Blind Navy veteran looks forward to celebrating Christmas event with Blind Veterans UK
This time of year is particularly poignant for Andrew, who was first diagnosed with macular degeneration in 2004.
His eyesight gradually deteriorated, until on Christmas Eve in 2007, when he was watching television, it got drastically worse. He was registered blind soon after. Tragically, his wife of 46 years, Alma, also died just over a year later, in January 2008. It came as a double blow when Andrew was still struggling to come to terms with his sight loss.
Andrew said, “I was completely devastated at losing my sight, and things got even worse when my wife passed away. I had never felt so alone in my life. I thought there was no hope for me and I became anxious and withdrawn. I felt that I had become invisible and inadequate, and didn’t like asking people for help to do things which I could have done easily before. My military life taught be to be extremely independent and active and the thought of becoming dependent on someone else, even family, was too much to bear.”
Andrew joined the Navy when he was just 15 years old as a Boy Seaman. In Oct 1953 he qualified as a Boy Seaman 1st Class. He spent 18 months in the Far East on the destroyer HMS Comus, witnessed the A-bomb on Christmas Island and visited Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and other countries. He served in HMS Blackpool in the Mediterranean and spent some time in UK waters, the Atlantic and Arctic waters. He completed his service as an Able Seaman in March 1962 and moved ashore to London to marry his wife, Alma, the next year in 1963.
Fortunately, one of Andrew’s comrades told him about Blind Veterans UK and explained that as an ex-Service man, he was eligible for its support, irrespective of the cause of his sight loss. Soon after registering for its free support, he spent an induction week at its training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton and immediately things started to improve.
Andrew also benefits from the lunch clubs and reunions the charity offers, and even takes part in activity courses such as rifle shooting and archery. He has gained the confidence to get involved with some of his old pursuits, such as sailing, and now leads a full and active life. Andrew said, “I’m so grateful to Blind Veterans UK for giving me the skills and confidence to help rebuild my life. They taught me how to live as a blind person and were there for me when I didn’t know who to ask for advice. I now live a very independent life but it gives me great comfort to know that they are always there.”
As the tenth anniversary of his sight loss draws closer, Andrew will be joining other blind veterans at a Christmas lunch in Marylebone on Monday 12 December. Charity supporter Dame Barbara Windsor DBE will be in attendance and said “No one who has served our country should have to battle sight loss alone. This December, Blind Veterans UK is reaching out to anyone who has previously served in the Armed Forces or done National Service and may be feeling particularly isolated since losing their sight. Events like the Christmas lunch are so important in helping to bring veterans together and I am very proud to be involved with it.”
Andrew said: “I’m looking forward to the Christmas lunch, but the best bit will be meeting up with the other veterans and sharing a few stories. I find military people have a connection that’s quite different from civvies and it’s lovely to be able to be among them again.”