The Veterans' Hearing Fund of the RBL - A Case Study

The Veterans' Hearing Fund of the RBL - A Case Study

Soldiers are very frequently exposed to hazardous noise, which can seriously affect their hearing.

This was seemingly only fully discovered (or even admitted as being possible) in comparatively recent times when the measurement of noise became part of health and safety issues in everyday life. It is now realised that if future hearing problems are  to be avoided, the need for protecting the ears against excessively high decibel noise is necessary. The noise caused by large calibre guns in particular, was probably one of the more common causes of serious hearing losses suffered by those who had served in units of the Royal Artillery.  

In my case, in May 1956, as a National Serviceman I was, as a so-called Predictor Operator, required to stand close to 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns firing at sleeves that were being towed by a Mosquito Fighter/bomber 'plane over Tonfanau*, just north of Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay, on the west Welsh coast. 

As a result of that, I think my hearing became considerably impaired; it was probably not improved by my subsequent activities as a Radio Intercept Operator during my National Service in Berlin.

Quite soon after my completion of National Service in 1958, I did consult a GP who identified that I had quite a serious deafness problem, although at that time, the NHS facilities for treating this ailment were almost non-existent.

During my lifetime, my hearing has consistently deteriorated. Experiments with a number of hearing aids, including those provided by the NHS were unsuccessful and I have been partially deaf to high-frequency sounds for many years. 

This has meant that holding conversations with certain people has frequently been quite embarrassingly difficult, as one cannot continue to ask people to repeat what they said. In particular, when there is background noise in a room, for a long time I have had great difficulty in understanding what people are saying. As someone who has been very active in international business and who has served on various committees and as a consequence, had to attend lots of meetings, my hearing deficiencies have been a significant problem, and often caused embarrassment. 

I was aware that possibly some of the latest digital hearing aids might go some way towards resolving my problems, but the cost of those, running to several thousands of pounds, was always an inhibiting factor, as I felt that I simply could not afford to purchase them. 

As a member of the Royal British Legion, I then read about the Veterans Hearing Fund which had been established, and to which I could possibly turn for help in procuring the latest digital hearing aids, which gave the possibility of improving my hearing and might even make it absolutely normal. 

I therefore applied to the VHF at the Royal British Legion in London regarding the possibility of obtaining assistance to purchase some state-of-the-art hearing aids, which I had identified as being suitable for my needs with the help of the Support Office of my local Boots’ Hearingcare. 

Having completed the various forms and receiving in the process considerable assistance from Deborah Pike and Emily Odiase at the Royal British Legion Head Office, I have now taken delivery of my new hearing aids, which are really making an enormous difference to my quality of life and to my ability to hear fully what everybody is now saying, as well as giving me the priceless  pleasure of once again hearing the songs of the birds in my garden.

As a child on a farm with a 120 acres of woodland, I knew all of the common British birdsongs from a very young age. Alas most of the visiting warblers no longer come to Britain in the way they used to and the best sound of all, that of the Cuckoo, as the harbinger of Spring is now a rarety. But we have other things to enjoy, before humanity finally kills them off. 

After 50 or so years of poor hearing, the world has become a different place. Folding a newspaper now makes a loud crackling nose and my shoes "squeak" on the kitchen linoleum, floor; I also have to learn to speak less loudly than I used to do. 

My grateful thanks go to the RBL for giving me a new lease of life. 

Jeremy Wheeler

Ex. Royal Artillery, Intelligence Corps and Joint Services School for Linguists. 

* Readers might be Interested to note that two very famous actors, also National Servicemen but now, alas, no longer with us, were with me at that time in Tonfanau. Lt. John Stride was probably best known for his leading role in the TV Series "The Main Chance". He died earlier this year (2018) and had a large obituary in The Daily Telegraph. Bombardier Patrick Garland was a member of some renown of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Pat had an uncanny ability to mimic virtually any of the wide variety of local dialects which one came across in National Service. He was later a highly successful director and writer.  He died in 2013; his comprehensive obituary was also in The Daily Telegraph.

For further assistance, see also RBL Veterans Hearing Fund

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