In the work of training and caring for blinded soldiers and sailors which is organised and directed by Sir Arthur Pearson at St. Dunstan’s Hostel and its Annexes, women are responsible for an important and very substantial proportion. Five hundred and ninety women workers are employed in St. Dunstan’s and the Annexes attached to the parent building.
Each Annexe has its Matron and Staff, and if the work carried through by women in The House, as St. Dunstan’s main building is familiarly named, is briefly detailed, it will be understood that a similar staff is at work in each of the nine Annexes, the numbers employed and the duties undertaken varying somewhat according to the size and the special requirements of each of these buildings. The Matron of St. Dunstan’s, with her Assistant Commandant, has under her direction a number of departments. Though the great majority of the men are fit and well, still, cases of illness must be catered for, and of course all must have their eyes attended to in one way or another.
     Important, therefore, among the departments is the Surgery and Dispensary, where the Sister-in-Charge has two trained nurses and two V.A.D.s. These carry out the instructions of the visiting oculists and of the doctor who attends daily. Surgery and Dispensary duties include daily attention to the men’s eyes, the dressings of wounds, the nursing of sick men and the provision of special diets for ill or weakly men.

     The work of the Hall Office is carried through by the responsible V.A.D. in charge, who is assisted by two resident V.A.D.s and another who is in daily attendance. This office is not merely an inquiry bureau, though that branch of the responsibility is no sinecure in a public institution of the dimensions of St. Duntan’s. Here, also, the posts are sorted, full lists of all men resident in The House and the Annexes are kept, and their movements – arrivals, departures, and times of leave – arranged for and noted. A daily time-table is kept, so that cars may be available for the men for visits to doctors, dentists and hospitals, and to take the men to and from entertainments. Train fares and escorts are arranged for the men, telephone and other messages given to the men, and all entertainment arrangements made for them in connection with outside invitations, theatres, walks, excursions and weekend outings. A large number of ladies on the Hall Office list come regularly, at stated times, to take men out for walks when the weather is suitable.

     The care of The Lounge, and in this phrase is included most of the home and social life of St. Dunstan’s, is in the hands of a Lady Superintendent who has two resident and ten daily V.A.D.s working under her direction. In the main Lounge, the men’s letters are typewritten to their dictation – in the case of newcomers not yet able to type for themselves – their letters received are read to them, and papers, magazines and books read aloud to them. They have singing, piano playing, and dominoes as pastimes, here, and many of the men like to busy themselves with string bag making while sitting about in the Lounge, so that any assistance that may be required in these various occupations is given by the Lounge Sisters. The care of the Chapel and the arrangement and care of the Outer Lounge, where bi-weekly dances, and frequent lectures, debates and concerts are held, come under the duties for which this department is responsible.
In the Linen Room, the Quartermaster in Charge has under her five resident and four visiting V.A.D.s. These Sisters do all the necessary sewing, repairs and alterations, taking charge of all ward furnishing arrangements, of the men’s outfits, and superintending the laundry. The Sister-in-charge of Wards and Tables has twenty resident and ten daily V.A.D.s under her direction. These Sisters make the beds in the wards, do the housework in wards, offices and house, they also wait upon men in the dining-rooms, and have the care of the tables.

     Music is not taught as a profession at St. Dunstan’s, but every man is given the opportunity of taking it up as a hobby, and very few fail to avail themselves of the chances given. This department is organised and directed by a resident V.A.D. who has twelve daily helpers, and several other teachers, also, who kindly attend weekly or bi-weekly to give lessons. Singing is taught, and lessons in piano, violin, mandolin and other instruments given, and instruction in elocution for any of the men who wish to specialise in the dramatic side of the work undertaken by this department. The Ragtime Band, known as ‘St. Dunstan’s Own’ is the special pride of the music department. The blinded soldier players have made many public appearances and achieved big successes wherever they have played. An up-to-date and cleverly amusing topical Pantomime was produced at Christmas, 1917, and this stage success was quickly followed by several bright revues and a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. All these performances have won a most gratifying and encouraging mood of praise from the press and public.

     All St. Dunstan’s blind men are keen on dancing, and here again women are well to the fore in voluntarily undertaking the tuition of the men in this art. Some six or eight ladies pay bi-weekly visits to the Hostel, holding classes for beginners and also classes for more advanced pupils. At the regular dances, held twice weekly, numbers of V.A.D.s make a point of attending to dance with the blind soldiers, who greatly enjoy this pastime, which is of inestimable assistance in helping the men to confidence and independence of movement.

     In the Sports Department women do a very valuable share of the work, acting as coxswains for the blind oarsmen. Special gratitude is felt to those who attend at 6.30 every morning during the summer months to cox the men who are keen on before-breakfast practice. Tobacco and matches are ordered and distributed by a V.A.D. who is responsible for a service which is enthusiastically appreciated by the men.

     Netting is taught not so much as a serious occupation, but as a hobby, which, however, many of the men make a very profitable as well as an enjoyable pastime. The Netting Room is in charge of a V.A.D. Commandant who has under her direction a staff of sixteen women workers. The men are taught to make hammocks, swing, fruit net, flower, and bean and pea climbing nets, and every variety of marketable net, for use in allotments and in many other ways. In connection with the Netting Room there is a String Office in charge of two V.A.D. Sisters who are responsible for the ordering of string and materials, and the issue of working frames to the men.

     There are, of course, many women doing valuable work on St. Dunstan’s secretarial staff; also in the Treasurer’s, Pensions, Settlement and After-care Departments, and on the Poultry Farm. Mention should also be made of the trained masseuses who assist the male instructors in St. Dunstan’s Massage classrooms, where the blinded soldiers are trained to become expert masseurs, passing the stiffest examinations and qualifying themselves to take up remunerative posts in Military Hospitals in every part of the country. Two girl-operators take charge of the busy telephone switchboard in St. Dunstan’s main building, with extra relief from two V.A.D.s. As applies to most other duties enumerated, similar arrangements are made in the various Annexes.

     Besides St. Dunstan’s and its residential Annexes for the blinded soldiers, there are Hostels where wives, sisters and mothers of the men may stay when on visits to the men. A lady Superintendent with ten resident housekeepers and ten daily helpers looks after the domestic arrangements in St. Dunstan’s and the various hostelries.

     St. Dunstan’s kitchens have a Housekeeper with three resident and eight daily cooks, and these are responsible for all meals for staff, V.A.D.s, men, orderlies and blind teachers. The Canteen and Pantry Departments take charge of the table equipment for men and V.A.D.s and supply teas in The House and in the outlying offices and classrooms for visiting office and teaching staff. The scrubbing out and cleaning of classrooms, offices, cloakrooms, etc., is undertaken by eight charwomen under capable direction. Women again fill the lists of the General Staff, comprising a resident steward, a store-keeper, three resident V.A.D.s who visit the newly-blinded men in Hospital before they are sufficiently recovered from their wounds to start their training at St. Dunstan’s, and a specially qualified V.A.D. who takes charge of the ordering and distribution of surgical aids for handless and armless men. All, indeed, whose hands and arms are injured are under her careful supervision.

     The work in St. Dunstan’s Braille classrooms may justly be called an outstanding triumph for women workers. The Commandant in charge of the Braille teaching staff, remembers the start of her work with two Braille pupils in February 1915. Now about seventy lessons are being given daily. There are now, in 1918, seventy-two teachers, all voluntary workers with the exception of a small paid staff numbering only half a dozen. The majority of the teachers have studied finger-reading themselves, so that they may be the better fitted to help their pupils, and have passed the men’s reading test blindfold. St. Dunstan’s is the first place where sighted teachers, in any numbers, have done this.

     The intricacies of Braille are exceedingly difficult to master. Infinite patience as well as expert knowledge is required from the teachers. The blinded soldiers are apt to grow discouraged at first, and many of them not possessed of a good touch – some men have, naturally, a very much better touch than others – are unselfish enough to feel that they are wasting the time of their teacher and keeping a comrade back, for of course in Braille tuition there must be an individual teacher for each man. Persuasive tact is therefore a great asset to a Braille teacher, who is more than repaid for her arduous and concentrated work by the sight of her blind pupil’s joy as obstacles are overcome and he finds himself in possession of a very valuable key of intercommunication with his fellows. French Braille and Braille Music are both taught, though a pupil must be thoroughly conversant with English Braille before studying other systems.

     In the typewriting and Braille shorthand classrooms there are 25 teachers of whom all are women, with the exception of two blind men teachers. This total number includes three blind girls who teach Braille shorthand, and also a blinded soldier who has learnt Braille shorthand thoroughly, and now instructs his comrades. It also includes another woman worker who instructs the men who are to become telephone operators. About 160 men are taught daily. Each man has 35 minutes’ instruction every day with the same teacher. The men who are to be shorthand typists have an hour’s typing and an hour’s shorthand each day. Every man is encouraged to pass a test, having done which he becomes the owner of a Remington machine, which he takes home with him on leaving St. Dunstan’s when his training is complete. The test means a business letter, and an essay of about five hundred words, and in these the man is allowed only one error and three corrections.

     The typewriting machine supplied for one-armed men has some special adjustments. There is an attachment which enables the worker to put down the capital shift-key by pressing his knee against a strip of metal. The arrangement of the keys is also altered so as to bring the letters most frequently used under the fingers of the man’s remaining hand. Shorthand-typists must pass their Braille test before they start shorthand. When they can take down in shorthand at about forty words per minute they have to do a certain amount of transcribing daily. This is a very important branch of their training, as they must have plenty of practice in reading their own shorthand. The man must have an average speed of 80 words per minute before going out into an office. There is also a spelling class for those shorthand-typists who need it. They are given one hour’s typing to dictation daily, which increases their speed gradually, until it is about 50 words per minute when they leave. The subject matter dictated to them is carefully chosen so as to improve their commercial and general knowledge. The Stainsby-Wayne shorthand machine takes the place of the notebook and pencil of the sighted writer. It is an ingenious contrivance by which the worker makes use of a highly condensed and abbreviated system of Braille, tapping off by means of half a dozen keys, a series of dots upon a paper tape. The notes are afterwards quickly transcribed by touch, and set out in ordinary typescript – just as a sighted worker would transcribe from a shorthand notebook. The period of training in typing, Braille shorthand, and commercial secretarial work varies from nine months to a year.

     Telephone operators are taught a condensed form of the shorthand course, so that they can take down messages quickly. Their tuition in Braille shorthand or the use of the switchboard is not started until they have passed their Braille test. Three different kinds of switchboards are installed for their instruction, and these are practically the only three kinds found in private branch exchanges. The men are instructed in pairs, one on each board, and the instructress on the remaining board. She calls the men up and gives them messages and asks to be put through to different extensions. These boards are also connected to various offices in St. Dunstan’s. When the men are more advanced, they go up to the St. Dunstan’s main switchboard in the Entrance Hall for about an hour daily, and have their first experience of the real thing. The period of training after they have passed their Braille test varies from two to three months, and many of St. Dunstan’s men are holding well-paid appointments as telephone operators, and giving every satisfaction to their employers.


A brief history of St. Dunstans with some images of women workers can be found here:
St. Dunstan's - Our History

And for the full story of the beginnings of St. Dunstan's and its work, a very good read is:
My Story of St. Dunstan's; Ian Fraser (Baron Fraser of Lonsdale); G.G. Harrap, 1961.