Sight loss support group to welcome war pilot guest speaker

A 100-year-old World War II RAF pilot will share his wartime experiences with a Powys-based sight loss support group later this month.

Harry Garthwaite, who celebrated his 100th birthday last year, clocked up almost 2,500 flying hours during the war, flew 23 different aircraft types, including the Hurricane, Spitfire and an abandoned German trainer, and was also mentioned in dispatches.

Although his flying days ended in February 1946 when he was demobbed, Harry remains an aircraft enthusiast and a keen member of his local RAF Association.

He will speak to Llandrindod Wells, Brecon and Ystradgynlais members of the Macular Society telephone support group at their next group call on Tuesday, April 13, at 10.30am.

Harry is affected by dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a sight loss condition that affects his central vision. AMD is a form of macular disease, the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. The Macular Society, a leading sight loss charity which funds medical research to beat macular disease, suspended all face-to-face support services when coronavirus struck last year. Since then, the charity has provided a new range of telephone and online support services, including telephone befriending. All of its services are available to anyone affected by sight loss, their family or friends.

Sadly, five years ago, and after 67 years of happy marriage, Harry’s wife died. In addition, the necessary restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic have resulted in Harry having less contact with people. But, a chance telephone call provided him with the opportunity to regain some social contact.

“I was invited by an RAF Association friend of mine to share some of my wartime flying experiences with the members and volunteers of the Wem Macular Society telephone support group,” said Harry.

“They made me feel so welcome. I really enjoyed talking to them and we also had a very in-depth discussion about how, during the war, people helped each other, very much as we are all trying to do now.

“After that talk, the Macular Society got in contact with me to ask if I would be interested in speaking to more of their members and volunteers at some of their other telephone support group meetings across the country. I was surprised but also absolutely delighted because it means that by helping in this way I can reciprocate the community support spirit that I have experienced in my life.”

Adele Francis, senior regional manager for the charity, said: “We are delighted to welcome Harry as a guest speaker to our group call. I have absolutely no doubt that he will be very popular and we very much look forward to hearing his stories.”

The Macular Society telephone support groups, of which there are more than 400 across the UK, offer practical and emotional support for people with macular disease but also welcome anyone with sight loss problems. The Brecon, Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod group hold their telephone meetings at the same time on the second Tuesday of every month. There are also groups based in Welshpool and Newtown.

Adele added: “As some social restrictions continue as a result of the virus, people’s health and wellbeing remain our priority.

“However, it’s absolutely vital that everyone who needs our support continues to receive it. Although our face-to-face services have had to be suspended for the time being, we are still on the end of the phone and would strongly urge anyone to call us if they do need our assistance.

“The telephone groups offer help in understanding macular disease and coming to terms with sight loss; exactly the way that our face-to-face support groups do. They also help us to ensure that everyone is kept up to date with all the current news and information.

“But most importantly, they allow people with macular disease to continue to take part in social activities, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation during these difficult times.”

Macular disease affects nearly 1.5 million people in the UK and many more are at risk. It can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, leaving them unable to drive, read or see faces. There is still no cure and most types of the disease are not treatable. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common form of macular disease, affecting more than 600,000 people, usually over the age of 50.

If you would like to join the call, or for more information about additional support services available locally, please contact Adele Francis on 07494 468 007 or email

County Times | Llandrindod Wells & Rhayader