Peter Van Zeller 051118 CREDIT Blind Veterans UK PA
Veterans

Blind Veteran Makes 'Extraordinary' Discovery About War Hero Dad

The D-Day veteran has discovered he lives in the same centre that looked after his father after noticing his name on a honours board.

Peter Van Zeller 051118 CREDIT Blind Veterans UK PA

Peter Van Zeller said that he was "very moved" when he found out about his father (Picture: Blind Veterans UK /PA). 

A blind veteran of the D-Day landings has discovered he lives in the same care home that looked after his war hero father.

Peter Van Zeller only discovered the coincidence after moving into the Blind Veterans UK centre near Brighton and learning that his father’s name was listed on an honours board of fallen heroes.

Tank commander Lieutenant Thomas Van Zeller, of the 5th Battalion Tank Corps and Lovat's Scouts, was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry during the First World War. He rescued wounded soldiers from a bridge under attack near Brie on 23 March 1918 while under shell fire.

Later in the conflict, he was the only survivor when a tank blew up in his face, and he was subsequently treated by the charity then known as St Dunstan's.

The blast left him blind with shell fragments lodged behind his eye and damaging his nose and jaw. After 20 operations, he regained sight in one eye and his face was reconstructed.

He was also brought back to the centre rehabilitation after a stroke later in life, dying there aged 87 in 1978.

"I was very moved when I saw that and very proud,” Peter said.

"It is still difficult now to accept all of this. It's quite extraordinary.

"I knew he had been with St Dunstan's 100 years ago but I didn't know a lot of detail - he never spoke about it."

The charity Blind Veterans UK has been helping former servicemen and women who've lost their sight since the First World War:

Peter Van Zeller landed at Sword Beach in Normandy in June 1944, about a week after the D-Day landings.

"We were lucky, we were the first lot of reinforcements after D-Day,” he said.

"We were dispersed to regiments which had high casualties. I was drafted into the Somerset Light Infantry and I lasted about a month.

Aged 23, he was shot in the right arm by a sniper during an assault on the town of Villers-Bocage.

He describes it as the "best of luck" because he was not shot in the back and killed, adding:

"All I can remember is there was a violent hit and there was no pain at the beginning, it was just numb."

He was flown back to Britain and had surgery in Wales.

Aged 40, he met his second wife Betty, who was the housekeeper of a farm he was visiting for work in Gloucestershire.

The pair married and travelled the world together as he continued to work in countries including New Zealand, South Africa and Portugal. While contracted abroad he learned by letter of his father's sudden death. 

The couple were married for 50 years, retiring to Norfolk and then Sussex, where she died in 2012 aged 89.

He was put in touch with Blind Veterans when his eyesight began to fail and he was diagnosed with glaucoma and macular degeneration. He now sees only outlines and is largely confined to a wheelchair.

He moved to the charity's south coast centre overlooking the English Channel in 2016 and thanks to research by staff learned more about his father's time there.

"I can say quite honestly I've had a wonderful life. This to me is the most wonderful organisation,” he said.

"I have no wish to go anywhere else. I'm sure this must be the best care home in the country.

"I don't lack for anything here. I can't thank the staff enough."