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Blinded Soldiers As Brieux Saw Them

Creator: n/a
Date: March 16, 1919
Publication: The New York Times
Source: Available at selected libraries

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French Academician's Visit to School Near Tours, Where Work of the American Fund Is Carried On


EUGENE BRIEUX, the well-known playwright and Academician, has written a characteristic description of a visit to the Château de la Tour at Rochecorbon, near Tours, to which the Superior and Industrial School of the Permanent Blind Relief War Fund was temporarily removed last Summer because of the incessant air raids and long-range gun bombardments. Brieux gives an excellent idea of the methods of instruction adopted for the blinded allied soldiers and of the family atmosphere which pervades the institutions of this wholly American fund, with headquarters at 500 Fifth Avenue, New York.


These institutions are conducted in a spirit of cordial fraternity and mutual helpfulness which is as different from the ordinary conception of an "institution" as could well be imagined. The men are made to feel that they are in no sense objects of charity, but that the American supporters of the work and their French official co-operators are acquitting themselves affectionately of a debt of gratitude and of honor toward the men overtaken by disability in fighting for the common cause.


"At the Tours railroad station," writes M. Brieux, "I boarded a street car, which, after skirting the Loire, so historic and so French, brought me to Rochecorbon. At the car stop, on the other side of the road, through the trees of an immense park, one catches glimpses of a white and red château. A discreet sign at the entrance gate bears the words: Permanent Blind Relief War Fund; School for Blind Officers and Soldiers.


"The gateway passed, the château appears in all its modern opulence -- monumental steps, terrace, imposing façade, towers, nothing lacking. But what immediately attracts the attention of the visitor is at the foot of a tree in the centre of a vast lawn a group of men in military or civilian attire, some reclining or sitting on the grass, and one standing, who appear to be conversing, like philosophers in a sacred wood.


"The former are blind soldiers, the latter is their professor, and the ensemble is a class in English. That other group which is walking along the circular path is also a class, and yonder round that garden table shaded by an umbrella are another master and his pupils.


"Against the wall facing each other are two strange beings with heads like helmeted divers. On approaching we see that they are fencers. One is blind. Other blind men await their turn at the foils. It is incredible. Nevertheless it is true.


"Let us continue our tour of the park. Let us cross a little bridge over a clear brook which babbles across the meadow and among the trees and which is guarded by a fence of wires --not barbed. The visit thus mapped out is not methodical, but no matter.


"On our left opens a very large double door, which lets in a flood of air and comforting sunshine. Where are we? Into what manufactory have we been suddenly transported? A swarm of men and women are crowded around queer machines, which are being operated by men thoughtful, calm, engrossed, counting with their lips, multiplying little precise gestures on small levers and handles. It is the knitting school, and these men are blind. The women are their wives, the monitors and the managers of the workshop.


"Blind: Yes, and not only blind. Here are one, two, -- nine, with crippled hands. Of the ten fingers of this one only two remain. And he works! Here is an old grizzled territorial; he has only one finger and half of another left. And he works! And he works gayly, This other one has only two stumps. Both his hands were cut off. And he works, and is the Merry Andrew of the workshop. And all toil with joy, and they work, these blind and crippled blind, because they wanted to, because they demanded that they should be permitted to do so.


"There, let us be silent and salute them, even though they cannot see our salute.


"These women are their wives. The good knitter will need a companion. WE know it. Therefore, during the last month of the blind husband's apprenticeship his wife comes to join him and becomes in turn an apprentice. Chambers are reserved upstairs for these households. And whosoever would know the French wife, the foreigner who doubts the portrait of her that our novels and plays have given him, has only to visit these rooms, which the occupants are aware are merely a temporary lodging, and which are kept exquisitely clean, with a bouquet at the window or a muslin scarf draped about the modest photographs of aged parents or of children from whom the inmates would not be entirely separated.


"But let us stay in the workshop. Let us look around again. A cradle and a pretty baby asleep in it, its fists closed, all rosy and radiant with health.


"Watch for an instant. You will see that blind young fellow working over there at the end of the shop gently leave his place and with prudent steps make his way toward the cradle, feel along the edges of it with cautious fingers, and find and caress, without venturing too much to touch it, the face of his child, a face that he will never see, for his eyes are empty, but which an interior vision represents to him as beautiful as that of a cherub.

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