Matthew Cecil Rhodes joined Blind Veterans UK 8 months after a horrific accident. Matthew tells his account of serving in the British Army, to losing his sight and suffering with disability and then how Blind Veterans UK has given him his independence back and encouraged him to take up painting, a hidden talent he had never realised he had.
“I joined the British Army in 1992, the 1st Battalion the Devonshire and Dorset regiment. I served in Germany, Canada and did the summer tour of Bosnia in 1995. I was one of the fittest in my regiment and ran cross country for them, I was the top gunner for the Infantry tank the Warrior, the best in my regiment and one of the best in the British army and I was a PTI, (Physical Training Instructor), class three.
“Upon surviving my Bosnia tour I returned to Germany where I had a horrific accident. From my accident I was severely brain damaged. I was in a coma for ten weeks. After the first four weeks my body weight went from twelve stone down to a mere five and a half stone. My heart beat would sometimes beat very fast, and sometimes as slow as four beats a minute.
“I came out of my coma after ten weeks. I had received many a disability from my brain damage but four main problems. Where the front part of my brain had been damaged, this affected my feelings as now I could never feel very sad but also never over happy. Where the centre of my brain had been damaged affected my short term memory and now found it very hard to remember literally anything. Where the rear of my brain had been damaged was where my optic nerve attached itself to my brain, so even though my eyes would see everything, my brain could do nothing with my sight information. Now all I could see was basically half an eye; I couldn’t see the eye brow, the nose, the lips and the ear, just that little part of the eye. Last but by no means least I am also paralysed down the interior right hand side of my body.
“After six months I was told that I’d never walk again, but have dome the 2007 London Marathon and the first ever Brighton Marathon! I was introduced to the Blind Veterans UK roughly eight months since my accident. This is the charity for ex members, male and female, of the British forced who are now blind.
“I walked into their building first of all feeling blind, disabled, not able to look after myself. After just six months of being there I felt no different to the average person you get on the street, they’d taught me independence! Blind Veterans UK is a charity, they get no money from the government, non from business, the only money they do get is money through charity events.
“Ovingdean Spitfire” painted by Matthew
“For my thanks to this cause I decided to do charity events. I began by doing a horse dressage competition, which I won and so was put forward to the international competition. Then I did some aqua paragliding, then a 12,000ft tandem ski dive, then I swam between Brighton’s two piers, a mile in length, by using just my one arm which wasn’t paralysed. Then I abseiled from one of the tallest buildings in London, then paragliding from Devils Dyke, Brighton, then I did the 2007 London Marathon and then the first ever Brighton Marathon.
“After doing all these charity events I was beginning to feel exhausted, so Blind Veterans UK one day said to me, “Have you ever done painting?” I never had done painting before plus I had used to be right handed, but now was left, and on top of this I was now blind, but I gave it a go anyway.
“Beatles Sgt Pepper” painted by Matthew
“I was taken into the Blind Veterans UK Craft Workshop in Ovingdean, Brighton and was taken by David Bryant who began to teach me how to paint. He took me under his wings and we found a talent I never knew I had! I now do brilliant paintings which can be seen on this website.
“The way I now look on life is that your body is like a car, you are in control of it; so my car has a couple of flat tyres, and some smashed headlights, but I am fine as I’m the person from within!”