The National Service of Remembrance holds special significance for Blind Veterans UK as it is an opportunity to formally remember the sacrifice of our fellow servicemen and women, and their families.
It's also a treasured time for our veterans to get together with one another to share their memories and remember old comrades.
While we are extremely grateful for the chance to be able to march in London again this November, it will be in greatly reduced numbers as we continue to follow guidance to keep our veterans as safe as possible.
For those unable to go, we are planning a range of online and face-to-face support which includes, in particular, efforts to grow our presence at local parades to help our veterans make new connections in their communities. We will also hold a special week of Remembrance activities at our training and rehabilitation centre in Llandudno, which a number of our Second World War veterans will be supported to attend.
“Remembrance is the most important event in the Blind Veterans UK calendar, and we are proud to be able to march at the Cenotaph and around the country once more. As we continue to adapt our support in the face of the pandemic, we are also finding ways to safely involve veterans unable to march in London in the hope that all those who wish to are able to make a meaningful connection with the day.”Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB
This Remembrance, as we pay our respects to the fallen, it is also important to take time to remember those who served and are still with us. Your support this Remembrance will allow more blind veterans to rebuild their lives after sight loss.
"It was a rocket attack in Afghanistan that hit the wall I was leaning against."
Chris had multiple skull fractures, brain injuries and irreparable damage to his eyes – leaving him blinded.
After he lost his sight, Chris changed from being the husband, father and best friend his wife knew and loved to almost a completely different man. To make matters worse, Chris also suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was utterly disorientated: thinking he was still in the war zone. His wife had just given birth to a baby and the days when he first got home were very difficult.
An Army Welfare Officer put Chris in touch with Blind Veterans UK. He went with his family to one of our training and rehabilitation centres. For the first time, Chris felt welcome and began to understand that his sight loss didn’t have to lead to a loss of independence. Chris began a bespoke programme specifically designed around his complex needs.
With the support of Blind Veterans UK Chris started to cope with everyday life again. The training he received means he can get out and about with a long cane. He can walk safely and independently to his local shop and go in to town with his family. He has also learnt IT skills that have helped him with his memory. And at home, Chris has a special computer so he can continue his training and a scanner to read his post.
Despite his sight loss, which continues to deteriorate, Chris is now a professional photographer and helps other blind veterans to overcome the barriers which blindness has put in their paths.
Eddie joined the Royal Navy in 1943 and was on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
He was a petrol stoker on landing craft and, along with four other crew members on his Landing Barge Vehicle, he set off from Poole on June 4 in preparation for the Allied invasion of France. The Landing Barge Vehicle was initially transporting 35 tonnes of TNT and a bulldozer.
He started receiving support from Blind Veterans UK in 2016 after losing his sight much later in life due to age-related macular degeneration.
He has since received support, training and equipment to allow him to continue to live as independently as possible.
Eddie is also supported in his local community by his Community Support Worker Lorraine and the rest of his local team. Lorraine visits Eddie regularly to make sure he has everything he needs to continue to live as independently as possible.
"They have given me a special reader that magnifies documents to a huge size. It has allowed me to still look after my own correspondence and even get back into building models. I’ve also recently started learning how to use a tablet computer. I get quite emotional remembering the moment when I was being shown all this marvellous equipment and then being told that I was taking it home with me."Eddie
A former wartime codebreaker at Bletchley Park, 98-year-old Margaret won’t be able to march at the Cenotaph this year. She says: "Before Covid I had marched there for 10 years in a row and before that I used to organise all the local events here for Remembrance Sunday. It will be a real shame I can’t come down this year. I’ll have to keep going and be there for when I’ll be 99 next year!"
Margaret is very proud of her service 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. She says: "I join two or three calls a week on different topics and it’s lovely to chat with all the different people. We’ve kept them going even after the lockdown has lifted."
Margaret, who has only recently recovered after contracting Covid-19, hopes to join a local event in Nottinghamshire to mark Remembrance Sunday.
Speaking about losing her sight, Margaret said: "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."
“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
As Vice-President of Blind Veterans UK, Billy will be representing the charity and marching at the Cenotaph this year.
A former Royal Artillery staff sergeant, Billy lost his sight in 1997 after contracting a virus in Bosnia. Billy, who was tasked with finding evidence of war crimes, contracted the virus while he and his colleagues were exhuming a mass grave in the war-torn country.
He says: "I simply couldn’t accept losing my sight and tried to hide it from friends and family as much as possible. I couldn’t believe that anyone else would understand what I was going through.
"The most important things Blind Veterans UK did for me was showing me that life doesn’t stop when you lose your sight as well as that there would always be support there for me and my family."
Since he started receiving our support in 2000, Billy has ridden in a motorbike stunt team, appeared on Top Gear, taken a National Diploma Performing Arts course, received the Adult Learner of the Year award, carried the Olympic torch, become the only blind Town Crier in the UK, competed at the Pace Sticking World Championships, broken the world record for fastest blind motorcyclist and is the only blind motorcyclist to have completed a lap of a GP circuit.
“It took quite a while before I was convinced to start receiving support from Blind Veterans UK, or St Dunstan’s as it was known then. I went for a week at the charity’s Brighton centre to be assessed and it saved me. I’ll never forget coming home afterwards and hearing my wife say, ‘We’ve got our Billy back.'”Billy
John served his country 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. After not being able to march last year, John will be joining fellow blind veterans marching in Llandudno.
With our help, John has kept in contact with other blind veterans during lockdown and he led a group of veterans who all normally get together for their archery club in having weekly catch-up calls.
"It’s great to be able to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing," he says, "It will be even better getting to meet people face to face again and all gather to mark Remembrance Sunday in the proper way."