Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Blind Soldier Recovers His Sight

18th Hussars on patrol, 21 August 1914 [Wikimedia]

Sunday 25th April 1915: Corporal Matthew Fowkes of Bedford has returned with a thrilling story about the recovery of his sight following a wound which left him blind for six months. Corporal Fowkes first volunteered for military service with the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment during the Boer War when he was 19 and employed at the Queen’s Engineering Works. After the war he returned to work at Messrs Allens, but subsequently joined the 18th Hussars. During the retreat from Mons in August last year he was struck on the back of the head by a shrapnel bullet. This killed the wounded comrade he had stopped to save and knocked him on to the railway line so that he lost his top teeth. He was able to find his own troop, and his fellow soldiers prised the bullet out of his skull. They were surrounded and made a dash for it along a steep bank. A shell hit his horse and they rolled down the bank together. His spine and stomach were severely injured, his right ankle smashed and his right knee dislocated.

After twenty-six hours Corporal Fowkes was found by a Belgian doctor stripped of everything but his pants by the Germans, who had left him for dead. When he late came to he was blind and a prisoner of war. While in hospital he made plans to escape wearing women’s clothing, helped by a Belgian nurse. These plans were interrupted on 5th January when he was operated on for his stomach injuries. Following this he was included in an exchange of prisoners and by February 19th he had been repatriated to Millbank Hospital. At three o’clock on the morning of February 21st he woke with a start, and realising he could just distinguish  the dimmed electric light in the ward he let out shouts of delight.  By morning he could dimly distinguish those passing the windows. He was then taken into the operating room and given electric shocks; from then on his eyes have grown gradually stronger.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 30th April 1915

[1] Corporal Matthew Fowkes appears to have subsequently lived in at 17, Stonegate, York. The York Prisoner of War Roll ofHonour gives his army number as 6451 and records that he was captured on 24 August 1914 and repatriated 19 February 1915. 

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