Blind veteran from North Yorkshire to march on Remembrance Sunday with Blind Veterans UK

16 October 2014 12:35

A registered blind RAF veteran from Whitby is set to march to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday as part of a contingent from national charity Blind Veterans UK.

82 year old Ben Smith will be joining more than 100 other veterans representing Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision impaired ex-Service men and women.

Ben served in the RAF Education Branch from 1955 to 1958 on a short service commission after completing a degree at Reading University and qualifying as a teacher.

Ben says "This was during National Service and I knew I was going to have to serve for two years in any case.

"I was able to defer my service so I could go to University, but when it came to my call-up, I decided to take a short service commission - it was only one year more than National Service and there were much better opportunities for regulars, so it made a lot of sense."

Ben served in bases with units around Germany and started his service only ten miles from the Iron Curtain. Ben says "It was a very interesting and unusual time to be serving. As well as protecting British interests in West Germany, the RAF had been involved in the Berlin Airlift only a few years earlier.

"We had to be prepared in case the Russians and East Germans blockaded West Berlin a second time. Most of my job involved offering educational opportunities to those in the RAF, who were there to protect us against possible ground attacks.

"A lot of the National Servicemen didn't know what they wanted to do when they left the Services and many felt they had wasted their time at school. I ran classes and lectures to help them get the most out of their time in the Services."

By the end of his service, Ben had taught nine different subjects, including English, Maths, Geography, History, British Constitution and French.

Following his time in the RAF, Ben taught in grammar schools around the country. Nearly three decades after leaving the Armed Forces, Ben was diagnosed with glaucoma, a condition which has gradually degraded his sight.

Ben says "I decided to get an eye test, which I hadn't ever done before, and that's when I was diagnosed with glaucoma. Since then, my sight has steadily worsened and I've also been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration."

Since January, Ben has received free and comprehensive support from Blind Veterans UK to help him live independently with sight loss. He says "I had no idea there was help available, but the support I've had from Blind Veterans UK has been invaluable.

"The charity has shown me how to cook even though I can't see what I'm doing, by using things like gloves that you can't accidentally cut through.

"The single biggest help has been a small audio recorder about the size of a credit card that Blind Veterans UK has given me. I still do lectures from time to time and it's incredibly useful for notes."

On Sunday 9 November, Ben will be one of over 100 vision impaired ex-Service men and women representing Blind Veterans UK.

Ben says "It's a huge honour to take part in the Remembrance Sunday march with Blind Veterans UK. I'm very aware that there are many who died while in service in the RAF - including people who I served with - and I will be thinking about them."

Our No One Alone campaign aims to reach out to more people like Ben. More than 68,000 other veterans could be eligible for free help and support without realising it. If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or National Service who now suffers with sight loss from any reason visit or call 0800 389 7979.