A blind veteran from Eastbourne who served during the Aden Emergency of 1967 will march at The Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday next month (November 8).
Pauline Cole, 69, will march with more than 100 other blind and vision-impaired veterans as part of a procession by the charity Blind Veterans UK.
Pauline joined the Army in 1966 and served for six years in the Royal Corps of Signals including a 14-month tour in the former Crown Colony of Aden as British Forces were forced to retreat from the region.
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 a Land Rover full of soldiers destroyed 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 of 46 women. In 1968, she was placed on standby when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia.
She said, “War seemed to follow me. We sat in combat gear with hats on to answer the telephone.”
Around four years ago, Pauline lost the sight in her left eye following a stroke.
The sight in her right eye deteriorated due to illness and she was registered blind.
She said, “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.
“After losing my sight, I couldn’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.
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.”
Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s) was founded in 1915 and has supported more than 35,000 veterans and their families in its 100-year history.
Pauline said, “Blind Veterans UK is the most amazing charity. I advertise them to everyone I talk to.
“It’s my first year attending Remembrance and I don’t know if I’ll cry all the way down, but I hope I won’t show myself up.
“I’m going to wear the biggest poppy I can and I’m going to think of all of those soldiers in Aden who died – every one of them.”
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