Home NEWS Blind veteran, 104, will be oldest to march on Remembrance Sunday

Blind veteran, 104, will be oldest to march on Remembrance Sunday

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A Second World War veteran will become the oldest to join the Remembrance Sunday march at the Cenotaph today at the grand age of 104.

Blind veteran Ron Freer, from Kent, said he is ‘hugely honoured’ to join the Remembrance Sunday parade and pay tribute to those who fell in battle.

The fallen include his father, who died in the First World War and is buried at the Somme in France.

Mr Freer will be marching on behalf of Blind Veterans UK, who were instrumental in helping him when he returned home, blind, in 1945 after being held as a Japanese prisoner of war for four years.

He will join more than 100 other blind veterans for the service attended by political leaders and members of the Royal Family today.

He said: ‘I am hugely honoured to march at Cenotaph on behalf of Blind Veterans UK.

‘It is an extraordinary charity, which makes an unbelievable difference to the lives of veterans like me, and our families too.

‘Remembrance Sunday is always very important to me.

‘My father was killed on 4 September, 1918, and is buried at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery in the Somme, France.’

Mr Freer joined the army in 1931 and was posted to Hong Kong to defend the then British colony.

But in 1941 the Japanese attacked Fort Stanley, where Ron was based, and after 18 days of fighting, his garrison surrendered against overwhelming odds.

He became a Japanese prisoner of war and remained so until the end of World War Two.

Mr Freer lost his sight because of the four years of malnutrition he suffered in the camp.

He said: ‘The camp was situated on the edge of the harbour with high fences all around.

‘The Japanese brought in a bag of rice for each unit but only enough for one meal a day per man. We cut an oil drum in half and used the bottom as a boiling pot for the rice.

‘Each man was given a scoop of rice but many were unable to eat it and looking at the portion of rice, one could see mice droppings and insects.

‘Disease soon broke out resulting in many deaths.’

In 1943, Mr Freer caught diphtheria which broke out on board The Lisbon ship which took him 2,000 other PoWs to Japan.

His life was only saved from the infectious disease by the actions of two doctors who injected him with something and told him ‘you are very lucky’.

Mr Freer said: ‘I knew then that it was our medical officer.

‘He later told me that a Japanese civilian doctor had managed to smuggle in six phials of anti-diphtheria toxin so the two of them had saved my life.’

A month later, Ron had completely lost his sight and most of his hearing, and spent the remainder of the war in the camp medical hut.

At the end of the war he returned to the UK via the Philippines and New Zealand. It was then that his journey with Blind Veterans UK, then known as St Dunstan’s, began.

He has been supported by the charity since 1946 and has gone on to live a full, happy, independent life.

He said: ‘Having lost my sight as well as my hearing my future seemed very dismal and I didn’t want to think about what lay ahead.

‘This was until I began to receive support from Blind Veterans UK. I was given my confidence back bit by bit through training such as learning braille.

‘My main objective, as man in my early thirties, was to find employment.’

With the charity’s support Mr Freer was able to open a new post office and operated it for 25 years.

Earlier this year, the charity helped Mr Freer to visit Dernancourt Communal Cemetery with his family to lay a wreath at his own father’s grave.

He said it will be ‘an honour’ to march for them today.

Major General Nick Caplin CB said: ‘We are very proud that the oldest veteran marching on Sunday will be Ron.

‘His journey with the charity has been remarkable.’

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