A blind Army veteran from Long Eaton has been given the honour of marching at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday this weekend.
Tony Hebditch, 64, whose grandfather fought in the Second World War, served as a gunner in the Royal Artillery, spending time in Germany and Northern Ireland before he was demobbed in 1976.
When he left the Army, Tony became a lorry driver, but lost his sight suddenly last year because of a work-related accident.
He is to take part in the Cenotaph march thanks to Blind Veterans UK, the charity for vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women, and also to the Specsavers store in Arnold, Nottingham, who have been raising money for him.
“I’m made up to be marching in London,” said Tony, who will be joined by more than 100 other blind veterans. “It’s a time of year that’s very special for me as I think of my grandad, and others like him, who were caught up in events and circumstances beyond their control. It will be even more special because I’ll be going along with my brother-in-law, who also served in the Royal Artillery.”
Tony looks back on his Army service with “very fond memories”. He said: “I still keep in touch with some of the lads from that period. My time in the Army taught me the value of discipline and respect, which is something I maintain to this day.
He admits that his life has been “traumatic” since becoming blind, but is so grateful for the support he has received from Blind Veterans UK, who were recommended to him by his local social services.
“Sometimes I wake up and think that I can open my eyes and see,” he said. “But then I remember what happened and it all comes flooding back to me. It’s a very frustrating and upsetting experience.
“My wife and I feel very lucky to have found Blind Veterans UK. We’d been struggling on our own for a year, but when we went to an induction week at one of the charity’s rehabilitation centres, it was almost overwhelming. I found it tough because I had to finally confront my sight loss, but it was also an important experience.”
Alongside the rehabilitation support, Tony has received equipment, including an electronic magnifier to help him read, a liquid-level indicator for pouring hot drinks and a metal glove that allows him to peel and chop vegetables safely.
He added: “The sense of community within Blind Veterans UK is amazing. Meeting other blind veterans like me, who are thriving despite their sight loss, has given me the encouragement I need to get out there and start living again.”
Major-General Nick Caplin, chief executive of the charity, said: “Remembrance Sunday is always a very poignant time for our blind veterans. We support more than ever before in our history, and it is fantastic that Specsavers are able to help too.”