press and the Morning Post. After his re-training with us - and with the support of our founder and fellow journalist and newspaper proprietor Sir Arthur Pearson - Fred re-joined the profession. His first article as a blind man was entitled “Trouting by Touch”.

Black and white head shot of blind veteran Fred Martin MPIn 1922 Fred became the first blind MP for nearly 40 years when he won the East Aberdeenshire seat, standing as a Liberal. He retained the seat in the election held the following year, but lost in the snap general election of 1924, and then again in 1929 when he stood for the Central Aberdeenshire constituency. Fred then changed allegiance and stood for the Labour Party in two further parliamentary elections, both without success.

Thomas Ap Rhys was wounded in France in 1917 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers.  Ap Rhys retrained with us as a physiotherapist and went on to a successful career, including as a university lecturer. He stood as Labour candidate for the Caernarfon constituency in 1929, coming third behind the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Thomas did not stand for election again but always took a keen interest in local affairs.

 In 1929, perhaps uniquely, there were three blind candidates standing for Parliament, all of whom were blind veterans – Ian, Fred and Thomas.

 Happily, all three remained on good terms despite their different political views, with their shared experiences as blind veterans being key. Lord Fraser wrote that ‘…I doubt if a warmer public exchange of courtesies between opponents has preceded a General Election’.

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