Banbury RAF veteran praises charity ahead of Eye Health Week

John Cantwell is pictured Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK.
John Cantwell is pictured Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK.

A 67-year-old RAF veteran from Banbury has spoken out about the ‘marvellous’ support he has received from Blind Veterans in helping him adjust to life with sight loss, in time for this year’s Eye Health Week.

John Cantwell has been receiving support from the national charity since 2010 after he lost his sight due to a side effect of a genetic skin disorder and says that the support has changed his life immensely.

Mr Cantwell joined the RAF as a mechanic in 1970 and during his ten year service, he was stationed in the UK, Salalah, Anguila, Tehran and Cyprus. It was in Cyprus where John met his wife, who was also serving the RAF.

He said: “I’d wanted to join the RAF since I was 15, so after I finished my apprenticeship in mechanical engineering, I joined up as soon as I could. I enjoyed my time in service very much and I got to see an awful lot.”

Many years after leaving Service, John noticed a problem with his sight. As a side effect of the skin disorder ‘chicken skin’, the blood vessels behind John’s eyes were affected, and slowly formed what John describes as a mesh over his vision.

Mr Cantwell said: “I first noticed something wrong when I was about 45, and since then my sight has slowly got worse.

In 2010 I visited the vision aid clinic at my local hospital, where I got chatting to the girl testing my eyes and it came out that I’d served in the RAF.

“She went away and came back with a card for Blind Veterans UK. I called the number on the card, and I’ve not looked back since!”

Since getting in touch with Blind Veterans UK, John has received vital services and support to help him and his family adjust to life with sight loss, both at home and at the charity’s centres.

He’s also been able to try his hand at new activities, such as skiing.

He added: “I enjoy my time at the centres immensely, and I’ve done a lot of activities. I go walking a lot as well and I’ve just completed a 100 mile walk with them, celebrating the charity’s centenary this year.

I also set up a monthly lunch club about two years ago for the veterans supported by the charity in Oxfordshire. We have about 18 veterans and guides who come along each time, and we’ve become great friends.

“They’ve also helped me with equipment around the home, and with IT training. When I first started receiving support my son had just moved to Africa and with the IT training, I was able to keep in touch with him via email, which was marvellous.”

Eye Health Week runs from September 21-27 and aims to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health. Blind Veterans UK is hoping to reach out to ex-Service men and women who may be eligible for help and support.

Call 0800 389 7979 or visit www.noonealone.org.uk to request Blind Veterans UK’s free support.