East Sussex WWII Blind Veteran Celebrates Queen’s Birthday With ‘Patron’s Lunch’ On The Mall
A great-grandfather and blind veteran from East Sussex celebrated the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen on Sunday (12th June) at the Patron’s Lunch together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK. The lunch took place on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace and was being held to recognise the more than 600 organisations that hold The Queen’s patronage. Tom Rogers, who is also 90 and from Bexhill-on-Sea, was invited to represent Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, which has had The Queen as its Patron throughout her reign.
Tom joined the Royal Air Force in 1943. He had basic training at RAF Bridlington and then went on to train as an Air Gunner at RAF Bishop’s Court in Northern Ireland. After completing his training he became part of 207 Squadron based at RAF Spilsby. He went on 26 operations over Germany and shot down two German aircraft. He says: “It was pretty scary, you never knew which op you were being sent on. During one of the operations I knew a German plane had hit us because of the flames. I thought ‘how dare he!’ and opened fire. He went down after I hit the belly of his plane but I feel sorry for him – it’s a bad way to go.”
Tom left the RAF in 1947 as a Flight Sergeant. After, he studied farming and worked on a dairy farm for 10 years until he changed careers. He ended up working in the travel industry and was with London Underground for 15 years until retiring as an Admin Manager.
Three years ago Tom started noticing his vision went blurry when driving. He began to suffer from cataracts and had an operation to improve his sight. This worked for a while until recently it worsened again and he was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. He started receiving free help and support from Blind Veterans UK early last year after a friend at the local blind club mentioned the charity.
Tom says: “I had heard of St Dunstan’s but hadn’t realised they changed their name to Blind Veterans UK and support all veterans with sight loss.” Tom has had equipment from the charity to support him to live independently including a magnifier and a CCTV reader. He also went to the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre for IT training and was reintroduced to painting. Tom says: “I used to paint with watercolours and had never used acrylics. I was amazed and delighted at the result after they showed me at the centre. A week later when I was home I got a large package from Blind Veterans UK and it was lots of equipment so I could continue painting at home.”
Tom enjoyed celebrating The Queen’s 90th birthday together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK. On Sunday 12 June, The Mall in St James’s Park was transformed for its largest ever street party to celebrate The Queen’s patronage of more than 600 charities and organisations. Tom says: “I had a great time and even though there was some bad weather, I never heard anyone moan about the rain. We all accepted it and enjoyed ourselves despite the weather. I would say that everyone looked a bit like ghosts whilst wearing their white ponchos! The food was very good and the parade was interesting. The kids who participated had such enthusiasm and under the circumstances they all did brilliantly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to speak to Prince William, but I did get to speak to Chris Hollins at one point as well as Prince Edward and his daughter Lady Louise. She handled speaking to the crowds perfectly. All in all I had a marvellous day together with the other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK.”
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning the Second World War to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.
If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help them discover a life beyond sight loss by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting noonealone.org.uk.