Blind veteran to attend Westminster Abbey service

Blind veteran Ken Barrett of Sleaford. EMN-150929-122938001
Blind veteran Ken Barrett of Sleaford. EMN-150929-122938001

A blind veteran from Sleaford will be attending a special service at Westminster Abbey on October 6.

Ken Barrett, 91, will be attending the service with 1,800 other veterans, staff and supporters of Blind Veterans UK to mark the military charity’s 100 years of service and support to blind and vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women.

Ken joined the Royal Navy in 1941 when he was 17. After his training he joined HMS Canton until 1944. Ken was later part of the D-Day Landings and left the Navy in 1946.

Ken finished his studies to become a civil engineer and later joined the Crown Agents working across Africa, including Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Gambia, being awarded an MBE by the Queen for his services to developing countries.

It was in Sierra Leone that Ken first encountered sight problems when he contracted ocular onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. It was caught early and cured, however he was left with deep scarring behind his eyes. Later in life he developed age related macular degeneration which rapidly deteriorated his eyesight.

Ken started receiving help and support from Blind Veterans UK in 2009 and has received training and equipment to support him to live independently.

Ken says: “Blind Veterans UK has done wonders for me. I’ve been to the charity’s Sheffield centre many times where they’ve trained me in IT. I’ve also enjoyed holidays at the charity’s Brighton and Llandudno centre. The support is absolutely incredible.”

Ken and his guide dog Wayne are looking forward to the special Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the centenary.

He says: “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve attended high-profile events such as the Buckingham Palace Garden Party but I’ve never been to Westminster Abbey. It’ll be a memorable day celebrating with other veterans.”

The Service of Thanksgiving will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, and will be sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey. There will also be a performance from Welsh classical Soprano Gwawr Edwards and readings from Blind Veterans UK supporters Barbara Windsor and David Dimbleby.

Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s) was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. For 100 years, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision impaired veterans of all conflicts.