For over 100 years, Blind Veterans UK has proudly attended The National Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph each year on Remembrance Sunday. This year however, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the risks it has created, there will be no Service and we will not be able to march together as comrades, veterans and friends.
Instead, we will connect our blind veterans in new ways and ensure they can still commemorate the Fallen together while remaining apart. Our aim will be to virtually join together as many as possible on both Remembrance Sunday and 11 November to do this.
We’ve worked closely with our veterans, teaching them how to use new technology and allowing them to re-connect with their friends on this most special of days.
Our blind veterans may not be able to march, but we will give them the chance to come together in ‘listen and join in’ parties. For many of them, this will help combat the feelings of isolation and loneliness they are feeling at this most important time of their year.
More than 90% of the blind veterans we support are over 70 and so most at risk from COVID-19.
“The isolation caused by Covid and experienced by our blind veterans can be just as harmful as the virus itself. That’s why we will be doing all we can to ensure they remain connected to each other and the outside world through the Remembrance period and beyond.”Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB
Meet our veterans
As a former wartime codebreaker at Bletchley Park, 97-year old Margaret is used to challenges, but there is no escaping the fact that Remembrance won’t be the same this year because of the pandemic.
It’s a bitter blow for Margaret, who has marched at the Cenotaph 10 years in a row, and means she won’t be able to meet up with her friends from the charity, something she looks forwards to each year.
“It’s very disappointing that I won’t be marching this year, but I do understand why it can’t happen.”
Margaret faced adversity in the war, enlisting in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1942 and working for first Bomber Command, then at the top secret Bletchley Park. We’ve supported her since 2016, and through the pandemic by arranging group calls for her with other blind veterans, as well as helping her take part in a Remembrance call with friends from her area.
“The biggest impact the charity has had on me was meeting and being around all those other people, many who had much worse sight than me, who were getting on with life.”Margaret
“You try and get by as long as you can when you’re told you’re losing your sight but when it started to get very bad I did feel really miserable,” she recalls, “I can’t see to read or write now.”
Despite everything, she remains positive, and pleased that she’ll be able to take part in Remembrance in some small way.
When D-Day veteran Mike stormed the beaches in June 1944 as a young officer in charge of four guns he had no idea that many years later he would be at the mercy of an enemy he couldn’t see.
Mike was due to march with Blind Veterans UK at the National Memorial Service, but he – along with 100 fellow veterans – has been told that can’t happen because of the current pandemic.
Former Royal Artilleryman Mike has been supported by us since 2016 after he lost his sight. We’ve helped him since then, and through the months of lockdown when we’ve kept in touch to see if there’s anything he needed.
“I can’t help but be disappointed,” says Mike, “I represent all those young men I served with who didn’t make it back.”
Despite not being able to attend, we’ll make sure Mike has the opportunity to ‘listen and join in’ virtually with other veterans on the day. He served us, and this is our way of serving him.
“Although I understand why it’s not possible to march at the Cenotaph this year I can’t help but be disappointed. Marching last year was such a fantastic experience. I and all the blind veterans around me found it very moving. Marking Remembrance Sunday, in any way, is so important for me because I represent all those young men I served with who didn’t make it back.”Mike
For 85-year old blind veteran and former Royal Signaller Ralph, losing his sight was a devastating blow.
“It was all over right then. It was particularly hard in 2013 because my sight became a lot worse at the same time as my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The next two years were two years of struggling.”
We’ve supported Ralph since he came to us, and we’ll be helping him now through a very different Remembrance than he’s used to. He was due to be marching at the Cenotaph with his comrades and fellow veterans, but pandemic restrictions have seen the National Memorial Service cancelled – it was another hard moment.
“Remembrance is the proudest moment of the year for me. It’s great to be appreciated and as you march, the crowds make you feel 15 feet tall. It’s sad not to be able to attend this year but I’m sure there’ll be opportunities in the future.”
This year we’ll help Ralph connect through our ‘listen and join in’ virtual service, and make sure he feels like he’s included once again.
“I can’t say how much of a difference Blind Veterans UK has made to me. All my family say that I’m a different person now.”
"I’ve been part of a telephone group speaking with new inductees to the charity to help guide them through the transition of living with sight loss. It’s great to help others and also just chat with other people in the same position as myself.”Ralph
For Army veteran John, missing this year’s Remembrance Service has taken away the opportunity to meet up with his friends and comrades from our charity.
Her served us between 1955 and 1963 in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, being based overseas in Germany.
We’ve supported John since 2015 after he lost his sight - he comes from a military family, meaning this time of year is particularly special to him, especially in his role as the Llandudno Standard Bearer.
With our help, John has kept in contact with other blind veterans during lockdown, and now we are offering him the chance to commemorate Remembrance as part of a ‘listen and join in’ party. It’s our time to serve him.
“It’s great to be able to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing,” he says, “I’m very sad that I can’t march with the other veterans…so it’s lovely to be able to keep in touch.”
“I have marched at the Cenotaph for the last three years and definitely would have gone this year as well. I’m very sad that I can’t march this year with all the other veterans. I always look forward to it and it’s great meeting up with everyone from the charity. I come from a military family so on Remembrance Sunday I will be thinking of my dad and my brother.”John
As a former Rifleman with the London Rifle Brigade, Remembrance is a poignant time for blind veteran David, and not being able to attend this year will mean he misses out on the camaraderie it offers.
“Remembrance means an awful lot to me. We have to recognise what these people selflessly went through for us. I will be remembering all those members of the armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Now 76, we’ve supported him since 2018 when he lost his sight through macular degeneration, something that deeply affected him.
“I was absolutely gutted when I heard I was losing my sight. In the Rifles I was a really good shot and, being deaf, my eyesight was even more important.”
We’ve helped David get his confidence back, and this year we’ll aim to help him ‘listen and join in’ for a virtual Remembrance.
“I don’t think I can praise Blind Veterans UK any higher. The kindness they have shown to me and my wife has been amazing. It’s been a kick up the backside at just the right time to realise that I just need to get on and live my life the best I can.”David