A different Remembrance Sunday for Ralph from Welwyn Garden City as charity works to keep blind veterans connected throughout lockdown
PUBLISHED: 17:33 02 November 2020 | UPDATED: 17:33 02 November 2020
A blind veteran from Welwyn Garden City who has previously marched at the Cenotaph in London will be experiencing a very different Remembrance Sunday this year due to COVID-19.
Ralph Dines, 85, 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 Ralph and other veterans who are at greater risk from COVID-19 from being able to join.
Ralph joined the Royal Signals aged 18 and spent two years at Catterick in Yorkshire. He spent six months of his National Service as a wireless operator and 18 months as an instructor in basic weapons training. He left the army as a corporal in 1955. He said: “I look back on those times fondly as I made lovely friends and I got a lot of experience in how to look after myself.”
He lost his sight much later in life due to glaucoma. He said: “I was devastated when told I was losing my sight. I had my own business still and had been driving for 56 years all over Europe. It was all over right then. It was particularly hard in 2013 because my sight became a lot worse at the same time as my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The next two years were two years of struggling.”
Fortunately Ralph found out about Blind Veterans UK and has been receiving support from the charity since then.
Ralph said: “I can’t say how much of a difference Blind Veterans UK has made to me. All my family say that I’m a different person now.
“I’ve been to Brighton for my induction week when you learn about all the different things and tools you can use and then been back for IT training to learn how to use an adapted tablet. I also went back for a driving week last year, I never thought I would be able to drive again after losing my sight but tearing round a race track in a go cart at 40mph is one of the best experiences I’ve had in years!”
Blind Veterans UK has also provided Ralph with equipment to make his day to day life at home easier and adaptations to allow him to adjust to his sight loss.
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“I use the talking microwave Blind Veterans UK gave me every day. They also gave me a special magnifier that can blow up documents to a huge size.”
Ralph says the biggest impact the charity has had on him is on his mental health, saying “I was in a deep dark place after losing my sight and my wife had passed away but Blind Veterans UK dragged me out.
“Even during lockdown they’ve helped me keep connected when I would otherwise have been quite isolated. I’ve been in regular contact with my support worker Steve who’s kept my spirits up. I’ve also been part of a telephone group speaking with new inductees to the charity to help guide them through the transition of living with sight loss. It’s great to help others and also just chat with other people in the same position as myself.”
Although not marching in London Ralph 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. He says: “Remembrance is the proudest moment of the year for me. It’s great to be appreciated and as you march the crowds make you feel 15 feet tall. It’s sad not to be able to attend this year but I’m sure there’ll be opportunities in the future.
“I read a lot of books about the First World War and it’s unbelievable what those young men went through. I’ll be thinking of them and proud to honour them on the day.”
Chief executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB says: “This year will be a Remembrance like no other and it’s such a shame that veterans like Ralph won’t be marching proudly at the Cenotaph.
“More than 90 per cent 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 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.
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