From Regent’s Park to Shanghai – a blind veteran in China

15 June 2017 09:00

One of the more unusual stories from our early history is that of Alec Biggs. Archibald Alexander Biggs, known as Alec, served as a Trooper with the cavalry regiment the 3rd (The King’s Own) Hussars during the First World War.

Black and white photo of blind veteran Alec Biggs and 12 other team mates posing for group photo

Alec’s eyesight began to fail as a result of his service and he joined us in 1919. He spent time at our then base in Regent’s Park, where he learnt to read and write braille, to type, and trained as a masseur, or physiotherapist. Alec also enjoyed taking part in our sports and other activities, including rowing, swimming, running, tug-of-war and tandem cycling. He also had singing tuition whilst with us. In the photo shown here he is pictured far left of the back row, with other members of our rowing team.

After passing his massage examinations and completing his training with us Alec’s career took a rather different path to that typically followed by our blind veterans. He was able to go out to China, initially to act as a personal masseur for Leonard Arthur Lyall. Mr Lyall, who was from Surrey, worked in a number of posts for the Chinese customs authorities and also wrote several books about the country. Lyall then assisted Alec in setting up his own private practice in the country, and this was soon thriving. In addition by 1923 Alec was running his own import/export business! A.A. Biggs & Co sold silk and lace hosiery, tea sets and other items.

Alec also helped raise funds for us in China, including through giving talks and organising special events. We have it recorded that in 1928 he raised £241 (equivalent to over £13,000 today) when he worked with the British Women’s Association to stage the popular play ‘On Approval’, by Frederick Lonsdale. Alec also designed the programme cover and sang for the audience before each performance!

In 1930 Alec returned to England. Already married when he first came to us, he and his wife had separated whilst they were in China. Happily they reunited when he was back in this country. Alec had some health difficulties in the following years but nevertheless managed to run more than one pub and a wine and spirit business. He and his wife also served as air raid wardens during the Second World War. Alec died in 1953.

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