A Century of Expanding Horizons: 'Sandy' the Lady of Linburn & the Growth of Female Membership

Posted: 16/07/2015 | Scottish War Blinded

In our latest centenary blog, we share the story of Ethel Mary Alexander, the first female member to work in the Linburn Workshops during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Ethel served in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS) during World War Two and arrived at Linburn for rehabilitation and vocational training as a result of incurring a visual impairment whilst in service.

Today, many of Scottish War Blinded's female members have served in the WRENS, ATS, Reserves and Queen Alexandria Nursing Corps and have developed significant sight loss long after service. We share a case study of a current member Susan Dunham.

Sandy – The Lady of Linburn

The following extract was taken from Scottish War Blinded's 1971 Annual Report:

“When ex-WREN Ethel Mary Alexander first came to Linburn, her comrades (all male) said ‘What do we call you? She replied ‘The Navy called me Alex’. ‘That’s too posh for us’ said the chaps, ‘We’ll call you Sandy!’.

“Sandy, the only lady in Linburn, working amid sixty-six war-blinded ex-servicemen, is an Edinburgh girl. When World War Two came she enlisted in the WRNS, later volunteering for overseas service. She was among the first batch

of Wrens (14) to be selected for North Africa.

“They were on H.M.S. Windsor Castle when the ship was torpedoed off Oran. After an hour in the water Sandy was one of those rescued by the destroyer H.M.S. Whaddon and taken to Algiers.

“She was attached to Dockyard Supply and used to go each morning to the markets in Algiers to buy vegetables in bulk for the naval messes in the town. It was during this period that she picked up an infection which seriously affected her eyesight. So much so that she had to be invalided home and later discharged from the Navy.

“Although at Linburn she works in the Lampshade Department, her real job is basket weaving. ‘I like the baskets’, she said, ‘because I can do the complete article from start to finish’. Although she is the only girl in the workshops, she says she is happy at Linburn.”

Expanding Female Scottish War Blinded Membership Today

Today, female membership within Scottish War Blinded continues to grow. Many ladies have served in the Wrens, ATS or Queen Alexandra Nursing Corp and have developed significant sight loss long after service including Age Related Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma.  

Susan Dunham didn’t realise she would be eligible for Scottish War Blinded membership having served the Royal Naval Reserve. Since joining, she has benefited for Scottish War Blinded support in a number of ways, read Susan’s story

If you know of anyone who has served in the Wrens, ATS, Reserves or the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corp living with significant sight loss, no matter how or when it occured, and would like further information, please visit guidethem.org or free phone 0800 035 6409.