A blind Second World War veteran from Peebles is starring in a campaign to recruit more beneficiaries to Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women.
John McOwan, who is 101, credits the charity with improving his quality of life and calls upon other veterans to check if they are eligible for its support.
John joined the Territorial Army when he was 18. A year later the Second World War broke out.
At just 19 years old John was transferred to the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and went to war.
During the conflict, John was a Desert Rat and was stationed in the Middle East, Cairo, Italy and took part in the Normandy landings. In 1946 he was discharged from the British Army as a sergeant.
John lost his eyesight around eight years ago due to macular degeneration and he has a pseudophakia (false lens) in both eyes. John has no vision in his left eye and only some vision in his right eye.
John said: “I can still see to get about but I can’t recognise faces. There is a mistiness that covers everything but I don’t let it get me down.”
In 2014 John found out about Blind Veterans UK and got in touch with the charity.
He said: “I visited the charity’s centre in Brighton for a week’s induction and it was an unforgettable experience. It really was a marvellous week and I discovered so much of what the charity could offer.
“Being put in contact with other veterans and to have people around me that have a shared background with whom I’m able to share stories and jokes has made me a happier person.
“The charity doesn’t just provide you with equipment and leave you to get on with it, they teach you how to use it and offer advice.
“From my personal experience, I can say that the help I have had from Blind Veterans UK has really made a great difference to my quality of life.
“Without the charity and the equipment provided such as an iPad, wide lined paper and a magnifier I would never have completed the recent project I undertook of writing my memoirs.”
In 2019 John joined a group of veterans on an organised trip to Normandy to mark 75 years since the D-Day landings. That trip led to a lot of wartime memories being rekindled.
A few months later saw the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of the lockdown restrictions. This led John to wonder how he would pass his time.
John added: “Blind Veterans UK along with other veteran charities came to my rescue. They encouraged me to stay in touch with other veterans by phone or over the internet. I was also encouraged to write a book which was the seed that germinated my decision to write about my experiences during World War Two.
“This kept me busy and took me right through the lockdown period. I was quite happy at home writing and found the days weren’t long enough.”
Blind Veterans UK provided John with the equipment he needed and supported him along the journey. John was also teamed up with a volunteer from Blind Veterans UK who spent over 120 hours typing up John’s handwritten notes.
“It may seem like a small thing to some people but writing my memoirs has been a huge thing for me personally and I am grateful to the charity for helping me to make it happen.
“Blind Veterans UK has enabled me to live a more complete life and I would advise anyone who thinks they might be eligible for their support to go for it and find out what they can do for you.”
While Blind Veterans UK initially cared for veterans blinded in active Service, today they help veterans no matter what caused their sight loss.
Blind Veterans UK supports thousands of blind veterans across the country but knows there are tens of thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss. Their campaign is to find and recruit these men and women.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and are now struggling with sight loss, then please get in touch. Call 0800 389 7979 or visit blindveterans.org.uk/support