A veteran from Bedford will be representing the charity Blind Veterans UK when he marches at the Cenotaph in London this Remembrance Sunday (12 November).
68-year-old Mike Warren 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.
Mike joined the Royal Marines in 1971, fulfilling a life-long ambition.
From the age of 5, he wanted to be a Royal Marines Bandsman and, having spent years learning instruments, joined the Royal Marines Band at 16 years old. He served for eight years and left the Royal Marines in 1979.
“One of the highlights for me was playing in the band for the independence celebrations of the Seychelle Islands,” said Mike,
“We flew over on one of the first-ever jumbo jets to land on the Seychelles, with the royal family in the front. We were there for a week doing celebrations, watching the Union flag go down and the Seychelles flag go up.
“It was a real memory to be a part of history. I have played for many of the royal family on ceremonial occasions, changing of the guard and Horse Guards Parade. Big events like that always stick in my mind.”
Mike lost his sight much later in life due to macular degeneration. He found out about Blind Veterans UK and started receiving support from the charity in 2019.
“My sight has gradually declined over the years since I was diagnosed,” he said.
“You start off thinking ‘this will be ok’ but gradually it affects your day-to-day living and you have to adapt. I have lost my central vision, so reading and facial recognition is impossible.
“I had always been a musician so when I suddenly couldn’t read and play music anymore, I felt a real sense of bereavement and lost all my confidence.
“Sight loss had taken one of the most important things away from me. But with time I discovered the software and technology which meant I could continue to play and record. It takes me longer now but I can still learn and play new songs on the keyboard.
“Blind Veterans UK organised an introductory week for me and some other new beneficiaries. The week enabled us to talk about our history, what support Blind Veterans UK could offer, as well as coping mechanisms for the future. It was great.
“The charity has been amazingly good as an organisation. In the first six months of joining, I had a visit from my Community Support Worker. They did a really good assessment of me in my home of the things I could and couldn’t do. After this, I was given equipment to help me.
“I like cooking, so having talking scales are really useful. Another favourite of mine is the liquid level indicator, because without it, you end up with half a cup of tea or tea all over the worktop! So, it’s one of those simple things that’s made a real difference.”
Mike will be marching with his fellow blind veterans at the Cenotaph this Remembrance Sunday.
He said: “I feel a massive sense of pride and emotion to be marching at the Cenotaph. As you walk out onto Whitehall and sense the size of the crowd and hear the cheering, it’s really quite overwhelming. I’ll be remembering my grandad who served in the Battle of the Somme and a friend who was killed by an IRA bomb, as well as all those who never made it back from the battlefield.”
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 Mike 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 Mike but knows there are many thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss.
“If you served and are now living with sight loss, get in touch with Blind Veterans UK,” said Mike.
“It’s made a huge difference to my life. Even if you don’t want help per se, meeting other people who are experiencing the same thing as you can help. However hard things are, there will be a community to support you with whatever you need.”
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 with Blind Veterans UK. Call 0800 389 7979 or visit blindveterans.org.uk/apply