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

A life-long friendship

Arthur Smith, a Royal Navy veteran from Armagh in Northern Ireland, used his grant from the Heroes Return 2 programme to return to Ischia, off the coast of Naples, with his wife Freda. It proved an emotional trip for the veteran

Arthur Smith was 18 when he signed up for the Navy in 1942 and was assigned as a crew member on ML 567, a lightweight motor launch ship that carried out mine-sweeping missions and submarine patrols in the seas of Europe.

The ship was part of a flotilla that docked at Ischia in May 1944 after helping free the island from the grasp of the German Navy.

Little did Arthur know as he stepped off the boat all those years ago and was greeted by a nine-year-old boy named Pippo that this was to be the start of a friendship that would last for the next 68 years.

“When we docked at Ischia I was greeted by smiling young children who treated us like heroes. I got to know one of them really well,” says Arthur. “His name was Pippo Conte and I quickly struck up a close friendship with his family.

“They were wonderful. They were so poor but they welcomed me with open arms. I remember visiting their home for dinner one night and they presented me with egg and chips while they all ate spam and bread.” Arthur repaid the friendship shown by the Conte family by giving them rations from the boat – bread, tins of corn beef, chocolate and coffee. “It was the first time they had tasted coffee and they really loved it; they told me they felt so spoiled!” he says. “They told me that I had saved their lives.”

Arthur, who was born in Kent but moved to Northern Ireland to be close to his family in 2005, has never forgotten the generosity shown to him by the Contes. During the war he carried out missions in Malta, Gibraltar, across Italy, Algiers and Yugoslavia, but it is his time on Ischia that remains closest to his heart.

He has returned to see his old friends on several occasions, and Pippo and his wife even came over to the UK when Arthur and Freda celebrated their golden wedding anniversary a few years ago.

But his Heroes Return-funded visit proved particularly poignant as he knew it would probably be his last. “I look back with pride to have served my country on that ship alongside some of the best pals I’ve ever known,” he says.

“I have such fond memories of Ischia. It’s very moving to go back there and see those children grown up and doing so well. There’s only two of us left now from the ship, but I know that all the lads would be so happy to see how the island is thriving.

“It was an honour to serve and I saw so many wonderful places, but it is the memories of Ischia and the great friends I made there that will be with me forever.”

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