Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

I survived the ‘Typhoon of Steel’ by The National Lottery Community Fund
August 16, 2012, 11:56 am
Filed under: Heroes Return, Navy | Tags: , , ,

A veteran from Anglesey has recalled the role he played in the Battle of the Pacific, known as the ‘Typhoon of Steel’,  and how he survived desperate Kamikaze suicide attacks and cheated death in major naval battles stretching from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

WW2 veteran Caradog Jones will make an emotional return to Australia

WW2 veteran Caradog Jones will make an emotional return to Australia

Thanks to a grant from BIG’s Heroes Return programme, 88 year old Caradog Jones from Holyhead, Anglesey, will be returning to Australia this year to recall where his War ended 67 years ago and to pay his respects to those who lost their lives in the bitter and bloody conflict between 1939 and 1945.

In November 1942 and only 18 years of age, Caradog Jones was called up by the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman. He joined the Torpedo Branch and was responsible for firing torpedoes from Destroyers on enemy ships and dropping depth charges to sink incoming enemy submarines. His War ended with the eventual surrender of the Japanese when the Americans dropped Atom Bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.     

“I went to war completely innocent, not knowing what to expect,” explains Caradog. “The funny thing is that I joined the Royal Navy and I couldn’t even swim a stroke, despite being surrounded by the sea growing up on Anglesey. I still can’t swim to this day.”

After successfully completing his training in Plymouth, in 1943 Caradog was acquainted for the first time with his ship, HMS Queenborough in Gourock, Scotland.

The Queenborough was dubbed ‘The Lucky Ship’ after the War in reference to all the near deadly scrapes she and the crew emerged out of unscathed despite fighting in some of the deadliest theatres of war around the world.

“I can’t really describe what I felt when I was on my way to join the ship,” says Caradog. “I knew nothing about her or what I had to do, didn’t know any of the crew, everything was strange and I was quite worried. The only thing I knew is that I had to go.”

Visit our newsroom to read more of Caradog’s story.

More information and details of how to apply for a Heroes Return 2 grant are available by calling 0845 00 00 121 or visiting www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn

WWII fighter pilot returns to Japan in tribute to best friend by The National Lottery Community Fund

Flight commander Keith Quilter hurtled along in his fighter bomber towards the Japanese aerodrome. Flying right beside him was his best friend Walter Stradwick and two other fighters.

At just 50 feet from the ground they closed in on Japanese aircraft. As they prepared to let loose a burst of gunfire, Keith saw Walter’s fighter at his side suddenly plunge into the ground and explode into a ball of flames.

Keith was aged 23 at the time. Today (Tuesday, 6 March) is his 90th birthday and he is also celebrating being awarded funding to make an emotional visit to Japan to visit the grave of his best friend and cabin mate from aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, killed on 18 July 1945 aged 22.

Keith, from Tenterden, Kent, recently learnt he will receive £3,700 from BIG’s Heroes Return programme to make a commemorative visit in May 2012. His is the 50th successful application for funding for a veteran to visit Japan.

Keith served as a pilot in the navy from 1942 to 1946 and rejoined in 1947, leaving in 1952. During the war he flew many death-defying missions in his F4U Corsair fighter bomber, at first in attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz, the sister ship of the Bismarck, in Norway in August 1944. 

Keith pictured during his wartime service

Keith pictured during his wartime service

HMS Formidable then joined the British Pacific Fleet. They attacked Japanese aerodromes in islands between Okinawa and Taiwan to prevent Kamikaze suicide missions against Allied ships and to prepare for a possible ground invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Keith said: “I want to go and pay my respects to my cabin mate Walter Stradwick. I found out where his grave is and I’m going to leave a wreath there. I’m also hoping to somehow trace his family. I’m going to take a photograph of his grave and would like them to be able to see it.

“He went into the ground and I saw a horrible great mass of flames alongside me. Then my wing man said his oil pressure was dropping and so the fourth pilot had to escort him back to the carrier. This meant I was on my own so I joined the tail end of my CO’s group to attack a different aerodrome.

“I got hit as I went into a 45 degree dive to strafe the aerodrome. I heard this huge bang. A 20mm shell hit the side. When I eventually got back to the carrier all the chaps on deck were pointing up at my aircraft. When I got out I saw a hole in the fuselage so big you could put your head inside.

“That mission was the one that caused me the most personal loss. When your close friend and cabin mate is shot down and you get back to the ship and walk back into an empty cabin room, that is….quite something.”

Keith survived two Kamikaze attacks on HMS Formidable. The first strike killed several men on the flight deck who didn’t hear the alarm because of the sound of the engines of aircraft taxiing towards one end. As a result of that attack, it was decided that someone would also wave a red flag to warn pilots of a Kamikaze approaching. This new procedure saved Keith’s life.

Keith said: “I was strapped into my aircraft with the engine running. Suddenly I saw someone frantically waving a red flag in front of me. I switched the engine off, unstrapped myself as quick as I could and me and three other pilots leapt out of our fighters and jumped down two of three decks before it hit the ship. The ship lurched as the kamikaze hit us. My aircraft was completely destroyed.”

Less than a week after Walter died, Keith was shot down attacking a Japanese destroyer inside a harbour at Owaze.

Keith recalled: “Twelve of us were flying towards a target on the mainland when we spotted a destroyer. I was told to attack it so me and three others peeled away from the main group. Because it was on the inside of the harbour wall we had to approach from the land which had high hills. We attacked by coming in really low over the water and released the bombs just before we passed over the ship so that they hit its side.

Keith is returning to Japan to visit the grave of his best friend and cabin mate Walter Stradwick (credit PA)

Keith is returning to Japan to visit the grave of his best friend and cabin mate Walter Stradwick

“One of our chaps got hit and had to ditch in the water. I wanted to come around again to see if he was okay in his dingy and saw a side creek with hills that would have hidden me from view of the town as I came around for a look. But there was a gun position there and I got hit. My engine suddenly stopped so I had no choice but to ditch.

“I had to open the hood quickly before the plane sank, got into my dingy and paddled away to the open sea. The other pilot was doing the same while Japanese were taking pot shots at him from the shore.

“Then I saw this sinister looking black submarine sail towards us. At first I feared it was a Japanese submarine but men got out and I recognised the US Navy uniform. They were on standby to save Allied pilots like myself. I couldn’t believe a US sub would come in that close.

“I was aboard for three weeks, by which time the atom bombs had been dropped. As we sailed into Saipan we heard on the radio that Japan had surrendered and the war was over.”

As well as visiting Walter’s grave at Yokohama War Cemetery, Keith also wanted to visit the memorial dedicated to Robert Hampton Gray, a Corsair fighter pilot also on board HMS Formidable. “Hammy” Gray was one of the last Canadians to die in the war and was awarded a Victoria Cross for an attack on a destroyer in Onagawa Bay. Despite coming under heavy fire and his plane ablaze, he remained on course to bomb and sink the ship before crashing into the water. The memorial is the only one dedicated to a foreign soldier on Japanese soil.

Keith said: “We were all such young and cocky fighter pilots. But by the time VJ day came I think half the squadron had been lost. Walter was a lovely guy and Hammy was also full of fun in the mess.”

The Heroes Return 2 programme is still open for applications. For more information, please visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn or call the advice line on 0845 0000 121

Veteran returns to training base by The National Lottery Community Fund
September 8, 2010, 10:56 am
Filed under: Heroes Return, Navy | Tags: , , , ,

Former Able Seaman, George Wells returns to where he trained


Return to Okinawa by Les Wills by The National Lottery Community Fund
February 18, 2010, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Japan, Navy | Tags: ,

“In January 2010, aided by a grant from Heroes Return 2 my daughter Elaine (who acted as my carer) & I visited Okinawa for the main purpose of seeing the Peace Memorial Park in the Mabuni area of Itoman City which is situated in the south of the island & near where the final battle of Okinawa took place. The park enjoys a spectacular view of the rugged & beautiful coastline on it’s south-east border.

The former Ryukyu Government initiated the creation of the park on the site & following Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972 full scale construction of a public park was started. The park covers some 120 acres & has many facets of the war on Okinawa e.g….a computerised information centre, National War Dead Mausoleum, Prayer Area, Peace Memorial Museum, Peace Prayer Memorial Hall, Peace Ceremony Zone, Flame of Peace, Memorial path & The Cornerstone of Peace, unveiled in 1995, the names of over 240,000 war dead regardless of nationality or military/civilian affiliation are inscribed there-on.

As the main part of the Cornerstone of Peace, the monument walls spread out in concentric arcs from the Flame of Peace at the centre of the Peace Plaza. The 117 monument walls are shaped like folding screens, 69 walls have five folds, 48 have three folds for a total of 1212 faces with space for 250,000 names.

The names are grouped under either Japan or Foreign Countries. Our monument wall is in Row D (in the same row as 14,000 from the USA) and contains the names of 82 men who were killed serving with the British Pacific Fleet. The heading on the wall reads ” THE UNITED KINGDOM of GREAT BRITAIN and NORTHERN IRELAND” Those named are in alphabetical order with full given names added and read across the wall. The walls are about seven feet square, white lettering carved into what appears to be a very highly polished black marble.

The park is a key tourist site so not only acts as a place of remembrance but also has large grassy areas, away & apart although not physically separated where families can picnic, play ball games & enjoy various other recreational activities By the size of the car park & other facilities it looks as though it is frequently used. Considering land is at a premium the size of the entire Peace Park is astonishing.

When we visited it was a warm day, (20 degrees – shirt sleeve order), there were a few visitors (it was a week-day) which seemed to be mostly groups of school children & students. It is tended by a small group of women gardeners who do an excellent job for everything is as neat & tidy as possible.

I suppose I can best describe it as if you walked through Hyde Park & then followed into an adjoining Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

The Peace Memorial Museum  is new, huge & carries an immense amount of information of the Battle of Okinawa on picture, video, film, artefacts, art displays & written testimony from survivors. As well as the displays there is facilities for research & educational activities.

On the 23rd June (Okinawa Memorial Day) each year. veterans, bereaved families & other individuals come to participate in a memorial service held in the Peace Ceremony Zone. I am not sure if any veteran’s organisation from the BPF has ever been invited to attend this ceremony. Other than their names there is nothing visible to indicate where or how the men served or met their death. This incidentally is common for all those recorded throughout the Peace Park.

My thoughts as I stood beside the names were that although nearly 65 years ago it could have been the day before or even that morning when just hours after the invasion started we were hit by the kamikaze plane. The images of that morning, perhaps a bit frayed around the edges are I’m sure still with us all.

To get to Okinawa we flew to Hong Kong & then across to Naha City airfield on the twice weekly service. Naha is the capital of the island with over a million population. We stayed at a hotel in the city & for our visit we chose to travel by the local bus transport. The buses run every 20 minutes from Naha to Itoman City but the bus from there to the park only runs on an hourly basis. The whole journey takes about 2 hours. However it does stop right outside the park. It’s  the same coming back only in reverse order. On their buses you receive your ticket on entering & pay on leaving having to tender the exact fare.

The visitor numbers to the island in 2008 were over 5 million from Japan but only 188,000 from elsewhere in the world. Like many other places on entering the country you are finger-printed & photographed.

The climate is sub-tropical & is much the same as in Hawaii.”