Blind Navy veteran urges other veterans to seek free support this National Eye Health Week

13 September 2016 12:07

Frank Walden, 90, is a Clacton-on-Sea Navy veteran and was signposted to us by his local Specsavers.

Frank Walden, 90, is a Clacton-on-Sea Navy veteran and was signposted to us by his local Specsavers.

He lives in Holland-on-Sea and has been receiving support from us since November 2015, and this National Eye Health Week (19 – 25 September) is urging other blind veterans to seek our free support.

Navy Veteran Frank Walden

Born in Battersea, in Greater London, Frank’s career began at the famous Harrods store in Knightsbridge, where he worked as a trainee electrician.

During the Second World War, in February 1944, at the age of just 17, Frank enlisted in the Royal Navy.

Frank said: “When I joined the Navy, they took one look at my work history they said ‘Right, you’re a torpedo man.’ It was all very exciting.

“I was sent down to Billy Butlin’s to pick up my kit and have my injections. I couldn’t believe all the kit we were given. Coming from humble background I was so impressed. I couldn’t work out how they could afford it all.”

In 1944, Frank was sent to the Netherlands where he supported the British Commandos on Walcheron Island.

After leaving the Netherlands Frank was placed on board the HMS Rajah, an escort aircraft carrier, to clear up some electrical faults on board.

Frank said: “I remember some chaps on board the Rajah mentioning they were heading to Hong Kong in the upcoming days. I went and spoke to the commanding officer on board to see if I could join. That was on the Friday, and by the Monday we were off. It was like a bus service, stopping at Gibraltar, the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea and through to Hong Kong. We did that three times!”

Frank was discharged from the Navy as an Able Seaman Leading Torpedo Man in 1947. He returned to Harrods and then to the Express Lift Company before retirement.

It was 65 years later when Frank first noticed his sight was deteriorating. His sight gradually got worse until 4 years ago he was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration.

Two years after this diagnosis Frank saw our flyer at his Specsavers store. He applied for our support but initially his sight loss didn’t meet the criteria. We reviewed his vision again a year later and in 2015 Frank became a beneficiary.

In February this year, Frank was invited to our training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton.

Frank said: “The staff at Brighton were marvellous. Everyone at the centre was as helpful as could be. One evening at dinner I chatted to a couple on our table and it turned out they lived just down the road from us in Upminster. It’s a great place and full of lovely people.”

Frank was already interested in computers, so we gave him a free specially adapted computer for people with sight loss.

Frank said: “I’ve recently come back from a week of IT training focusing on how to use the new tablet which Blind Veterans UK gave to me. I’m getting on really well with it, thanks to their tuition. The IT instructor was very patient and supportive.”

As a result of some of his training, Frank is hoping to track down some friends from his days in the Navy. He said “Since getting my tablet from Blind Veterans UK I’ve been using Google to track down a few old friends from the navy who now live in South Africa. I think I might have to get on Facebook to find them.”

Frank said “I’d definitely encourage other veterans out there who struggle with their sight to get in touch. I’m so glad I picked up that leaflet in Specsavers. I really enjoy being a part of Blind Veterans UK and know others would too.”