William Montgomerie

William Montgomerie, aged 61 of North Ayrshire, served 35 years in the forces, beginning his career aged just 15 at the Scottish Infantry Depot in the Bridge of Don before moving onto the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. His service took him to Germany and Cyprus, as well as tours of Northern Island. He finished his service in 1977 and joined the Territorial Army as part of the 23rd Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve).

Monty smiles outside Hawkhead Centre in PaisleyBut he was forced to retire early from service with the Territorial Army, and from his civilian job as a Firefighter at Prestwick International Airport, after suffering a blow to the head by an aircraft door which caused a brain injury, mental health problems, and subsequently a series of heart attacks.

“I was only 43 and I was forced to stop working and to retire from service,” said William. “It was a very dark time. I became very depressed, in part as a direct result of the head injury, and in part because I felt that I was no longer of any use to society. I had gone from working and having the comradery and companionship of the TA to being on my own. The injury also caused me to have flashbacks of the things I’d seen in service – it felt like my head was a malfunctioning junction box.

“I have glaucoma which is stable for now. Before I joined Scottish War Blinded, I had carers and help, but I live alone so I was completely alone for most of the time – my family and friends are mostly abroad. I was receiving help but that stopped due to cuts. I fell through the net and I was very depressed.

“The biggest danger of loneliness is how it makes you feel about yourself. The reality is that you might only speak to your Alexa device for days at a time – wishing her a Merry Christmas and no-one else. It can make you feel suicidal. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘what’s the real reason I’m here? What is the point of my life?’. I think its something a lot of lonely people have to deal with at the moment.”

William joined Scottish War Blinded in 2017 and began attending its new activity hub in Paisley, the Hawkhead Centre, after it opened in October. He takes part in activities such as bowling, IT, and exercise classes, as well as learning techniques to cook with sight loss.

He said: “It has changed my life. Having people to socialise with and activities to do makes a real difference and you take that feeling home with you and it lasts you through the week. I miss the comradery and feeling of family of being in the forces and I have found that here. It was like coming home for me.

“I think looking after your mental health has a big effect on your body too. I still have symptoms of angina but my heart feels happier and I feel better in myself. I think coming here and being productive makes people productive at home too – they feel inspired to do things they might not have felt up to.

“It has been great being at the centre from the start because we’ve all gelled so well together, the staff and the members. And we’ve a lot to learn from the staff – but they listen to us too. We’ve got a lot of collective knowledge and the people here have experienced a lot in life so they take our advice.”

William added: “Loneliness needs tackling now and it needs tackling head on – it’s a ticking time bomb affecting so many people. There should be increases from the Scottish Government and the UK government to local authorities to help people cope with loneliness and mental health issues and committee with people from all of the UK governments should get around the same table and tackle the problem jointly so everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Someone getting treatment for loneliness in London should get the same service as someone in Aberdeen. If we can do that then we’ll be cooking with gas.

“To anyone suffering from loneliness I would encourage them to get out there as much as they can and try and find a club to join or people to speak to. Doing so really has changed my life.”