Blind veteran to celebrate Queen’s birthday on the Mall

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A blind veteran from Chesterfield has been invited to attend the special Patron’s Lunch to celebrate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen.

The lunch will be taking place on the Mall outside Buckingham Palace this month and is being held to recognise the more than 600 organisations that hold The Queen’s patronage.

Eileen Prince, who is also 90 and from Grassmoor, has been invited to represent Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, which has had The Queen as its Patron throughout her reign.

Eileen joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in October 1944 and completed her training in Yorkshire and the South of England. She was posted to Castle Donnington where it was her job to maintain the heavy trucks prior to them being issued to the troops. She was discharged at the end of 1946 as a Private.

Eileen said: “Joining the ATS was the best thing I ever did, apart from joining Blind Veterans UK of course.

“I trained at the same place as the then Princess Elizabeth did as she was also in the ATS at the end of the war.”

Eileen suffers from a hereditary condition called retinal dystrophy and started losing her sight more than 20 years ago until she was registered blind in 2009.

She added: “My mother and all her sisters were registered blind and suffered the same condition as me. I had two sisters, neither of which were affected, but it did pass onto me.

“I have very foggy vision and there are also what seems like lots of flashing lights in front of my eyes. Losing your sight gradually means you to have time to adapt but you never really get used to it.”

Eileen learned about Blind Veterans UK in 2011 after talking with another blind veteran called Bill Braund at a local day care centre in Clay Cross and she started receiving help and support from the charity straight away. Bill will also be attending the Patron’s Lunch with Eileen.

She said: “I’d heard of St Dunstan’s, as the charity used to be called, but didn’t know that they could help me. I’m so glad that Bill told me about Blind Veterans UK, it is absolutely fabulous. My family all say it’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved with.

“Blind Veterans UK have given me great training and equipment and allowed me to carry on living independently. The best piece of equipment I have is a CCTV reader which blows up my letters on a large screen so I can still read my post.

“I have recently learned how to make mosaics in the charity’s art and craft workshop at their Llandudno centre and will be going there again for a respite break later in the year.”

Eileen and Bill will be joined by Bill’s daughter and grandson at the Patron’s Lunch and all of them are looking forward to celebrating The Queen’s 90th birthday together with other veterans supported by Blind Veterans UK. On Sunday 12 June, The Mall in St James’s Park will be transformed for its largest ever street party to celebrate The Queen’s patronage of more than 600 charities and organisations.

Eileen said: “My life has a lot of strange coincidences with Her Majesty. We both served in the ATS of course, we both had four children and, with my surname, like her, I married a Prince! Unfortunately, I’ve never met her though.

“I’m very proud to have been asked to attend this lunch. Everything I do with Blind Veterans UK is even more special because The Queen is our Patron and I will be honoured to represent the charity.”

Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning the Second World War to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.

If you know someone who, like Eileen, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help them discover a life beyond sight loss by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting noonealone.org.uk.