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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Forms of blindness

Tuesday, May 18th., Berkeley Hotel, London.

Sir George Riddell sent a man and a car to conduct me to St. Dunstan's, Regent's Park, where Arthur Pearson has established a home for blinded soldiers. very large place; belongs to an American financier named Kahn. 15 acre garden etc.

Pearson very natty, and a constant and rapid talker. Practically quite blind. He may have vague sensations of dark and light. His wife came. He kissed her hand when she left. I liked her.

'I shall soon be blind but I will never be a blind man, I am going to be the blind man'. 

These are the words, spoken in 1913, by Arthur Pearson who went blind through glaucoma. He was a newspaper proprietor, owner and founder of the Daily Express and Pearson's Weekly. In the same year he joined the council of the National Institute for the Blind, now Royal National Institute of Blind People and in 1914 became their Treasurer and President. In 1914 Soldiers were being blinded on the battlefields and began arriving at designated hospitals in England. Once notified of the casualties Arthur Pearson or a member of staff usually visited the young men taking them a braille watch, symbolising their first step to independence. Towards the end of 1914 it was agreed that more needed to be done for the blinded soldiers so Pearson, who firmly believed that they could lead useful and fulfilling lives, set his ideas in motion for a new training centre supported by the National Institute for the Blind. So from 1914 the Organisation started, firstly named the Blinded Soldiers & Sailors After-Care Fund then from 1923 we officially became St Dunstan's and from 2012 Blind Veterans UK. Although our name has changed our original vision was much the same as it is today: no one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone. Sir Arthur Pearson drowned after slipping in the bath in 1921 aged only 55.

Two blind officers; a Secretary of Blind Institute, Pearson's secretary; the Matron, a wounded soldier, and the bishop of London for lunch. The last is certainly clever - for the mot particularly. He is, perhaps excusably, deeply impressed by the fact that he is Bishop of London, but he turns it off always into a joke. Thus: "When I get into a car it always breaks down. people say the Bishop of London is a Jonah" etc. "A strange thing for the Bishop of London." Small thin sharp face, with small trembling eyes. Ordinary Tory ideas. He told us that every general had told him to impress upon the country that the army was very short of ammunition; and one general told him he was only allowed two rounds a day! He spoke agreeably, with simple well-worn forms of jokes, to the men after lunch about his experiences at the front.

Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram KCVO PC (1858 – 1946) was Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939. During World War I Winnington-Ingram threw himself into supporting the war effort. He saw the war as a ‘great crusade to defend the weak against the strong’ and accepted uncritically stories of German atrocities. For a clergyman the language he used about the German people verged on xenophobia but Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister at the outbreak of the war, described his pitch as "jingoism of the shallowest kind." He spoke in aid of recruiting drives and later in the war urged his younger clergy to consider enlisting as combatants. Chaplain from 1901 to the London Rifle Brigade and London Royal Naval Volunteers, he visited the troops on both the Western Front and at Salonika and the Grand Fleet at Rosyth and Scapa Flow.

As ever when in company with these officers of established religion I wonder how they reconcile the tenets of "Peace to all men" and "Turn the other cheek" with their active support for the war effort? But it would be in bad taste to ask the question directly. What a sham organised religion is. It seems that the Bishop has been afflicted by a different sort of blindness.

Quotes from Winnington-Ingram:
"this is an Holy War. We are on the side of Christianity against anti-Christ. ....to fight in an Holy War is an honour....Already I have seen a light in men's eyes which I have never seen before."
"the good old British race never did a more Christlike thing than when on August 4th 1914 it went to war."
"Christ died on Good Friday for freedom, honour and chivalry and our boys are dying for the same things. ....You ask for my advice in a sentence as to what the Church should do. I answer MOBILISE THE NATION FOR A HOLY WAR."
There is a quote from a sermon where he mentions “a great crusade – we cannot deny it – to kill Germans. To kill them, not for the sake of killing but to save the world: to kill the good as well as the bad; to kill the young men as well as the old; to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those etc …. and to kill them lest the civilization of the world should itself be killed…….”

George Bernard Shaw responded as follows:
"They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munition workshops.........."

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