A partially blind Royal Navy veteran from Mansfield has been given the honour of marching at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday this weekend.
Andy Stowe, 61, who served during the time of the Falklands War, was a chief petty officer in the Navy from 1973 to 1986, working as a mechanical engineer and then as an instructor for new recruits.
Andy began to lose his sight in 1994 because of glaucoma, and although he has had several operations to delay going completely blind, it has had a huge impact on his life.
He is to take part in the Cenotaph march thanks to Blind Veterans UK, the charity for vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women, and also to the Specsavers store at the Crystal Peaks shopping centre in Sheffield, who have been raising money for him.
“I’ve never marched at the Cenotaph before, so this is a dream come true for me,” said Andy, who will be joined by more than 100 other blind veterans.
“The Falklands War of 1982 is the period I think of during Remembrance. I taught a number of engineers who went out and served there, and I remember how closely everyone monitored the news for updates.
Andy looks back on his Navy service with fond memories. He said: “I was a sea cadet who always dreamed of being in the Navy, and it didn’t disappoint. I made good friends and I really enjoyed my work as an engineer.
“It was an experience that set me up well for later life, both in terms of the discipline and the independence it fostered.”
Andy has found his sight loss frustrating, but is so grateful for the support he has received from Blind Veterans UK, who were recommended to him by his father-in-law, who served in the Royal Tank Regiment.
“The charity has been absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I was greeted as though I was a member of the family and had been known to them for years.”
Andy has spent time at one of the charity’s rehabilitation centres and has also received equipment such as a talking watch, a talking tape-measure and a talking pen for labelling food items. He also taken a course in woodturning, which he now enjoying as a hobby at home.
He added: “It has been amazing to be so hands-on with things in a way that I thought my sight loss would stop me from being.”
Major-General Nick Caplin, chief executive of the charity, said: “Remembrance Sunday is always a very poignant time for our blind veterans. We support more than ever before in our history, and it is fantastic that Specsavers are able to help too.”