Sudbury veteran Chris Francis joins march to Cenotaph
- Credit: Archant
A blind veteran from west Suffolk and his guide dog were among more than 100 people from a national charity who marched to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
Chris Francis, from Sudbury, and his guide dog Nimbus joined other representatives of Blind Veterans UK, which this year celebrates 100 years of service to vision-impaired ex-service men and women.
Mr Francis, 60, joined the Royal Air Force in 1978 as a physical training instructor. Already qualified as a parachutist, he joined the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team at RAF Brize Norton and, after leaving the RAF in 1987, set up his own parachute school.
His job as a freelance instructor took him all over the world, but in 1998 he was diagnosed with uveitis and began to lose his sight.
His life changed completely in 2009 when he lost almost all of his vision overnight. Mr Francis said: “I was able to manage with the uveitis for 10 years but I remember driving to work in the morning and starting to have some vision problems. It got worse throughout the day and a colleague drove me home. The next morning I could see almost nothing.”
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Since 2011, support from Blind Veterans UK has enabled Mr Francis to continue to live as independently as possible.
He has also been on several activity weeks including a recent cycling week at the charity’s Llandudno centre.
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Mr Francis continued: “I love visiting the charity’s three centres and meeting and speaking to other blind veterans.
“You can share experiences with like-minded people and knowing you’re not alone is hugely confidence building.”
He contacted the charity Guide Dogs in 2013 and was paired with his faithful dog Nimbus. This year was the first time he had marched at the Cenotaph – and the first year guide dogs were able to join Blind Veterans UK on the Remembrance Sunday parade.
Mr Francis added: “It was important to me to march with Nimbus as both Guide Dogs and Blind Veterans UK have been such a help.
“Remembrance Sunday has a strong personal connotation for me as both my grandparents and my father fought in the two world wars. It’s such an important day and I was very proud to be there.”
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.