Written by Samantha Lade, DonateToday
Published: Friday, 26th January 2018

'Lost, uncomfortable and afraid': This WWII Navy veteran, who'd hunted for U-Boats, was left terrified after he woke up one morning unable to see

'Lost, uncomfortable and afraid': This WWII Navy veteran, who'd hunted and attacked U-Boats, was left terrified after he woke up one morning unable to see

Written by ##author:samanthalade## for DonateToday

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A now 93-year-old Ernie suddenly lost his sight when he woke up one morning at the age of just 46. But after years of feeling at a loss, Ernie’s perspective was changed after a chance encounter with another blind veteran in a café, who recommended that the former Navy sailor contact charity Blind Veterans UK…

Hunting for U-Boats

It was during 1943 when a 19-year-old Ernie and several of his friends from Fleetwood, Lancashire volunteered themselves to join the royal navy.

 Upon completion of their training, Ernie sailed out of Liverpool and his escort group were handed a very clear, but immensely dangerous task: to hunt and attack enemy U-Boats in the North Atlantic.

Their group experienced attacks, being struck by a German U-Boat torpedo in one incident.

The camaraderie was able to keep spirits up, remembers Ernie – however, the destruction of the ship’s rum supply caused much distress between sailors.

After the war ended, Ernie went straight into the Merchant Navy, working as a respected engineer officer.

Sheer Panic

But unbeknown to him, Ernie was about to face a very different type of panic to that faced out at sea.

Waking up in 1970 one morning, Ernie discovered that he couldn’t see.

A quick trip to a specialist at Manchester Hospital saw the condition diagnosed as macular degeneration – a common and irreversible eye condition.

‘I felt lost, uncomfortable and afraid,' recalls Ernie. 'I could no longer do the things I wanted to do, especially driving and caravanning and I worried about losing my independence.

‘Losing my sight was a terrifying experience,’ says the Navy veteran, whose life had changed in an instant.

Blind Veterans UK has offered physical & emotional support to vision-impaired veterans since 1915

- Blind Veterans UK

A Life-Changing Encounter

It wasn’t until almost three decades later when Ernie had a chance encounter in a Fleetwood café that everything began to change. 

‘I went into a café with my white cane and bumped into a man who also had a cane. He said ‘snap!’ I got talking to him and discovered he was a Marine.

‘He then recommended that I get in touch with Blind Veterans UK.’

Blind Veterans UK have several centres across the UK, including one in Brighton (pictured)

Ernie recalls how he went straight home and got in touch with the charity who have since ‘transformed his life’, following that life-changing chance encounter with the Marine. 

The charity has been able to help Ernie in many practical ways. 

‘I’ve been able to write my book, learnt how to use a computer and been taught how to type, all of this has been really beneficial. The charity has also helped with the installation of a wet room in my flat.'

Ernie says the charity have also improved his life through their mobility training. He's since visited all of Blind Veteran’s UK centres, from Llandudno to Brighton, for holidays and training.

‘Nothing’s too much trouble for Blind Veterans UK – you feel like you’re part of a family. I was scared after losing my sight, but with the charity’s help I have achieved so much, from writing a book to holding down a job.

‘I couldn’t have done it without their support,’ finishes the now 93-year-old, whose life has been truly transformed by the charity. 

If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting blindveterans.org.uk.