Filed under: France, Germany, Heroes Return, RAF | Tags: Belfast, Belgium, Big Lottery Fund, Dublin, France, Germany, Heroes Return, Holland, North Down, RAF
World War Two veterans from across Ireland are making emotional journeys to the places where they fought thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme.
George Lemon, 88, from Belfast, George Hopley, 91, from North Down and Ted Jones, 89, from Dublin will revisit their wartime postings across the world, from Florida to the Bahamas and Europe.
George Lemon, from Newtownbreda in Belfast, is travelling to battlefields in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland later this year but was just 18 and in sixth year at Larne Grammar School when he signed up with the RAF in 1941.
“You don’t think much about the dangers at that age – you just want adventure. Things were going quite badly at that stage in the war with Dunkirk and so on, so I suppose I had these romantic notions of taking to the hills to defend the country,” he explained.
George began his training at Lords Cricket Ground which was the receiving centre for the RAF and progressed through various courses before being designated as a bomb aimer flying operational missions over France and Germany.
“At the time you don’t really feel afraid – before we’d take off I sometimes felt anxious, but once you’re airborne the training takes over. When you’re flying though you’re quite divorced from what’s going on below so this trip will be an experience and help me appreciate the full story of what I was involved in,” said George.
“This trip will be a chance to think again about the role I played in those days and I really appreciate the opportunity.”
George Hopley, from North Down, is travelling to Nassau in the Bahamas later this year where he was stationed as RAF ground crew after joining up at just 18 with the RAF’s 502 Ulster Squadron.
“I was sent to the RAF’s base in the Bahamas in 1944 to train on American aircraft, chiefly the Liberators,” he said. “The Big Lottery Fund has given me a wonderful opportunity to go back later this year to a place I never thought I’d see again because it’s so far away. It’s given me a chance to think back and reminisce.”
Ted Jones, from Dublin, is travelling to Pensacola in Florida where he completed his pilot’s training at the RAF base there. Ted trained on Catalina seaplanes and gained his wings on April 29, 1942, as well as being recommended for a commission and made a Captain with the 190 Squadron in March 1943.
Ted said: “I was fortunate enough to fly with a great bunch of blokes during the war and that makes all the difference. Travelling back to Florida is a great opportunity to re-visit old sites and memories, a chance to remember those years.”
To find out more about the Heroes Return programme visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn or call the the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return advice line on 0845 00 00 121.
Filed under: Germany, RAF | Tags: Australian Squadron, Dresden, Germany, Italy, Lancasters, POW, RAF
One veteran making the most of the scheme is Reg White from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire. Joining up in the RAF aged 19, Reg underwent training in Stafford and Crewe before embarking on operational training on Wellington bombers, and then on to Lancasters as a Flight Sergeant Rear Gunner in Australian Squadron, 460 based at Binbrook, Lincolnshire.
Flying hazardous night operations over Germany, Italy and German-occupied Europe, Reg, recalls the fateful evening of Jan 27th 1944, on a mission over the heavily defended Berlin.
He recalls: “We were approaching the target when we were suddenly attacked and very badly hit. At first I didn’t realise what was happening as I was in the rear turret and had no phone communication. Then as we started to jump I remember hearing someone shout ‘For god’s sake Skipper, bail out!’ I don’t remember what happened after that till I hit the ground and looked up at the black parachute above me. Everything was so quiet. I found out after that only three of us had survived, the other four were killed and later buried in Posen.”
Escaping the jump with no more than a burst eardrum Reg quickly hid his parachute and decided to try and head for home. He recalls: “I wanted to set off for Switzerland. I travelled at night and during the day hid in trees. But one day I decided to chance it and as I was coming out of a clearing I suddenly saw a German soldier. He saw me, raised his gun and shouted ‘Englander? Americano?’ I told him I was English and then he seemed quite friendly. I remember wondering what he would have done if I had said Americano.”
He continued: “He took me to a nearby farm and handed me over to a German sergeant who told me he had fought in the First World War and had been taken prisoner by the English. I asked him how he was treated and he said, ‘very well’, and then offered me something to eat.”
He was then taken to an air base in Guben, where he met up with the other two survivors of his aircrew, and from there to Berlin where he was put on a flight to Frankfurt to undergo interrogation. He recalls: “The interrogation wasn’t so bad, being a rear gunner I wasn’t expected to know too much. It was the navigators who knew all about the flight routes and plotting.”
Reg was then transported to Stalag Luft 6 a Luftwaffe controlled camp at Hydekrug, on the Baltic Coast. He recalls with irony: “It wasn’t a holiday camp and we were not ill-treated, but all we had to live on was watery swede and potato soup and a bit of black bread. At the beginning of the war the POW rations were quite good but of course it was our own boys shooting everything up that caused the shortage.”
Later when the Russians started to advance into Germany Reg and his compatriots were loaded into cattle trucks and transported to an army camp in Torun, Poland and then onto Fallingbostel in Central Germany where they were liberated. Reg was eventually flown home in a Lancaster arriving in England on VE Day. He recalls: “I know I was very lucky. Things that happened to me always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
Now 87, Reg will travel on a Heroes Return 2 grant to Germany where he will visit aircrew war graves in Berlin, travel to the Ruhr Valley, Mohne Dam, Colditz, Dresden, and visit the museum at the famous Stalag Luft III, site of the great escape.
Mrs Griffiths travelled to Holland and Germany in September 2009 with her daughter Gaynor. The main purpose of the trip was to visit the grave of her first husband, Flight Sergeant William “Billy” Henry Thompson, Air Bomber with the RAF who was shot down on 12 September 1994 aged 23. Billy’s grave is in Rheinberg cemetery where he lies with the rest of his crew.
“The trip we chose gave us a wonderful tour round the region around and including Arnhem and it was tailored to visit the cemeteries requested by families,” said Gaynor. “Each cemetery we visited was beautiful with the graves and the surrounding areas lovingly tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Our visit coincided with the celebrations for the anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem and we were treated to the most wonderful displays of parachute drops and tributes led by the local schoolchildren.”
“I was married at age 19,” said Ivy, “and I was a widow at 21. When Billy was killed I was serving in the WAAF but I then became a telegraph operator for a while and then later in the war I was a PTI instructor in Wales. That was where I met my second husband, Gaynor’s father, and we married after the war.
“I had never been to Europe before this trip. I had travelled to other places – the USA – but this was my first trip to see Billy’s grave and I am very glad that I did so. Words cannot describe my feelings and thoughts from taking part in this trip.”