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D-Day 80: In their own words

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A photo of nine blind veterans edited onto a background of D-Day

On 6 June 2024, the nation commemorates the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy - the most decisive turning point in the Second World War. 

We are honoured to share the extraordinary first-hand experiences of our veterans who were there, serving across the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Risking their lives for freedom and peace, each one played a critical role in what is still the largest seaborne invasion the world has ever seen.

Today these brave veterans are still battling, only now their enemy is sight loss. They urgently need support to be able to continue living with the dignity they so deserve.

Here are their stories.

By sea

Blind veterans Thomas, Joe and Bob were part of the convoy crossing the channel. They share their fascinating stories, and talk about their ongoing struggles with sight loss.

Our D-Day Navy veterans
Photos of veterans Thomas, Joe and Bob edited above a navy ship

By land

The land invasion of the Normandy beaches was fraught with danger and we are honoured to support some of the brave men who risked their lives. Meet Richard, John and Harry.

Our D-Day Army veterans
A photo of blind veterans Richard, John, and Harry edited over a Normandy beach

By air

Eighty years ago, John, Syd and Harry served their country from the air, defending Allied ships from enemy attack, towing gliders into battle and flying officers to strategic points across Northern France. 

Our D-Day RAF veterans
Photos of blind veterans Harry, Syd and John
"The enormity of it is... well, I'm still amazed at it to be honest. To think of the arranging and planning to get all that? It's out of this world really."
Syd
Blind veteran

D-Day: A military operation like no other

Our Chief Executive, Adrian Bell, writes about the extraordinary planning and precision behind the largest amphibious invasion of all time.

Read Adrian's piece
Adrian Bell CEO in front of the D-Day map at Southwick House

How your support helps our D-Day veterans

Our Community Support Workers are committed to making sure all our D-Day veterans have what they need to enjoy life. Here's how they help.

They help them enjoy meals again.

One issue our Community Support Workers come across when working with veterans who have a sight impairment is eating - and how quickly sight loss can make them self-conscious around food.

The veterans can feel embarrassed when food drops off the fork or spoon, or when they put the fork to their mouth with nothing on it. They might stop going out to restaurants and cafés.

Our staff encourage them to continue living their life and help them to feel more secure with simple tips such as, for example, choosing finger food which is easier to control.

They also show veterans' families how to help them identify what is on the plate by using a clock face analogy: 12 o’clock chicken, 3 o’clock peas, 6 o’clock mashed potato, 9 o’clock carrots. Also, putting food onto a slightly lipped plate means food can be scooped up more easily.

By following simple tips like these, our team make sure blind veterans don't miss out on social activities and can still enjoy their meals, wherever they are.

They help them stay independent.

Our support to help blind veterans with daily living begins with a low vision assessment with our rehabilitation team.

One thing they will support with is identifying the best low vision aids for reading tasks, like a portable scanner. This is often a priority as it enables veterans to continue their day-to-day tasks such as reading the post and following cooking instructions.

Our rehabilitation team will also support in other practical ways. For example, D-Day veteran, Alec, who's widowed, is able to use his kitchen thanks to tactical markers which help him navigate the dials on his cooker and other appliances.

In addition to this, our volunteers play a vital role in helping our veterans maintain their independence. This is because isolation is a common problem for people with sight loss and hearing a friendly voice can make all the difference to their wellbeing.

For example, we recruited a home visitor for Alec who visits regularly for a cuppa and a chat - and even the odd job around the house. 

They help them feel cared for.

While our specialist equipment can make all the difference to the day-to-day, we find that keeping morale up can be just as important, particularly for older veterans less able to venture out.

For example, by the time Second World War veteran, George, came to us he had already become extremely lonely and isolated. In fact, he told us that he felt like his life was over.

Our local staff quickly rallied round and connected him to other veterans through our telephone groups. The difference in George has been extraordinary. He now says:

"I'm part of the gang now. I feel I belong."

His Community Support Worker says that when she thinks of the impact she has had on his life, she feels very emotional. She says:

"Knowing that the veterans don't feel lonely anymore is wonderful. The change can be tremendous." 

Even if our blind veterans are in care homes, we will continue to visit them to make sure they are well looked after. Often we find that their carers have never cared for someone with sight loss, so we might step in and give them tips, such as making sure they introduce themselves clearly and explain where things have been left, such as meals and drinks. 

They introduce assistive technology.

We introduce our blind veterans to assistive technology that makes their lives easier and providing training and troubleshooting support.

For example, at the age of 99 and in the midst of the pandemic, D-Day veteran, John, decided to take on the challenge of writing his wartime memoirs. This was no small task as John has severe sight loss and lives alone - and all our support had to be remote.

We provided John with an iPad and remote training on how to use it, and also sourced a volunteer to type up and edit his handwritten notes. This was coordinated and monitored by the community team who made sure that John received the best support possible.

Amazingly, John was able to publish his book - and, now, at the age of 103, is busy working on his second.

John continues to receive regular check in calls from his local  community team and also keeps in contact with other members of Blind Veterans UK via our telephone groups. We've also provided him with more essential equipment such as alarm on a pendant, and our IT Instructors have helped him access the television using voice controls.

They love their work.

Our Community Support Workers work hard to make sure each blind veteran has all the support they need - and the pleasure is all theirs.

George's Community Support Worker recently told us:

"I feel proud because of the work I do. I have a chance to support these people who served through such a horrible period in our history and make their lives easier and a little bit happier. That, for me, is a joy. Being part of their lives until the end is just joyous. It's very rewarding. I'm being paid to do what I love. Imagine that? What a job!"

Meanwhile, our Community Support Worker for D-Day veterans, Joe and Harry, says:

"I feel so humbled and honoured to be able to serve our veterans. We literally have the best jobs in the world." 

Please support our D-Day veterans.

With the right equipment, training and social interaction, our D-Day veterans can live safely and happily. 

It's our turn to take care of them.

 

Celebrate our brave veterans in June

As National Armed Forces Day also falls in June, there's no better time to honour our brave D-Day veterans, and all Servicemen and women. If you're looking for ways to commemorate at work, with friends or in your local community, take a look at our fundraising ideas.

Armed Forces Month
Two supporters outside holding collection buckets beside a banner with the words 'Do it for veterans'

Download your D-Day 80 commemorative magazine

Download our special D-Day 80 magazine featuring 16 incredible first-hand experiences of the historic invasion by our blind veterans, along with their stunning portraits. This special commemorative brochure also includes a foreword by our dedicated Patron, HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh.

Download now
A magazine cover with the title "D-Day: In their own words"

Photography credit: Richard Cannon

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