A blind veteran who has received vital support from Blind Veterans UK proudly marched with the charity at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
Pauline Cole, 69 and from Eastbourne, marched with more than 100 other blind and vision-impaired veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK, which this year celebrates its 100 years of proud service and support to blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.
Pauline joined the Army in 1966 and served for six years as a telephonist in the Royal Corps of Signals. After her training in the United Kingdom, she spent fourteen months in the former Crown Colony of Aden (now part of Yemen) on the Arabian Peninsula.
She was serving in the former Crown Colony during the Aden Emergency of 1967, after which the British were forced to withdraw from the territory. An interview with Pauline is in the Imperial War Museum. Her book about her experience called Army Girl: The Untold Truth will be released on Amazon Kindle early next month.
Pauline said, “As a switchboard operator, I once spoke to Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, and heard rows between the brigadiers who weren’t happy with what the government was doing. While I was in Aden, I lost friends, saw people blown up, and had to shoot people.”
In one incident, in early 1967, Pauline saw the Land Rover in front of her blown up by a land mine. She said, “All of sudden, there was a bang. I blinked, but the Land Rover had disappeared. Eight soldiers had been blown to bits. I’d been working with them all day and I said, ‘I’m not leaving them here’ and – for two hours – we picked up everything that was part of a body and dusted off the sand.”
After leaving Aden, Pauline moved to Germany as a Sergeant and ran a switchboard with forty-six women. In 1968, she was placed on standby when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia. She says, “War seemed to follow me. We sat in combat gear with hats on to answer the telephone.”
Around four years ago, Pauline had a massive stroke and lost the sight in her left eye. Then the sight in her right eye deteriorated due to diabetic retinopathy and she was registered blind. She says, “I can see light and dark, and shadows of people, but I can’t see their faces or if they’re blond or dark-haired.”
She added, “After losing my sight, I can’t use my oven because I can’t see the numbers on the knobs. I’ve got a beautiful garden too, with rose bushes, but I can’t see it. I don’t look out of the window anymore.”
After contacting Blind Veterans UK, Pauline visited the charity’s Brighton Centre where she tried swimming and rifle shooting. While she was in the Army, she had come third out of 300 men in a shooting championship. On her first attempt at blind rifle shooting, with five shots, she got the highest score of the week.
Pauline said, “It was amazing and, in so many ways, I got my confidence back. By the end of that week, I came home and my carer said ‘you’re buzzing’, and I said, ‘I want to go back. I went swimming, and I shot, and I could do archery if I wanted to.”
Since she began to receive support in 2010, Pauline has also received a talking microwave, a special safe kettle, a pen that she can use to label cans of food, and a laptop installed with talking software called Guide.
Pauline said, “Blind Veterans UK is the most amazing charity. I advertise them to everyone I talk to.”
Pauline marched with other vision-impaired ex-Service men and women supported by Blind Veterans UK as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemorations on Sunday, (November 8).
She said, “It was an amazing experience and the crowds were marvellous. They shouted things like ‘thank you’ and I simply responded ‘no, thank you’.
“During the two minute silence I thought of all of my friends that died in Aden. I thought about the sand and those we buried in the sand mounds. I wished they could’ve been there with me but instead I dedicated my march to them.
“During the march the busby Guard kept shouting marching orders but I wanted to hear the crowds so I told him to shut up. After the march my escort pointed out the soldier who I’d told off and I asked my escort to wheel me over so I could apologise to him. After I did I cheekily asked him if I could feel his busby and as he leaned over so I could he gave me a kiss on the cheek.”
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