A blind veteran from Conwy who has previously marched at the Cenotaph in London will be experiencing a very different Remembrance Sunday this year due to COVID-19.
John Nicol, 82 and from Llandudno, was due to be marching at the Cenotaph as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations with more than 100 other blind veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.
However, the pandemic has meant that the service and march will be drastically reduced this year and this has prevented John and other veterans who are at greater risk from COVID-19 from being able to join.
John joined the Army in 1955 serving with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). He was based in Germany and his main role was to ensure that all the vehicles were in good working order. He was demobbed in 1963 as a first-class Craftsman.
John lost his sight due to Anterior Ischaemic Optic Neuropathy (AION) and Glaucoma.
“I enjoyed my time in service and all the camaraderie. While I was in Germany, I competed in a number of military motorcycle trials.
“When I lost my sight five years ago, my wife had been diagnosed with cancer. As I was looking after her, I had to adapt quickly to my sight loss to make sure her needs were met.”
Fortunately, John found out about Blind Veterans UK and started receiving support from the charity in 2015. He said:
“I lost my wife just before I joined the charity. I starting volunteering at the charity’s Llandudno centre pretty much straight away. I had lunch there most days and the company was invaluable. They really changed my life.”
John began volunteering at the charity about five years ago, helping out with the activities and taking members on trips out into Llandudno town centre.
John, who is a qualified archery instructor, said:
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would show new members around the centre and teach archery to the other members. I love being a volunteer, the staff are fantastic and I always have so much fun. The charity has been so good to me – they have changed my life.”
Since lockdown, John has not been able to visit the charity’s training and rehabilitation centre in Llandudno. However, the charity has arranged for John and other members of the archery club to have a weekly catch up call.
“It’s great to be able to check in on everyone and see how they are doing. We’ve all become friends from meeting at the centre so it’s lovely to be able to keep in touch. The call is definitely a highlight of my week!.”
He has also benefited greatly from all the specific equipment that the charity has given him, including a CCTV reader, a synoptic mobile phone and a handheld scanner.
“All the equipment I use has just made everything so much easier.”
Although not marching in London John and other blind veterans will have the opportunity to get together virtually in ‘listen and join in’ parties. This will help to keep isolated blind veterans connected at such an important time.
“I have marched at the Cenotaph for the last three years and definitely would have gone this year as well. I’m very sad that I can’t march this year with all the other veterans. I always look forward to it and it’s great meeting up with everyone from the charity. I come from a military family so on Remembrance Sunday I will be thinking of my dad and my brother.”
Blind Veterans UK was founded more than 100 years ago to support those blinded in the First World War. Now, the charity supports veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight. Throughout the pandemic, the charity has supported veterans, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB said:
“This year will be a Remembrance like no other and it’s such a shame that veterans like John won’t be marching proudly at the Cenotaph.
“More than 90% of the blind veterans we support are over 70 and so most at risk from COVID-19.
“Our immediate concerns continue to be working quickly to help those who are most vulnerable – whether they need food delivered, medication from their pharmacy or a friendly voice over the phone.
“The isolation caused by COVID-19 and experienced by our blind veterans can be just as harmful as the virus itself. That’s why we will be doing all we can to ensure they remain connected to each other and the outside world through the Remembrance period and beyond.”
Visit blindveterans.org.uk to learn more about the charity and how you can support its vital work today.