09 April 2006

World first for squaddie blinded in Provo ambush

Sunday Life

My new calling

Joe Oliver
09 April 2006

TO WITNESS Ray Peart happily announcing 'Lucky Seven, God's in Heaven' as he reels off number after number in a crowded club is nothing less than miraculous.

For the courageous former soldier - who lost his sight in an IRA booby-trap bomb blast that killed two of his colleagues in Belfast in 1973 - has become the world's first blind bingo caller.

Ray (60) made history with a little help from a hi-tech machine that uses a voice synthesiser to relay the all-important numbers to him through a headset.

Thanks to the innovative breakthrough, he has a weekly bingo spot at the Royal Antediluvian Order of the Buffaloes (RAOB) club in Gloucester.

Ray, who has run two marathons and a triathlon and enjoys horse riding, told Sunday Life yesterday: "I'd often gone to the bingo with my wife, Claire, and sat around waiting for it to finish.

"One day, I turned to Claire and said, 'I could do that if I could get a machine that can speak.'"

He was put in touch with charity REMAP, which provides practical aids for blind people.

"I handed them a bingo machine and asked if there was anything they could do to enable me to be a caller.

"They were able to fit the synthesiser and modify the machine so that it talks to me through my headset."

Ray, who works tirelessly for charity, was a corporal in the Gloucestershire Regiment when he was blinded by a mattress bomb in Divis flats.

The 20lb device was detonated by remote control as he and three members of his patrol carried out a routine check on the top floor of the block.

Private Christopher Brady (21) was killed almost instantly and Private Geoff Breakwell (20) died two hours later in hospital.

The savage ambush was mounted after two girls were recruited to wheel the device into the building in a pram.

More than 30 years on, Ray has little memory of the explosion that took such a dreadful toll on his patrol.

"I lost my sight completely and the fourth member of the patrol lost an eye," he recalled.

"It was a terrible time, but I just had to accept it and put it behind me.

"I was determined to go forward and do what little I could for others.

"It's good that the situation in Northern Ireland has settled down.

"I stay in touch with people there, because I'm also a radio ham.

"It would be great to see Stormont working with people able to run their own affairs."

As for the bingo, he added: "My local RAOB club gave me the opportunity and, although I was a bit nervous at first, it's since gone very well.

"I've not heard of a blind bingo caller anywhere else in the world, so it's nice to prove just about anything is possible if you put your mind to it."

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