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Blinded Soldiers Find New Hope

Creator: Winifred Holt (author)
Date: June 25, 1916
Publication: The New York Times
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Remarkable Cases at the Lighthouse of France Described by Miss Winifred Holt.




For a Musical Sergeant, an Architect, and Others -- Re-educating the Blind to Fence.




I wish, every American could walk into my office some day here at the Phare de France, and let me show him our home, and, best of all, our pupils. We have eighteen men with us now, men who came to us blinded front the battlefield, with hope dead in their hearts. Today they are learning new trades with their ten fingers, which have become to them eyes, and they are beginning to see again the light of contentment. These men are from all walks of life, but interesting, every one of them, in some special way. I will try to make a few of them real to you, as I have had the opportunity to know them.


Not long ago I went to call on a great lady in the Faubourg, and beside her at the tea table sat one of the most distinguished men of France, who the day before had received a public ovation. On the other side of her sat a middle-aged man with dark glasses. He was introduced to me. He rose from his chair with the grace characteristic of his class, but when he wished to be seated his fingers groped pitifully to locate the Louis Quinze fauteuil. This nobleman had spent some time in Washington, and had been over three hemispheres in the service of his country. He was now blind, and hopeless in his blindness. As a seeing diplomat in Washington he had heard of us and the Lighthouse, which had interested him. As a blind man he now asked to meet the Lighthouse Keeper, the Gardienne du Phare.


"What can I do? I have no talents," he said. "I could play polo, ride to hounds, play a fair game of bridge, and serve my country in diplomacy. If I should attempt to mount my horse now I should fall off! If I should ask to serve my country I would be laughed at! I liked fencing, but that, of course, is Impossible."


Unknowingly he had given me my cue. "Not if you have the right kind of a fencing master," I answered. "I have I just left two officers who gave their eyes for France with their foils, practicing "Fleuret." You must choose the most interesting kind of fencing for ten eyes' work. Sabre and bayonet may have lost their charm, but you will find "Fleuret" quite as interesting as ever. Will you come to the Lighthouse and try?"


The man's whole expression had changed. A slight flush had spread over his pale face, and his hands gripped the arms of his chair. "I will come with great pleasure. Are you sure I will not be in the way? I am so helpless." I assured him that the only difficulty with us at the Lighthouse was that we needed a man used to diplomacy knowing languages (he knew four and bits of many others) who had sufficient knowledge to teach the less fortunate blind soldiers. I told him that it was impossible for me to find the right man to run our club, and if he would relieve me of that burden and insure the success of our budding "Circle" it would he an infinite help. "You see, we need you so much," I said.


He came the next week to find light through work, and to help us, by his long experience with men of different kinds, to make our Lighthouse what we want it. I doubt very much if that French nobleman will sink back into the apathy and despair from which our Lighthouse has roused him. I think that in his mind he realizes that fighting as an officer would not give him the same opportunity of usefulness as helping the men blinded in battle to win their battle in the dark and to find the light.


A Sergeant Who Sings.


Sergeant G. was our first resident guest at the French Lighthouse. He wears the blue-gray uniform of the infantry. He has black hair, a sallow complexion, long, thin featured. His eyes closed forever give his face in repose a pensive, Madonna-like expression. He is, however, one of the most vivacious people I have ever met. His frequent quick smiles light up his pale features: his laugh lifts his upper lip to show a shining array of perfect teeth, like a young fox terrier. He has a great bass voice. When he is thoroughly amused the walls echo and the furniture shakes with his merriment.


We found him in a hospital, so weak, so hopeless that he impatiently asked me to go away. But the minute he spoke I heard the wonderful "timbre" of his voice, and said: "But, monsieur, you must sing?"


"How do you know?" he answered.


"I have sung myself. I love music."


So, instead of leaving the hospital, I stayed and sat by the sick man's bed and told him how music and all sweet sounds would mean more and more to him. How he could hear better and sing better because of his blindness. I showed him how all music could be written and read in "Braille" -- showed him light through work.


He is now at the Lighthouse an industrious student, reading his "Braille" notes. His heart is in his music. When he learns to modify his great voice we hope that it may be pleasant for us to hear it, and that it may become a wage-earning medium for him. At present it is out of all proportion to the Phare, and would be only tolerable in a busy railroad station, but we still trust that he may perceive some day the difference between piano and fortissimo. Before the war he was a Director in a coal company; perhaps he may still make a livelihood in "commerce."

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