Blinded in combat: a photography exhibition
To commemorate the sacrifice of our war-blinded veterans, we teamed up with award-winning photographer Richard Cannon to capture the portraits of nine blind veterans who lost their sight in the line of duty.
The portraits on this page are displayed in the order of which the veterans lost their sight, spanning from 1954 to 2010. Alongside each portrait you can read the amazing story behind the veteran and find out how they lost their sight, the challenges they faced, their incredible achievements and their ongoing journey of rehabilitation.
For anyone viewing the gallery with a vision impairment, there is an image description beneath each portrait.
Mike was living in Kenya when he was conscripted in 1953 as part of British efforts to suppress the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. In 1954, during fierce fighting, Mike was shot in the head. “I got a bullet which went in my right ear, blew out my left eye, and left me with no light perception."
Six weeks later, Mike was back in Britain at our Brighton Wellbeing Centre, recuperating from his injuries and learning braille and other skills he’d need now he'd lost his sight.
He went on to pursue a course in physiotherapy with his training paid for by our charity, and opened a private practice in St Albans. More than 65 years later, he’s still at work.
He said: “The charity have been absolutely brilliant all the way through. They gave me sanctuary and helped me find my feet and face the world again. I’m not sure where I would have been if it hadn’t been for Blind Veterans UK over the years.”
Mike stands in front of a black and white faded backdrop medals standing proud. The composition is impactful with Mike looking directly at the viewer, shadows cast across the right side of his face where he was shot and light illuminating his left side, as his left eye looks directly towards the audience, confronting us.
While serving with the British Army in the Middle East in 1966, Woody was wounded when local tribesmen attacked their camp. A rocket hit the roof of the tent he was resting in, with the shrapnel causing wounds to his arms, chest and eyes. Over the next 20 years Woody’s sight slowly deteriorated and he now has no sight at all.
Woody has been a permanent resident at our Centre of Wellbeing in Brighton for three years, where he is supported to take part in a range of activities that he enjoys, in particular IT and arts and crafts.
Woody sits on the right of the composition, face turned away from the viewer. The image is dark with two poignant areas of light, Woody’s face, obscured by his dark glasses and most prominently his two large medals pop with colour against his black clothes.
Having joined the Royal Navy in 1960, Terry was in the Falklands on board HMS Antrim on 21 May 1982, when four Argentine Skyhawk fighter-bombers passed over the ship, dropping a pattern of eight 1,000 lb bombs. He was hit by a cannon shell. The nurse on duty remembers Terry as incredibly stoic as her team battled - but failed - to save his sight.
Terry said: “When you first lose your sight it’s like being taken back into infancy; you can’t get around." By Autumn 1982, Terry had found our charity and had begun his rehabilitation, learning to type, read and write Braille, and use a long cane.
He said: "The camaraderie together with the encouragement and support from Blind Veterans UK kept me positive and I found I was able to achieve more each day."
Terry has gone on to have an impressive career, including working as a museum information officer, a social worker and a lecturer.
Terry sits with his back to the dark side of the composition, facing into the light. His grey hair is illuminated by the light, mirroring his four silver medals that stand out on his chest against his sharp navy suit.
After completing his training Stephen entered the Parachute Regiment in 1982 and almost immediately was sent out to the Falklands when war broke out in April. During the Battle of Goose Green Stephen was shot twice through the head.
He spent a year at Queen Elizabeth military hospital in Woolwich recovering from his injuries. He said: “When I woke up I was totally blind. A small amount returned but it was like looking through tears. The hardest thing was being medically discharged from the Army as being a solider was all I’d ever wanted to do. After I left hospital I started looking for jobs and realised how hard it was as a vision-impaired person.”
Stephen started receiving our support in 2007. “I know Blind Veterans UK will always be there if I need them. If I need any help or advice, they always point me in the right direction.”
Stephen has gone on to have a happy family life with a wife of 38 years and two children. He has a passion for carp fishing, which has helped with his mental health and lifelong recovery from PTSD.
Stephen's portrait exudes pride, he is photographed in his class of 82 polo shirt, standing with his chin up facing the light. The perspective makes the viewer feel like they are looking up to Stephen whose pink regiment shirt juxtaposes with the black and white backdrop. Stephen looks up towards the sky, appearing reminiscent of his days in the parachute regiment.
Steve joined the Royal Green Jackets 2nd Battalion in 1991 and after completing basic training, was dispatched to Northern Ireland. A few months into his tour, Steve was being transported in a helicopter when it ran into trouble and crashed into a hillside.
Steve said: “I woke up and discovered I was totally blind and I’d lost one leg. My immediate reaction was one of disbelief. I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me.” He spent the next six months in hospital where he learnt to walk again. He then went straight to our Wellbeing Centre in Brighton, where he completed a three-month training course, learning skills, adaptations and techniques to remain independent. He says: "The best thing was that the charity helped me to get my confidence back.”
Steve went on to achieve many great things in his career including becoming a professional chef, using his Braille skills to teach other vision-impaired people how to read, and being a motivational speaker for independent schools.
Steve sits central to the image, stoic, wearing his blazer, beret and medal shining on his chest. His wheelchair frames the bottom of the image, and he holds his dark glasses in his hands. Light reflects off the glasses frame in the same way it does his medal. His silhouette contrasting against the light of the background gives Steve's portrait a sense of boldness.
Simon joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1997. In 2006 he was shot through the face by a sniper while leading a successful mission to recover six stranded colleagues in Iraq.
Simon awoke 17 days later in a Birmingham hospital. He had lost his left eye and was left with around 20% vision in his right eye. He recalls: “When I found out that I’d lost my sight, my world fell apart. I’d lost my career, I’d lost my job and I’d lost my future.”
Fortunately for Simon, he found our charity later that year and started receiving the support he needed. “In my early days with Blind Veterans UK the education and peer support was invaluable. They built up my confidence and gave me support with the pragmatic things I needed to move forward."
Simon started playing rugby league again in 2018, and as Club Captain and Assistant Coach of Leeds Rhinos Physical Disability Rugby League team, he won the grand final of the national championship for the sport.
Simon looks straight into the camera, focusing on his face and eyes, where he was shot by a sniper. The left side of his face illuminated with his glass eye shining blue and yellow, reflecting the colours on his medals and highlighting the relationship between the two.
While serving in Afghanistan in 2007, Chris was wounded when a rocket attack hit the wall that he was leaning against in Helmand province. He had multiple skull fractures, brain injuries and irreparable damage to his eyes – leaving him blinded.
An Army Welfare Officer put Chris in touch with us and he went with his family to one of our wellbeing centres. For the first time, Chris began to understand that his sight loss didn’t have to lead to a loss of independence. He began a bespoke programme specifically designed around his complex needs.
With our support Chris started to cope with everyday life again. The training he received meant he could get out and about with a long cane. He could walk safely and independently to his local shops and go into town with his family. He also learnt IT skills that helped him with his memory.
Despite his sight loss, which continues to deteriorate, Chris is now a professional photographer and helps other blind veterans to overcome the barriers which blindness has put in their paths.
Chris’ face is illuminated at the centre of the photograph, he wears a green polo and faces away from the dark background to his right, this brings a sense of hopefulness. He looks directly at the audience as the lighting highlights the scar along his forehead.
In January 2010, Ken was on foot patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device went off in the Taliban compound he was clearing. He woke up from a coma one month later.
Ken said: "I had lost the sight in my right eye and only had a little bit left in the other. My legs and stomach were also messed up and I had to have lots of operations. It was a tough time, I felt sad and helpless. I didn’t know who was who because I couldn’t see their faces.
"Blind Veterans UK visited me straightaway in hospital. Then I went to the charity’s Wellbeing Centre in Brighton. It was so inspiring. Chatting with the veterans. Watching the camaraderie. Knowing that there was hope for the future. With the help of Blind Veterans UK I could finally enjoy life again and push past my blindness."
Ken is now a personal trainer at his local gym and helps rehabilitate patients from his local GP surgery.
Ken's portrait contrasts against the dark background, he stands strong and looks downward and towards the viewer. He has an air of power about him, with his stern look and the word “Vikings” across his t-shirt. His piercing blue eye looks directly through the viewer.
Rob joined the 5th Regiment of the Royal Artillery in 2007 and went on to become a member of the Special Observation Battery. While in Afghanistan in 2010, one of his comrades triggered an improvised explosive device, which killed his colleague and caused severe head and facial injuries to Rob. The explosion destroyed one of his eyes immediately and left the other one so badly damaged that it had to be removed later in hospital.
Rob said: "Everything I knew about how to live had just been ripped away from me. I was starting again." We visited Rob in hospital, and after an initial recovery period, he was invited for training and rehabilitation at our Brighton Centre of Wellbeing, where he was taught independent living skills in our specially adapted rehabilitation accommodation.
Rob said: "Blind Veterans UK brought me back to the world and put me back in touch with everything a normal able bodied sighted person could do."
Rob’s journey of independence has allowed him to carve out a fine sports career in Brazilian Jujitsu and he has gone on to become a national and world champion in the sport.
Rob stands face on, in the centre of the composition with his hands crossed in front of him. He is wearing camo combat uniform with his two medals displayed proudly on his chest. His bright blue eyes capture the audience against the subtle darkness of the background. This photograph embodies a modern soldier.
Help our lifelong support live on
Show our blind veterans that they are not forgotten. Help us continue our vital work to rebuild lives after sight loss.