MILITARY charity Blind Veterans UK has announced its plans to host up to 20 ‘Virtual Street Parties’ for 75 blind Second World War veterans to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
The virtual parties will be taking place on Friday 8 May as the nation comes together to mark the occasion.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB said:
“There were due to be celebrations across the country and the rest of Europe but, with the impact that coronavirus has had, most of these are now cancelled.
“Blind Veterans UK will be taking the opportunity to trial ‘virtual’ gatherings, that we are calling our Virtual Street Party, to bring as many WWII, blind veterans, together as possible who wish to mark VE Day.
“Many of our veterans are particularly vulnerable right now, isolated in their own homes. We are ensuring that they have everything they need but social interaction is also hugely important.
“Our goal is to have at least 75 Second World War veterans join a virtual table at this 75th-anniversary event and we will be setting up many more virtual events to allow our blind veterans to enjoy further vital social interaction as isolating and shielding continues.”
One of the WWII blind veterans taking part in the virtual party is 97-year-old Margaret Wilson. Margaret, who lives in Shirebrook in Derbyshire, joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1942.
She initially served as a wireless operator but later in the war, she trained in Vital Communications and went on to work as a Codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
Remembering VE Day 75 years ago Margaret said:
“I was on duty when I heard. We all finished at Bletchley Park at 6 and went to Bedford where we were billeted in the YWCA.
“At 10 there was such a pandemonium – everything that could make a noise was out. People were blowing trumpets and banging drums and parading through the streets. They asked us to join in, but we were in our pyjamas and we were back on shift at Bletchley the next day too!”
Margaret lost her sight much later in life due to age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of sight loss in older people and has been supported by Blind Veterans UK since 2016.
“When I first visited one of the training centres for an introduction week I was blown away. The biggest impact it had on me was meeting and being around all those other people, many who had much worse sight than me, who were getting on with life.
“Normally, I join a group of other local blind veterans for a lunch once or twice a month and I’m really missing those having to stay at home right now. I’m a very social person so I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and remembering VE Day.”
The Virtual Street Party will take place on meeting software that allows the charity to call all those involved on a normal phone and will work as a party line, allowing as many people as possible to take part. There will be recorded messages from, among others, the charity’s Patron, HRH The Countess of Wessex, as well as music and activities and the all-important chance to chat.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blind Veterans UK has adapted its service to support its 5,000 beneficiaries, 90% of whom are over 70 and thus being advised by the Government to self-isolate. The National Support Service will help blind veterans through this period of social isolation.
Nick Caplin concluded:
“Having to self-isolate, blind veterans need our help right now with daily tasks, such as shopping, and constant emotional support through this difficult time. So we are temporarily changing our service and mobilising our staff to provide practical, essential support to help the most vulnerable.
“There is so much that we can and must do to support blind veterans to help them maintain physical and emotional wellbeing, and to feel safe, reassured and cared for during this crisis.”
You can keep updated on Blind Veterans UK’s response to COVID-19 at blindveterans.org.uk/coronavirus where you can also find out more about supporting the charity to make this new service possible.