Oxfordshire blind veteran to celebrate Queen’s birthday with Patron’s Lunch on the Mall

1 June 2016

A blind veteran from Oxfordshire has 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.


John Cantwell


John Cantwell, 68 and from Banbury, has 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.


John joined the Royal Air Force in 1970 where he was part of the Motor Transport Service Section (MTSS). Whilst with the RAF he was stationed in RAF St. Athan, RAF Lucas, RAF Old Sarum, RAF Salalah, Cyprus and Anguila. He met his wife Elaine while he was stationed in Cyprus where she was an RAF Nurse. John left the RAF in 1980.


John says "While we were stationed at RAF Salalah in Dhofar the local rebels threw mortars at the RAF base. The MTSS building had a shiny roof so they would aim at that. Luckily, they always missed because they had such terrible aim."


John suffers from a genetic skin disease called keratosis pilaris also known as "chicken skin" disease. He says the disease never troubled him, however a side effect was that it has gradually made him lose his sight.


John says "It was very gradual so I had time to adjust. They told me they couldn't do anything to fix my eyes, which strangely was a blessing as I had to accept it and it made me adapt to my circumstances."


John was told about Blind Veterans UK in 2010 and he started to receive free and comprehensive support from the charity straight away.


He says "When you lose your sight you're in a shell and you do not realise what you can do. Blind Veterans UK showed me what was possible and now I do a full range of activities including skiing, cycling and archery. I have also had IT training and my wife and I organise a local Blind Veterans UK lunch club. The social element is so important and it's great to have that camaraderie again."


John and his wife Elaine are now looking forward to celebrating 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.


John says: "My wife and I were lucky enough to meet the Countess of Wessex recently when we were invited for tea with a fellow blind veteran who had made her a bird box for her garden. Neither of us have ever met The Queen though.


"I, and all blind veterans are hugely proud to be part of a charity that has The Queen as its patron and I know that it will be a fantastic day."


John is also preparing to walk 100 kilometres in just 24 hours to raise money for Blind Veterans UK the weekend after the Patron's Lunch. He will be joining a team of blind veterans taking part in the first 100k Yorkshire. At 68, John will be the oldest walker taking on the mammoth challenge and you can sponsor him by visitingjustgiving.com/JohnCantwell.


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