Tyneside World War II veteran to join Blind Veterans UK for Remembrance Day march at Cenotaph

17 October 2014 11:15

A registered blind former tank commander from Tyneside who received life-threatening injuries in Service will be marching to the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday representing Blind Veterans UK

Tom Bryden, 86 and from Rowlands Gill, will take part in the march as part of a contingent representing Blind Veterans UK.

A former National Serviceman, Tom was called up to join the Army in 1946 and joined the 4th Royal Tank Regiment. He says "I trained as a driver and wireless operator - the idea in a tank regiment is that everyone is trained in multiple things, so you can take over from someone else if they are put out of action.

"Being in a tank is fairly horrendous until you're used to it. It's a very confined space and you need to be careful about personal hygiene - you don't want to be the smelly person in the tank making it unpleasant for everyone else.

"Fortunately, you get to know the other men in your unit very well. The Army always has a good sense of camaraderie, but men in tank units tend to be closer than those in normal infantry regiments."

Tom served in Italy, Egypt and Palestine, where he was to receive a throat wound which almost claimed his life. Tom was serving as tank commander in Palestine while the region was under British control, where his unit was tasked with keeping the peace.

He says "We'd been called into an area where the local Jewish and Arab population had been firing at each other since the early morning. The plan was to trundle in with a tank so they would back down.

"When we got there, I felt very uncomfortable with it. There were no bodies, which you'd expect if they'd been shooting for hours on end. I thought something weird was going on, so I radioed in to check we were in the right place.

"Command confirmed the location, so we carried on. That's when we realised it was an ambush - we drove straight over a landmine."

Tom sustained a throat wound from a piece of shrapnel and was placed on the Army's list of critically ill. He says "I had a young wife at home at the time, so it was a big concern, but I pulled through. Stuff like that, you just take it as it comes and you don't dwell on it. A lot of us in the military just think, 'I could have died' and then simply get on with it, but I've still got the scars to prove it."

Decades after leaving the Army, Tom started to notice that he was having problems with his sight. He says "I'd taken up painting and was getting to a good level, but my sight was getting quite hazy. My GP sent me up to the hospital so they could check on my eyes. That's when I was told they couldn't do anything to save my sight."

Tom was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration and registered blind the same day. He says "It was a huge shock and quite traumatic, but I've never been the kind of person who just lays back and accepts bad news. I wanted to know what I could do, what my next objective should be.

"The specialist who registered me blind asked me if I'd ever been in the Forces. I told him I had and he suggested I get in touch with Blind Veterans UK."

Since 2005, Tom has received free and comprehensive support from Blind Veterans UK to help him live independently with sight loss. We have has trained him to walk with a white cane and use a computer without his sight, as well as supplying him with gadgets to make life with sight loss easier.

Tom says "Blind Veterans UK has been extremely supportive and caring. I'm part of a local blind association, so I've been able to tell people in the same position as me about the charity, as well as passing on some of the skills I learnt from Blind Veterans UK."

Tom will be joining Blind Veterans UK on Sunday 9 November as part of the charity's contingent who will march to the Cenotaph for Remembrance Sunday. He says "I'm hugely proud to be a part of Blind Veterans UK and to march with them. Before the march, we will be paying our respects to Sir Arthur Pearson, who founded Blind Veterans UK nearly 100 years ago.

"Taking part in Remembrance Sunday means that I'll be able to show respect for those who have lost their lives in service - before, during and after my own time in the Army. Remembrance Sunday is always very moving and I remember feeling tears trickling down my cheeks last time I took part."

Our No One Alone campaign aims to reach out to more people like Tom. 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.