A veteran from Aylesbury is celebrating a new relationship he found through national military charity, Blind Veterans UK, this Valentine’s Day.
Harry Hitch, 90 and from Aylesbury, met Pat Mason, 75 and from Frome in Somerset, at the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton last June.
Both Harry and Pat have been widowed and received free specialist support from the charity.
Harry said: “Pat is a very special person in my eyes. I feel fortunate that at 90 years old I have met someone like her.”
In 1946 Harry joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) for National Service and served for two years as an aircraft mechanic at White Waltham. Previously he had been exempt from active duty because he had been doing an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.
He said: “I worked on all sorts of aircraft during my time in the Armed Forces including a couple of spitfires. The pilots used to come to HQ to practice flying the planes and we used to fly with them a lot. Life at the camp was great fun and I loved what I was doing. I learned so much from my time in the RAF that I have carried with me all my life.”
Harry was discharged from the RAF in 1948 as an Aircraftman.
It was years later when Harry’s sight started to deteriorate due to age-related macular degeneration, leaving him with very little sight in one eye.
Then suddenly a blocked blood vessel in the retina of Harry’s other eye took away the rest of his sight. He has been registered severely sight-impaired (blind) since 2014.
Harry said: “When I lost my sight it was very sudden and I did find it really difficult sometimes. But lucky for me, I discovered Blind Veterans UK and they have showed me that you can still have a life even if you are blind.”
It was at a meeting of a local blind association that Harry met another veteran who was already getting support from Blind Veterans UK. He referred Harry to the charity and he has been receiving free specialist support from the charity since 2014.
Harry met Pat in June last year. Pat served in the Women’s Royal Army Corps from 1961 – 1962. She left the Armed Forces to marry an Army Sergeant and was discharged as a Private.
Pat later joined the Army Reserves for three years and was discharged as a Lance Corporal.
Seven years ago, Pat’s sight deteriorated because of age-related macular degeneration. She was registered severely sight-impaired in 2014.
Harry and Pat met at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre where they were both staying for a week. As Pat’s vision is slightly better than Harry’s, she offered to help Harry to a seat in the lounge. They sat down together and as they started chatting they realised that they had a lot to talk about.
Pat said: “Harry and I speak the same language. Since we met in June we have spoken on the phone every day and we’ve had some fun times together. He’s got such a great sense of humour and incredible stories to tell. We will be going to the Brighton centre again this month and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Harry added: “When Pat and I first met we ended up spending the whole day chatting. Time just disappeared we had so much to talk about. When we realised what time it was and we were about to go our separate ways I asked if she could bring me a Horlicks to my room. She wondered what I was up to but all I wanted was a cup of Horlicks because I can’t make one on my own!”
As well as support from the centres, Blind Veterans UK have given Harry and Pat free specialist technology to help them to cope with sight loss. Harry has been given IT training and a talking watch which allows him to tell the time on his own.
Harry said: “Pat and I look after each other. We’ve been on trips together and with the sight we’ve got between us we make the best of it. Pat is such a lovely lady and I admire everything she has done. We just really enjoy spending time with each other.”
Blind Veterans UK is the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, providing vital practical and emotional support to help veterans discover life beyond sight loss.
The charity estimates that there could be as many as 425 blind veterans in Buckinghamshire that would be eligible to access its specialist support, most of whom are not currently aware of it.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting noonealone.org.uk