Healthwatch Essex captures experiences of blind veteran diagnosed with lung cancer

Before he sadly died in October 2019, Les Brown shared stories of his childhood in Marylebone, his life as a soldier and the support he received when living with sight loss. Blind Veterans UK enabled the conversations between Healthwatch Essex and Les to capture his memoirs as he faced the end of his life.

The team first met Les at a visit to the local Blind Veterans UK choir, Vision in Song, which helped him combat loneliness by singing with fellow comrades from the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. To support the National Campaign tackling accessibility for disabled people, known as Purple Tuesday, Les gave Healthwatch Essex some insight into how he managed his sight loss on a day-to-day basis such as going shopping. This was shared across Essex to encourage organisations to increase their accessibility for individuals with sight loss and disability.

On Christmas Eve 2018, Les was given the heart-breaking diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Having been told he had just a matter of weeks to live, Les moved his life from Maldon, Essex to the Blind Veterans UK Centre in Brighton. Since 1915, the centre has provided rehabilitation, practical and emotional support to ex-service men and women to help rebuild their lives. Les clearly valued the support and facilities available to him during his time there as he referred to it as a “5-star hotel for the dying”. Despite his diagnosis, Les kept his days in the Brighton Centre busy by working in the library, joining their choir and sharing his stories with family and residents. A snapshot of his life:

In his early teens, Les went to extreme lengths to join the army despite being underage, including running away from home to nearby barracks twice. At just 15 years old, he was sent to join the Royal Horse Guards in Windsor before being deployed to fight in Germany in 1945. This was a trip he nearly didn’t return from. On a journey to collect rations, Les’ vehicle was attacked in a trap set up by Hitler Youth. He suffered injuries to both knees, elbows and chest as well as a gunshot wound to his head which destroyed the vision in one eye. He miraculously survived, with his regiment finding him 3 days later.

Read his stories here or view the short film of Les talking about his life in the army and experiences of sight loss, here. We hope that this paves the way for more people to come forward with their stories and share their healthcare experiences with us in relation to visual impairments and accessibility.

CEO of Healthwatch Essex, Dr David Sollis, said: “We are honoured to have met such an inspirational man and are thankful to him for sharing his experiences with us in the last year. At Healthwatch Essex, we are the custodians of stories and will continue to capture the lived experience of patients in Essex to help make positive change where needed.”