Blind Hartlepool veteran to march at national parade to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War

Charlie Eastwood, left, with his guide Connor Dooley at the Cenotaph in 2017.
Charlie Eastwood, left, with his guide Connor Dooley at the Cenotaph in 2017.

A blind veteran is set to march at the Cenotaph in London this Remembrance Sunday to commemorate 100 years since the First World War Armistice.

Charlie Eastwood, 59, from Hartlepool, will be marching at the Cenotaph as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations with more than 100 other blind veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.

A previous Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

A previous Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

This year the commemorations are particularly significant as the nation marks the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Charlie said: “It’s such an honour to be marching at the Cenotaph during the centenary of the First World War.

"I’m lucky to have marched with Blind Veterans UK before and I know that as soon as you get to those gates in Whitehall the atmosphere is really intense.

“I can’t describe the feeling but it moves me to tears. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.”

The wreath laying ceremony and parade at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, to commemorate Anzac Day in April this year. Pic: John Stillwell/PA Wire.

The wreath laying ceremony and parade at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, to commemorate Anzac Day in April this year. Pic: John Stillwell/PA Wire.

Charlie served in the Army, joining the Royal Signals in 1976, and worked as a generator mechanic in field operations. He served in Cyprus, Germany and the Caribbean.

But his eyesight began to deteriorate while serving in the Army and in 1996 he was officially diagnosed with an inherited eye condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Charlie was able to continue his service as an instructor of the Territorial Army, before being demobbed and completing his service in 1999.

He added: “When I left the Army I lost my purpose in life, I had a part-time job, but I was just existing.

“I had no real friends, so I was home alone a lot while my wife was at work and my daughter was at school. I had no one to turn to and I was on the verge of depression.”

In 2007, after much resistance, Charlie contacted the charity Blind Veterans UK, and he admits: “At the time I didn’t think I needed any help.

“But it was my wife Jacqui who insisted that I join Blind Veterans UK and she came with me to their training centre in Brighton for an introduction week.

"Within an hour I was laughing and giggling with the other veterans. For the first time in a long time I was around military people again. It’s just the way they talk, there’s this instant common ground you have.

“Blind Veterans UK picked me up when I was at my lowest point and gave me my confidence back, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I have a purpose, I have friends and I have my life back.

“I joined up for the Blind Veterans UK ski team that first week I went to Brighton for my induction and I’ve been skiing every year since.

“I’m now onto the black slopes and I absolutely love it. Blind Veterans UK has given me the confidence to realise that nothing is impossible.”

Blind Veterans UK was founded more than 100 years ago to support those blinded in the First World War.

Now, the charity supports veterans regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight.

The charity has a dedicated community team in Cleveland who provide support including training, equipment and social events for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women in the local area.

Visit blindveterans.org.uk/victory to learn more about the charity.