Couple to attend Queen’s Patron’s Lunch with charity that brought them together
9 June 2016
A couple from Gloucester have been invited to attend the special Patron's Lunch to celebrate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen.
The lunch will be taking place on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace this June (12/06) and is being held to recognise the more than 600 organisations that hold The Queen's patronage.
Walter and Helen Exall have been invited to represent Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, which has had The Queen as its Patron throughout her reign.
Walter, who also turned 90 this year, and his wife Helen will be attending together after marrying in April last year. The couple met through Blind Veterans UK after sitting together at one of the charity's reunion lunches shortly after Walter started to receive support from the charity.
Ex-Royal Signalman Walter was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration 15 years ago, which slowly robbed him of his sight. In 2013, after visiting a Sight Concern group, he found out about the support available to him from Blind Veterans UK.
Just one month after starting to receive support, Walter attended a lunch held by Blind Veterans UK. He said: "I had just wanted to go and have a nice lunch and meet other veterans in the area. When I got there, my welfare officer Rachel sat me next to Helen and told her to look after me, and she did just that! We hit it off and things have just developed from there."
Helen has been in contact with Blind Veterans UK for many years, as her late veteran husband John had also been supported after he lost his sight. When John passed away eight years ago, Helen continued to receive support from the charity and attend its social events.
Helen said: "Blind Veterans UK has really changed my life. They helped me so much when I was caring for John, I can't praise them enough. After he died, I was becoming quite lonely, so it's almost as if Walter came along at just the right time. We hit it off straight away, and we're still going strong now."
The couple kept in touch and visited each other regularly, before deciding to go on holiday to Blind Veterans UK's centre in Brighton in October 2014. It was at the centre that the couple became engaged.
The couple, who now live together in Gloucester, got married at Easter in 2015 and are now looking forward to taking the trip to London to celebrate The Queen's 90th birthday together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK. On Sunday 12 June, The Mall in St James's Park will be transformed for its largest ever street party to celebrate The Queen's patronage of more than 600 charities and organisations.
Walter said: "We're both very honoured to have been asked to attend the Patron's Lunch, particularly as we're representing such a brilliant organisation in Blind Veterans UK.
"My father was in the Royal Navy and worked on the Royal Yacht HMY Victoria and Albert serving The Queen's Grandfather King George V. He was very much a royal man and that's rubbed off on me."
As well as helping Walter to find love again, Blind Veterans UK has also helped Walter to adjust to life with sight loss. He said: "I have a lot to thank Blind Veterans UK for. After I lost my first wife in 2013, the charity helped me get my confidence back, and I've got a new life altogether now.
"As well as helping me find Helen, they given me lots of equipment and training to help me with my sight loss. I had been struggling to see the screen on my computer and was about ready to put it in the bin, but with the training I've been given and the magnifiers, I'm able to use it again."
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity's initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning the Second World War to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.
If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help them discover a life beyond sight loss by calling 0800 389 7979 or visitingnoonealone.org.uk