Blind Second World War veteran Charles is set to march to the Cenotaph in London this Remembrance Sunday.
Charles, who is 91 years old, served on HMS Emperor on D-Day as part of the Normandy Landings, for which he received the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur.
Now he will be marching to the Cenotaph in London for the second time with more than 100 other blind veterans supported by our charity.
Charles says: “Marching to the Cenotaph last year with Blind Veterans UK was a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget. I have so many memories from when I was in the Armed Forces and Remembrance Sunday has always been a very important time of year for me.”
In 1943, when he was 18, Charles joined the Royal Navy and trained at HMS Collingwood. He served in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean on HMS Emperor during the Second World War, working closely on the ship’s parachutes and dinghies as a safety equipment worker.
Charles says: “I went back to see HMS Collingwood again this year and it is all so different now. When I was there in 1943 we all slept in wooden huts. I remember one night we heard the sound of planes flying over and all of a sudden there was this incredible bang really close by. The Germans had dropped a bomb on one of our huts and we had heard the explosion.
“It all happened so quickly. There was nothing that could have been done to stop it. Everyone sleeping in that hut must have died. It was such a terrible thing but we all just went back to sleep and got up for work the next day. You just had to get on with it.”
Charles was aboard the HMS Emperor on D-Day, 6 June 1944, where he sailed up the English Channel and saw the Germans attack a submarine that eventually sank. This year Charles received the Legion d’Honneur for his efforts in the largest seaborne invasion in history. He left the Navy with the rank of Naval Airman First Class in 1946.
Many years later, when Charles was 71, he had a cataract operation that went wrong. He also began to experience age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of sight loss in older people.
Charles says: “I noticed my sight was getting worse because I kept having to move my chair closer and closer to my TV. I loved watching the football and going to see my team play. I still go now but I listen to the radio commentary to follow what’s going on. Of course it’s not the same. You live a completely different life when you go blind.”
Fortunately Charles was a member of the Royal Berkshire Blind Society in Wokingham and they put him in contact with Blind Veterans UK.
Charles says: “I went to the Blind Veterans UK centre in Brighton for a day with my daughter and it was a really great experience. My father was a carpenter and I used to do a bit of wood working myself but since losing my sight I’ve been afraid of cutting off my fingers! The staff at the centre were wonderful and helped me to give it a go again.”
Blind Veterans UK has also given Charles support through specialist equipment adapted for people who have sight loss. Charles has a machine which will scan his bank statements and letters and read it back to him. He has also received a mobile phone that he can use to keep in touch with his family.
Charles says: “Blind Veterans UK has looked after me really well. My specially adapted mobile phone is really important to me because I live alone. All of my children live really close but having the phone helps me to feel a bit safer.”
Charles is set to march with other vision-impaired ex-Service men and women supported by our charity as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations in London on Sunday 13 November 2016.
Charles says: “We lost 14 Navy pilots during the war. It was horrible to see shipmates go down with the plane. During Remembrance I always think about those I served with and I’m so pleased that Blind Veterans UK have given me this opportunity to pay my respects.
“My father served in the Navy during the First World War and my father-in-law played football with the Germans during the Christmas Truce in 1914 so I will be thinking of them. It will be such an honour to march again with other blind veterans to the Cenotaph.”
This November coincides with the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme. Blind Veterans UK supported more than 250 blinded veterans who lost their sight at the Somme.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB says: “This year’s Remembrance Sunday is particularly poignant as our delegation of current blind veterans remember those blinded at the Somme but also those who didn’t make it back.
“Today, Blind Veterans UK supports more blind and vision-impaired veterans than ever before in the charity’s history and we have set an ambitious target to double the number of veterans we support in the next five years.”