World War Two veteran and rock climber, 95, proves he can still scale walls despite sight loss

Press Release | 20/08/2019

A 95-year-old World War Two veteran with a passion for rock climbing has been scaling walls once again with the support of a sight loss charity.

 

Now living with the eye condition macular degeneration, Scottish War Blinded member Jim Thomson, of Avoch, has led an extremely active life rock climbing across the world.

 

Jim first became enraptured with hill walking and climbing after he finished serving in the Royal Navy in 1946 with the Fleet Air Arm as an air mechanic electrician.

 

Jim is still an avid walker despite his sight loss – and the veteran was delighted to discover he could still shoot up climbing walls alongside veterans half his age at a recent climbing event supported and funded by Scottish War Blinded and Blind Veterans UK at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, Edinburgh. 

 

“When I left the forces I became very keen on hill walking and then rock climbing,” explained Jim, who is originally from Springburn, Glasgow.

 

“I’ve climbed in the Alps, Corsica and the Balkans. It was just being outdoors, I just loved it. Rock climbing was my interest for a number of decades and I was interested to find out if I still had the ability to do at least some climbing once more.

 

“I was apprehensive having not climbed for many years. But I managed to get to the top of one of the walls, so I felt that was my success. It was what I was hoping to do.

 

“It’s very hard, but sight loss doesn’t come into it too much as you’re using a lot of touch.

 

“Most of the others in the group were quite a lot younger than me, but I’ve still been able to do something that they are doing, so I feel I’m contributing something.

 

“The satisfaction is great. I feel I’ve accomplished something and met some good guys.”

 

The father-of-three and great-grandfather first began to experience issues with his sight six years ago, and says he is coming to accept and adapt to the impact of his vision impairment.

 

He still walks when visiting his daughter in Cumbernauld, and enjoys the outdoors whenever he can.

 

 “I think the first thing that really bothered me about sight loss was the fact I couldn’t drive anymore,” said Jim, who also worked for years as a community youth worker.

 

“Being a hill walker, there’s a woods in the Black Isle about eight miles away and I used to walk that several times a month.

 

“I know I can’t drive now. I accept it, it’s not going to go away. It’s just getting used to not being able to see the same way.

 

“I find that I’m looking downwards more with walking now. I’m very conscious of stumbling. I concentrate a lot more on the ground.

 

 “Fortunately I’ve got good friends who take me out and to the shops.

 

“In life, you go through different stages and with sight loss it’s just the same. I just feel like I’m going into another stage.”

 

Jim’s sight loss vision and military background made him eligible for Scottish War Blinded’s support.

 

Since he became a member of the charity last year, Jim has been in trips organised by Scottish War Blinded Outreach Workers, Sheena Menzies and Mick Hilton.

 

He also attends the charity’s Tain lunch group – one of several run by Sheena and Mick in the Highlands bringing together veterans with sight loss in a friendly, sociable environment.

 

And the veteran, who lives alone, explains he very much enjoys extending his friendship network with new connections through the charity.

 

He said: “I go to the Tain lunch group once a month, and we’ve been to the air museum. After working with aircraft myself it was interesting to see other aircraft.

 

“Scottish War Blinded helps me with meeting friends and making memories and takes you to places you might not have gone before.

 

“Meeting and conversing with other people who have sight loss gives you some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

 

“As one becomes older, there is a tendency for lethargy to develop – this is insidious because it lends to living like you’re in a cocoon in your own home.

 

“But Scottish War Blinded provides me with outings that counteract this tendency and opens up one’s horizons to various locations and experiences.

 

“People get into a state of mind where they don’t want to go out, so I think it’s one of the things that’s good about Scottish War Blinded – they give you a good reason to go out and meet people.

 

“I would emphasise to anyone with sight loss that you’re not alone. It’s comforting to know that.”

 

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

 

Visit www.scottishwarblinded.org or call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.