The characters of A Dance to the Music of Time have stayed with me and during my time at Blind Veterans UK, as editor of its monthly magazine, I have met people who make me think of Jenkins, Templar and Stringham. I am fortunate to spend time with the men and women who are our members; they invite me into their homes where we drink tea as I listen to accounts of their Service days. I am taken on daring raids in the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy with the SAS, to Bletchley Park to work on the Enigma Code, through the deserts with General Montgomery and the 8th Army. I hear of their time at the Battle of Maleme, they talk of their capture and how they went on to gain an education in a German PoW camp, where they also performed in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I sit as they tell me of special operations work in Germany at the end of the war to unearth SS officers who were in hiding and of successful chariot missions in the seas of the Far East. Former Far East Prisoners of War tell me of the nightmares that still wake them some 67 years later, as they relive the horrors of the torturous work on the notorious Railway of Death, and of their work today for compensation from the Japanese government. And I get to hang out with the guys who have been blinded in Afghanistan as we go fishing and abseiling.
All of them are matter of fact as they tell me of their life today and of the skills and techniques they have been taught at our centres to adjust to their sight loss. I am always thanked for my work as they say how much the charity does for them. I tell them it’s not me, it’s the Rehabilitation and Training and care staff at our centres and the countrywide team of Welfare Officers, and the support staff who make the real difference.
Whenever I meet a WWII veteran I am always struck by how philosophical they are. They left everything they knew, and all that was safe to go to war, but they do not moan about it, they just say: ‘It’s what we had to do’. Now when I open A Dance to the Music of time, I picture them crossing the pages in front of me, their lives entwined with those of Jenkins, Templar and Stringham. Although I realise that today the lives of my beloved characters may read more like Made in Chelsea, as they change to Spencer, Proudlock and Jamie.
Many of our members have written their memoirs, as they use the skills they learnt at our Rehabilitation and Training centres. It’s there I meet the young men who have returned from Afghanistan, newly blinded, as they adjust to a life without sight they are taught the skills they once took for granted. How to make a cup of tea, prepare a meal, or walk safely along a crowded pavement. I receive emails and typed letters from people in their 80s and 90s who are using a computer for the first time.
Ronald Blaber who came to Blind Veterans UK in 2007 used the typing skills he learnt at our Brighton centre to write his novel: On the Outside Looking In. Ronald, from Seaford in East Sussex, Served in the Royal Navy from 1940 to 1945. He qualified as gunnery rating before Serving in Hunt class destroyers in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and the Channel where the ship raided German convoys. Ronald has given all royalties from the sale of his book to Blind Veterans UK.
Speaking of his novel Ronald said: “It is a work of fact and fiction, but the fiction is based on fact. I enjoyed writing it and losing myself in my memories. I thought of my Service with the North Atlantic Convoys and the day we lost 12 ships in 10 minutes. We found a raft with three men onboard, still alive, and one of them was holding the ship’s cat. It was a sad day, but someone would always crack a joke. I thought of D-Day when I was a gunner, there were 16 men on deck, most of them 17 and 18 years old. I can still picture them when they hit the beaches – some falling and some running. When I think of those things now I think of the Olympics and how proud we can be. The royalties from the sale of the book will go to Blind Veterans UK as I couldn’t have written it without their tuition and I want to thank them for everything they have done, and continue to do for me. I also want to thank all of our Service men and women for their bravery.”
In summary: When World War I robs Danny’s daughter Violet of the most important people in her life, she’s faced with serious challenges. Against all odds, she overcomes extraordinary difficulties to make a life for herself – and the baby she’s forced to abandon. Victor, as he was later named, grows up unaware of his real background. As a fine young man he travels and Serves his country valiantly in World War II, forging lifetime friendships – his replacement family. But what happened to his real family and will he ever find his guardian angel?
In two parts, On the Outside Looking In, is full of atmosphere and drama throughout its historical settings – an engaging and totally absorbing plot. It is published by Pen Press and retails at £8.99. It is available from Amazon.com, Waterstones.com and Tesco.com