In January 2017, RSBC merged with the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following article.
In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, RLSB relocated its education facilities from Swiss Cottage in London to the countryside of Buckinghamshire.
While young students moved out of London, many blind and partially sighted workers in the organisation’s industrial arm stayed in London and provided vital support in the war effort.
Here we feature extracts from the annual report of that year, which gives an insight into the impact of the war on the society and the people it served.
Annual report, 1939-40:
The Council submit their Report for the year ended 31st March 1940, being the One Hundred and Second Report.
For the twelve months under review the life of the Nation divides itself into two periods; five months of troubled and precarious peace and seven months of surprisingly quiescent War. The coming of the international catastrophe has deeply affected the Society and the inevitable shrinking of its charitable income has meant that the Council have been faced with new and serious problems.
In spite of this, they are glad to report that all the Society’s activities have been carried on without a break, though in some directions on a slightly reduced scale, and the end of the year sees them confident that throughout the unknown duration of the War they will be able to adequately meet the various needs of the blind people under their charge.
… Moving to Buckinghamshire
It was the common opinion of all sections of the community, including the Government, that the outbreak of hostilities would see the beginning of savage and continuous air attacks on this country and particularly on the Metropolitan area. Throughout the spring, therefore, the Council gave ernest consideration to the establishment of a centre in the country for the educational sections of the Society’s work. Many houses were visited and found unsuitable until at last Dorton House, a large mansion towards the West of Buckinghamshire and fifty miles from London, was acquired on a short term lease.
This three hundred year old manor lent itself surprisingly well to adaptation to its new needs and with its beautiful grounds has proved itself admirably suited for a country school. Possession was obtained on the 1st of July and steps were immediately taken to prepare it for occupation. As it had been empty for six years, much cleaning and renovation, in addition to alterations and extensions, had to be done. The cost was very heavy but, as has already been indicated, the result was satisfactory and the outlay fully justified.
Dorton House now contains the Society’s Elementary School, consisting of pupils from five to sixteen years of age, and its Technical Department in which students from sixteen to twenty receive training in the occupation at which they will afterwards earn their livelihood. The old stables and coach houses have been transformed into excellent Technical Classrooms where training in Shoe Repairing, Basket Making, Machine Knitting, Music and Piano Tuning is being carried on. No item of the work has been allowed to suffer, and the Council feel that they have solid grounds for satisfaction in that these important sections of their work have not only been kept alive but are functioning vigorously under almost ideal conditions.
… Air raid shelters in London
Last year’s Annual Report gave a full account of the magificent new building which the Council had built in Salusbury Road, Brondesbury, for the Industrial Sections of the Society’s work. This work was rudely interrupted by the declaration of War. A hundred of our journeymen and journeywomen availed themselves of the Government’s offer of voluntary evecuation and on Saturday, the 22nd of September, where taken with wives and guides by motor-coach to Exeter.
The work of blacking out Salusbury Road and of providing Air Raid Shelters was immediately put in hand and completed at a cost of £1,000. Those workers who elected to remain in London continued to attend daily. The Basket Department accepted large orders for the Government and our blind journeymen are proud to think that by their strenuous exertions they are contributing directly to the national effort.
The same applies to the Bedding Department, where many mattresses have been made for the Royal Airforce. The Shoe Reparing Department has been in a more difficult position. It depends on the public for its orders, and the evecuation of their homes by thousands of our customers has substantially reduced our turnover.
Last summer that turnover reached a figure of 3,500 pairs per week and this has now fallen to about 2,000. We have in consequence been unable to keep all our blind shoe repairers fully employed, while limitations of petrol supplies has added to our difficulties. The Flat and Circular Knitting Departments are both carrying on successfully, though the Government’s wool rationing measures are proving a serious handicap. The Council are taking steps to establish Knitting and Basketing Making Departments in Exeter, and hope that before long their blind workers who have been transferred to that town will once again be fully employed.
… these days of bitter stress
The Council realise that in these days of bitter stress the thoughts of everyone turned towards the national effort, and the financial assistance of the generous is largely diverted to War Charities. It must be agreed, however, that welfare services cannot be allowed to lapse. Among these, on that will always appeal to the open-handed and the sympathetic is the care of the blind.
The war has already substanially reduced the income of the Society, while its expenses have increased. In laying before their many friends and the public generally this short statement of their year’s work, the Council would beg most ernestly for the continuance of that generous support which for years past theur have so gratefully received.
The call of the seven hundred boys and girls, men and women under the care of the Society must not go unanswered even in this time of unexampled danger and preoccupation.
By order of the council,
Superintendent and Secretary