Blind Bristol veteran, 81, set to march at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday
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A blind veteran from Bristol is set to march at the Cenotaph in London this Remembrance Sunday (November 12) with the charity Blind Veterans UK.
Norman Sharples, who is 81-years-old, will be marching at the Cenotaph as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations with more than 40 other blind veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.
Norman joined the Royal Signals when he was 27-years-old and spent six years in the Army as a combat linesman.
Most of his time was spent in the woods and forests of Germany setting up communications infrastructure during the Cold War.
He says: “I enjoyed it a lot. I was in charge of a Land Rover and had to lay miles and miles of cables along with crossings so tanks could pass over them.
”It was shortly after leaving the Army that Norman became diabetic which led him to contracting macular degeneration in his left eye and then his right. His sight gradually declined over time until he was registered severely sight impaired with very little central vision.
He says: “My sight became so bad that I had to give up driving. I lost my independence. It was a struggle to do the day-to-day things like food shopping. It was a really hard time.
Fortunately, he found out about Blind Veterans UK and started receiving support from the charity in 2015.
He says: “When I first joined the charity I started going to their wellbeing centre on the south coast. They got me onto a woodturning course which I really enjoyed so they gave me a lathe to take home which gave me a focus during a time that I was feeling really lost.
“Since then they’ve given me all sorts of kit which keeps me independent at home. Things like a reading device which I put paper under and it reads what’s on it back to me. I use it for things like post. Before that I would have to wait for someone to help me but now I’ve got that bit of independence back. It’s great, I couldn’t do without it.
“The best thing about the charity is knowing that there will always be someone there that can help me. It’s very reassuring. The other day I called my support worker as I needed a portable magnifier to see the bus numbers at the bus stop and they arranged one for me straight away."
Norman will be marching with his fellow blind veterans at the Cenotaph this Remembrance Sunday.
He says: “It’s a great honour to be marching and I feel very proud. I’m going to be remembering my uncle Edwin who was a Lewis machine gunner in the First World War. He was shot and lost a lung but made it all the way to 70-years-old. He was a great man, I loved him to bits. Him and my auntie Jennie looked after me from the age of seven and I’ll always appreciate them for that.
”Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Adrian Bell says: “At Remembrance we commemorate the brave sacrifice of all those who lost their lives for their country. We also reflect on the huge challenges faced by veterans living with life-changing injuries from their time in service.
“I’m proud to be marching alongside Norman and our contingent of over 40 blind veterans at the Cenotaph this year, and I know there will be many more attending moving ceremonies in communities up and down the country.
“This year marks important anniversaries for our veterans, not least the 20th anniversary since the invasion of Iraq and 70 years since the end of the Korean War. With these in mind, we will be particularly thinking of all those tragically lost and wounded in these conflicts, and of their families.
”Blind Veterans UK supports thousands of blind veterans like Norman, but knows there are many thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss.
Norman says: “If you’ve served and lost your sight, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Blind Veterans UK. It’s in your interests to do so. You’ll be looked after, you’ll be helped, and you’ll get so much input for your individual circumstances.”
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/apply