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

Heroes Return funding programme shown on BBC by The National Lottery Community Fund
December 16, 2010, 4:46 pm
Filed under: events, Heroes Return | Tags: , , , , ,

Watch the beginning of the National Lottery Draw programme on the BBC for more information about the extension of Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return funding programme.

Watch the programme

heroes return on the National Lottery Draw

BIG extends veteran’s funding by The National Lottery Community Fund
December 9, 2010, 4:17 pm
Filed under: Army, Heroes Return | Tags: , , , ,

The Big Lottery Fund is committing over £1 million in extra good cause funding in the year ahead for the country’s WWII veterans so they can make battlefront commemorative journeys to the places they saw action.

The additional funding comes on the day BIG named the 50,000th individual to benefit from the Heroes Return grant scheme – 91-year old Gordon Mellor, a former RAF bomber command navigator.

Gordon Mellor is awarded a grant to fund the visit he made to pay his respects to those of the fabled Comete resistance group who helped him escape across Nazi-occupied Belgium and France and over the Pyrenees into Spain.

Serving with Bomber Command 103 Squadron, Gordon aged 22 was shot down in November 1942 while his Halifax bomber was returning from a raid over Germany.

He recalls: “Returning from a short night raid over Aachen we were chased by a Messerschmitt 109. I managed to bail out and crashed into a tree. The Flight engineer came out behind me but his parachute failed and he hit a roof on the side of a house and was killed. I saw the plane burning in a field about 2km away. I managed to get out of the tree, stuffing my parachute between the branches. As I stood in the darkness looking at the flames I had the loneliest feeling of all my life. I decided I had to get away as quick as I could so started heading South West across the blackness toward Spain.” 

Gordon’s long journey took him through Belgium, France, over the Pyrenees and then took him to Bilbao, Madrid and finally Gibraltar where he was flown back to Britain in a Dakota.

Recently returning to France to pay his respects to those who helped him escape to freedom, Gordon now 91 said; “It was like going back to meet old friends. The efforts of those people were amazing. They were just ordinary people yet so extraordinary. We can never pay back the debt we owe them.”

Here is a short film from the day…

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Remembering the heroism of WWII Veterans by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 11, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: ceremony, Heroes Return, memorial | Tags: , , ,

As the nation prepares for ceremonies to commemorate the heroism of a special generation on this Remembrance Sunday (Nov 14th), the Big Lottery Fund announces its latest round of funding made today across the UK enabling veterans to embark on poignant visits back to the places they saw action almost 70 years ago.

Remembering the heroism of WWII Veterans

Remembering the heroism of WWII Veterans


Since launching in April 2009, the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme has enabled more than 11,300 veterans, widows, spouses and carers in the UK to go on emotional trips, home and abroad, to honour and remember those that did not return from the battlefields of 1939-1945.

These are very special people and as Remembrance Day approaches we are glad that we can pay tribute to them in this way. A huge debt of gratitude and recognition is owed by today’s society to the men and women who fought across the world during the Second World War. They built the peace and protected the freedoms we enjoy today.

Memories by Lawrence Emerick by The National Lottery Community Fund
August 3, 2010, 10:36 am
Filed under: D-Day, Heroes Return | Tags: , , ,

Lawrence Emerick served in Europe in the Second World War and here he recounts his trip back to France where the D Day landings took place.

‘So after 66 years I saw an advertisement for the 4 day weekend to visit Normandy and the D Day beaches.  I had been thinking about this trip but did not get round to it.  Now I thought it was about time I went back to see how much things had changed.

Obviously they had, there is very little sign of the destruction that occurred  everything seems to have been repaired and in the sunshine it would hard to imagine the utter desolation we had seen.

Our journey took us via Dover and Calais to Caen.  The roads are so much different to 1945, wide and easy to drive along.  Then they were crowded and rather difficult to negotiate.  From our base in Caen out journey took us to the landing beaches and I was particularly interested in  Arromanges Looking over the beach you cannot see anything of the Mulbery Harbour where in June 1945 I had driven onto not knowing what lay before us (at 19 I think it was more apprehension than fear).  Parts of the outer breakwater are still visible but you have to see the models in the museum to realise what a feat of engineering it took to put in place.  From the top of the hill I could see the exit we made from the beach driven on by shouts of the Beachmasters “to get off the beach as quickly as possible”. You can see a section of the Mulbery Harbour behind the museum which houses models which show how much it was used by so much traffic.  We visited the new Pegasus Bridge over the Orme river, where so many paratroopers were lost.  The original bridge is still preserved in a nearby field.  We visited the 5 landing beaches Omaha, Juno. Sword, Gold and Utah where so much carnage took place, now it looks so peaceful in the sunshine with miles of golden sand and sand yachts skipping along.

On to Pointe du Hoc where the only remaining pill box of the Atlantic wall remains.  The bomb craters have been left as they were made a grim reminder of what bombing can do.  Ste Mere Eglise now appears a peaceful village.

The visits to the American war graves cemetery and the British and Commonwealth cemetery brings home the utter futility of war and the suffering it brings.

One headstone read “Driver RASC 19.  Another “Unknown seaman 20” (I was 19).  Standing looking at the rows of headstones made me feel sad and grateful and tearful to the many servicemen and women who lost their lives.

Another visit was the American Air Museum where the town church still sports a parachute hanging from the steeple where the paratrooper got hung up on – he played dead so was not shot at and was rescued.

I am glad I went on this trip at last to see how the museums have preserved the weapons of war and tributes to all who took part from D Day onwards.’

Robert Day by The National Lottery Community Fund
April 30, 2010, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Africa, Heroes Return | Tags: , , ,

Robert Day who featured in our Heroes Return 2 film, where he returned to Egypt, sadly passed away 16th April 2010. Our thoughts are with his family.

War veteran to fly to Burma to honour dead comrades by The National Lottery Community Fund
March 25, 2010, 10:12 am
Filed under: Burma, Far East, Heroes Return | Tags: , , , ,

Read this moving BBC article as David Norman Davies plans on returning the Burma to honour his fallen comrades: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8586591.stm

War veteran’s emotional return to Singapore by The National Lottery Community Fund
February 5, 2010, 11:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jack Fowler served in the Far East during the Second World War before his was captured by the Japanese and taken to a POW camp. This film follows his emotional return to Singapore.

Robert Day returns to the battlefields of Egypt by The National Lottery Community Fund

Robert Day served in World War 2 in Northern Africa as a tank engineer, getting them back to the front line. This film follows his return to El Alamein, Egypt where he visits the battlefields he fought on, military cemeterys and museums.

Fergus Anckorn talks about his experience during the Second World War by The National Lottery Community Fund
January 27, 2010, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Singapore | Tags: , , ,

Watch Fergus Anckorn on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme talking about his time spent in Singapore and Thailand during World War II.

Fergus returned to the Far East in November 2009 with a grant from Heroes Return

Last hurrah for WW2 veterans by The National Lottery Community Fund

Second World War Royal Navy veterans from across the UK are flying out to Singapore and Malaysia next week (28thJanuary) to pay their respects for the final time to the comrades that lost their lives in the Pacific. The veterans are part of a 127 strong party from the British Pacific and East Indies Fleets Association

It is the final time the veterans, most now in their 80s and 90s, are travelling as a group to pay their respects in Singapore and on the Malaysian island of Penang.

One member of the association making the trip is Mr Victor Gray who lives in Plymouth and first joined the Royal Navy in September 1943 just after his 18th birthday.  Victor, who is now 85, was chosen to be trained as a specialist radio operator, intercepting the enemy radio transmissions and in 1944 travelled to the Far East on the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious via the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Victor explains: “We went to India and became part of the East Indies Fleet.  We then set sail for Palembang and in a battle with the Japanese over two or three days we managed to destroy a third of the Japanese oil supplies. After that we travelled down to Sydney where we joined what then became the British Pacific Fleet. It was so hot, you could fry an egg on the flight deck and I actually saw that done more than once.

To find out more about Victor’s story and the Heroes Return 2 programme visit our programme page