West Sussex blind veteran marches at the Cenotaph in “moving and humbling” Remembrance Sunday
A blind veteran from West Sussex has marched at the Cenotaph in London this Remembrance Sunday (13/11) with the charity Blind Veterans UK.
John Gasston, 78 and from Worthing, previously served in the Territorial Army in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, and lost his eyesight in service.
John marched at the Cenotaph in London with more than 100 other blind veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.
He says: “Everything was perfect, exactly the same as in all the years I have attended. It was a great reunion for blind veterans some of whom I meet only on this event. It is a moving and humbling experience especially when members of the public you are passing break into spontaneous applause.”
John was living in South Africa when he was called up to join National Service aged 24 in 1962. He signed up with the Royal Rhodesia Regiment as a foot soldier to complete his National Service in Zimbabwe for four and a half months.
After National Service he went on to train as a signaller and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the Territorial Army as a Regimental Signals Instructor. He remained in the Territorial Army until 1975. During this time he was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and was posted to an infantry company as a Platoon Commander.
In 1975, when working as a Platoon Commander, a hand grenade exploded next to him and his eyes were severely damaged. His lost the sight in his left eye entirely and suffered vision-impairment in his right eye. Due to his deteriorating sight loss and lack of medical care, John returned to England in 1989.
In 1991 John went to stay at an RNIB rehabilitation centre. When a member of RNIB’s staff learnt about John’s Army career they encouraged him to get in touch with Blind Veterans UK.
John says, “Blind Veterans UK were a great help. The first major thing they did for me was to find me accommodation. They provided me with a bungalow and set me up with a mortgage, I am eternally grateful.”
John also enjoyed the training courses offered by Blind Veterans UK, and learnt engraving and picture framing.
John marched with other vision-impaired ex-Service men and women supported by Blind Veterans UK as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations in London on Sunday 13 November 2016.
John has attended the Remembrance ceremony on eight previous occasions and is pleased to be representing Blind Veterans UK again this year.
He says: “The applause from the crowds really lifts your emotions and makes you try just a little bit harder to smarten up and put a swing in your step and a smile on your face.
I will endeavour to attend and pay my respects to family members and comrades who have paid the supreme price for defending our values and way of life, for as many years as I can. I owe it to them.”
Blind Veterans UK is the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, providing vital practical and emotional support to help veterans discover life beyond sight loss. The charity estimates that there are currently 59,000 blind veterans that would be eligible to access its specialist support, most of whom are not currently aware of it.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and are now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting noonealone.org.uk.