A bronze statue commemorating the end of the First World War has been unveiled in Manchester this week by Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO.
The statue, of seven blinded First World War soldiers, has been permanently placed outside Manchester Piccadilly Station as a memorial to the injured of that conflict.
Commissioned by military charity Blind Veterans UK, the statue, entitled Victory Over Blindness, depicts the seven soldiers after losing their sight, marching with their hand on the shoulder of the man in front. The Countess of Wessex unveiled the statue in her role as Patron of Blind Veterans UK.
Blind Veterans UK was founded more than 100 years ago to support those blinded in the First World War. Now, the charity supports veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight.
Victory over blindness is a phrase first used by the founder of Blind Veterans UK, Sir Arthur Pearson, and continues to guide the charity’s principles today. Blind Veterans UK supported more than 3,000 First World War blind veterans with rehabilitation and training allowing them to achieve victory over blindness.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Her Royal Highness said:
“This statue commemorates not only the 100thanniversary of the end of the First World War but also the life-changing support Blind Veterans UK offers to vision-impaired ex-Service men and women since that conflict through to the present day.
“As we approach the anniversary of the end of the First World War and, quite rightly, remember all of those who never returned, it is also important to remember those who did, changed by their experiences.
“I have seen at first hand the difference the charity makes to the lives of blind veterans and I am looking forward to meeting many more blind veterans here today and hearing their stories.”
Speaking about the statue, Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said:
“Helping blind veterans achieve victory over blindness is the cornerstone of everything we do and have always done, at Blind Veterans UK. In 2018 victory over blindness means enabling blind veterans to lead the lives they choose.
“Blind Veterans UK enables ex-Service men and women to rebuild their lives after sight loss through free services and lifelong practical and emotional support. We support all blind veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight. The statue demonstrates the life-changing impact the charity has had over the last 103 years.
“This statue is our way of commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War and recognising the amazing work achieved by our veterans at that time and ever since.”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said:
“The Victory Over Blindness sculpture is a poignant reminder of the difficulties wounded soldiers, blinded in war, face in their lives.
“However, it is also an inspiring image, that there is support and assistance there that helps visually impaired people to adjust to life after losing their sight.
“It’s an honour for Greater Manchester to permanently host this sculpture – it’s ultimate message is one of camaraderie, the journey of rehabilitation and ultimately, the ability to overcome adversity.”
The sculpture was conceived and designed by artist and sculptress Johanna Domke-Guyot and funded by the generous donations of The Gosling Foundation as well as other individuals and organisations. The location of the statue at Manchester Piccadilly has also been made possible thanks to the support of Network Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester.
Johanna said: “I’m over the moon with how the statue has turned out. It’s been a very long journey and I underestimated how emotional I would feel about the whole process. The time I’ve had with these seven figures over these years and seeing them come to life has been really amazing.
“Bringing them to life again in a bronze that will last for years and years is overwhelming. People are able to touch them, I want it to become a people’s piece.”
The seven First World War blind veterans now stand proudly outside Manchester Piccadilly Station and will be the only permanent memorial in the UK marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
Blind Veterans UK supports over 4,700 blind and vision-impaired veterans today. More than ever before in the charity’s history and 50 per cent more than the total number of veterans the charity supported who lost their sight as a result of their service in WWI. The charity estimates there are up to 50,000 blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women who are entitled to their support but not aware of it.
Nick Caplin said: “If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and is now battling severe sight loss then please do get in touch with us.”
Visit blindveterans.org.uk/victory to learn more about the statue, the charity and how you can support its vital work today.