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


Podcast – “My time in Bomber Command” by The National Lottery Community Fund

The historic unveiling of the first national memorial to RAF Bomber Command takes place today at Green Park, London. We were lucky enough to talk to veteran Harry Irons, who flew 60 missions during World War Two.

Now aged 88, Harry talks about some of his wartime memories, his Heroes Return trip to France and what it means to finally see a memorial for Bomber Command.

In 1941 Harry Irons volunteered for air crew duty with Bomber Command. He was only 16 but added a year to his age and was accepted for gunnery training.

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI in 1944, Harry was promoted to Warrant Officer and went on to survive 60 raids over the Ruhr, Munich, Nuremberg, and Northern France, flying as a rear gunner in Lancaster and Halifax bombers.

Harry was living in London when war broke out. After witnessing the devastation of the Blitz he decided to volunteer as aircrew, and was assigned to 9 Squadron based at Waddington in Lincolnshire from where he flew 37 missions in Lancaster X for X-ray.

Harry, who has worked tirelessly to help raise funds for the memorial, will be attending the official unveiling of the Bomber Command memorial in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, and members of the Royal family.

Bomber Command veteran Harry Irons

Bomber Command veteran Harry Irons

Looking forward to the historic day, he said: “As part of a crew you got to know each other, you were like family. We lost so many brave men. But we are over the moon. We are so grateful at last to be able to do something for the boys. At last we have got some recognition”.

For more information on the Heroes Return programme and the funding that is available for World War Two veterans, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121



Irish veterans return to theatres of war by The National Lottery Community Fund

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, will return to France, Germany, Belgium and Holland later this year

George Lemon, 88, will return to France, Germany, Belgium and Holland later this year

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 Lemon pictured during his wartime service with the RAF

George Lemon pictured during his wartime service with the RAF

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.



BIG funding for Northern Irish World War Two hero by The National Lottery Community Fund
February 1, 2012, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Heroes Return, RAF | Tags: , ,

A Northern Ireland WWII veteran has made an emotional journey to re-visit old friends and memories thanks to a Big Lottery Fund grant.

Ninety-year-old Royal Air Force veteran Lithgow ‘John’ McFarland was awarded a grant from our Heroes Return 2 programme to return to his flight base in England to commemorate the battles he fought in and the comrades he lost during the Second World War.

Ninety-year-old RAF veteran Lithgow ‘John’ McFarland with his wife, Elsie

Ninety-year-old RAF veteran Lithgow ‘John’ McFarland with his wife, Elsie

John’s story is an exciting and very moving one. When he decided to join up in 1940 he could never have imagined the adventure which lay ahead. But the fact that a young man of just 18, son of a L/Derry farmer and more used to hand-milking the cows, ended up shot down and imprisoned in an infamous Nazi stalag is a story worth telling.

In June 1941 John was formally called up as a navigator for the 75th New Zealand Squadron. They flew from a remote based near Ely in East Anglia and took part in mining operations, as well as drops to the French Resistance.  But it was during one of these missions that his plane was shot down.

“Everything happened so fast,” he explains.  “We had to bail out and use our parachutes. The parachute wrappers used to put little notes in with the silk saying things like ‘all the best’!  Only three of us survived that night – the rear gunner’s parachute failed to open. That could have been any one of us for you just grabbed a parachute on your way out to board the aircraft.”

John was captured by the Nazis and sent to a prisoner of war camp where he spent the rest of the war and experienced some terrible hardships. “I’ve never experienced cold like it. One POW found a rat and held onto it just to keep his hands warm!” he recalls.

John pictured during his WWII service with the RAF

John pictured during his WWII service with the RAF

He has since kept in touch with other ex-servicemen and last year, on a trip funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, visited his old Ely base. “It was a great experience to go back to the base and we were very well looked after. We enjoyed it immensely and it brought back old memories,” says John.

“I appreciate very much that the Big Lottery Fund gives people like us a chance to remember those times and those friends again, for the bonds of war are very strong.

To read more about John’s compelling story and to find out about the funding available from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme go to: http://bit.ly/wLGXcZ



Reg White from Waltham Cross returns to Germany by The National Lottery Community Fund
October 29, 2010, 10:36 am
Filed under: Germany, RAF | Tags: , , , , , ,

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.



Bob Kendall returns to Germany by The National Lottery Community Fund
September 8, 2010, 11:03 am
Filed under: Germany, RAF | Tags: ,

http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/Emotional-return-for-Leeds-war.6516567.jp



Hero Angus back in the cockpit after 66 years by The National Lottery Community Fund
August 2, 2010, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Canada, RAF | Tags:

Angus Galloway visited the airfields he trained at in Canada

http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Hero-Angus-back-in-the.6450379.jp



Veteran’s Widow Returns to Husband’s Grave by The National Lottery Community Fund
June 17, 2010, 11:33 am
Filed under: Germany, RAF | Tags: , ,

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.”