No matter where blind veterans are, they always remain part of our charity

10 January 2017 15:00

On July 14 1937 and July 20 1938, the annual Regatta of our charity (then called St Dunstan’s) was held in Putney.

The charity’s Chairman Sir Ian Fraser, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Carpendale and Colonel Eric Ball were some of the distinguished visitors at the race.

The Regatta Dinner then took place at the Connaught Rooms. However, their notable attendance and the fine dining were not the only reasons which made the 1937 and 1938 Putney Regattas ‘distinguished’ amongst other years. Many veterans, who were blinded during the First World War, came back to participate in the race. Including those all the way from the commonwealth of … Australia!

Alec Craigie in rowing boatOne such veteran was Alexander Henry Craigie from Kalgoorie, a town in Western Australia. Known as Alec, he originally came to us in 1917 after being blinded at the Battle of Messines. His right eye was completely removed. His left eye became completely cataractous. Nonetheless, he was an exceptional rower and won the ‘Pair Oars’ race held at Marlow in 1918. He was also a first class poultry farmer. He left our training and rehabilitation base in Regent’s Park, London in 1921 with his newlywed wife, Francis, embarking on the R.M.S Ormonde to Australia.

This however was not the last sighting of the Australian! Alec made return visits and in 1937 and 1938 participated again in the Putney Regatta. From his time away, his exceptional rowing skills stayed with him, coming in third place for the ‘Single Sculls Veterans’ (1937). Although, the next year he improved and came in first place for the exact same race. Likewise, he came first in the ‘Pair Oars’ race (1938) with fellow former St Dunstaner, Henry John Glendennan - at the age of 55!

William Robinson RowingAnother veteran who came back for these Putney Regattas was William Robinson from Kirkdale, Liverpool. He was blinded at Arras in 1917 at the young age of 19, and soon came to Blind Veterans UK a few months later. From the shell explosion, his right eye was removed and left eye suppurated. He too was an exceptional rower, winning the ‘Light Double Skulls’ race at the Putney Regatta in 1919. He left Regent’s Park in 1919, moving back to his old neighbourhood of Kirkdale and took up singing in 1922.
When he came back for the Putney Regattas, his dormant rowing skills were put to the test but he nonetheless excelled and quickly grasped his former skills. He won both the 1937 ‘Inter-club Pair Oar’ race with fellow blind veteran John Macfarlane, and the ‘Pair Oar’ race with William Scott. He also came in third with his team in the ‘Open Fours’ race. The next year, he and William Scott came again in first place for the ‘Inter-Pair Oar’ but second place for the ‘Pair Oar’ losing to an Australian…. Mr Alexander Henry Craigie!

Our charity has helped blinded veteran achieve a life beyond sight loss sicne 1915, and in 2017 we are hoping to support more veterans than ever before.  It is estimated that there are 59,000 blind veterans eligible to access our free specialist support across the country, most of whom are currently not aware of it.   If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and are now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting