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


Chance meeting 67 years on for lottery-funded D-day duo by The National Lottery Community Fund
October 17, 2011, 10:43 am
Filed under: D-Day, France, Normandy | Tags: , , , , ,

Clifford Baker (left) and Bill Betts (right)

Two veterans of the Normandy landings have been reunited for the first time in 67 years following a chance meeting on return journey to France funded by the Heroes Return 2 programme.

Bill Betts, 88, and Clifford Baker, 98, landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, but would not see each other again until their paths crossed at Arromanches war museum earlier this year.

The pair received separate grants for their poignant trips and had never expected to meet each other after all these years. The last time they’d been together was in the relative safety of sand dunes as German mortars screamed overhead. Mr Betts had been injured by enemy fire and was told by his captain to stay put while Mr Baker and the rest of the Essex Yeomanry continued their assault further up the beach.

Warwick-based veteran, Bill Betts, 88, joined the Essex Yeomanry at the age of 19 in December 1941 – training for over two years as a radio operator in preparation for the D-Day Landings. When the day of invasion arrived, Bill and his comrades boarded landing craft in Poole, Dorset, before linking up with other regiments further down the coast in Southampton. From there they began the perilous push across the Channel towards the Normandy beaches where many men would sadly lose their lives.

He recalls: “I suffered terrible sea-sickness on that rough crossing which luckily took my mind off what was lay in store for us. As a radio operator on one of the craft, I was responsible for checking map references so the shells we fired on the beaches from three to four miles out at sea hit their intended targets and not our own boys. It was quite a responsibility for a lad my age.

“When we made it to Gold Beach and left the landing craft with bullets and bombs exploding around us, we followed a tape marking a safe route past land mines buried beneath the sand. I made it as far as some dunes a bit further up but then felt a searing pain in my right leg – I’d been shot and could go no further.

“I was told by my captain that I’d have to stay behind for the time-being while everyone moved on ahead. I agreed with him that it was the right thing to do but I was angry with myself for getting wounded so early – I’d trained for such a long time in preparation for D-Day and here I was immobilised. That was the last time I saw Clifford until I returned to France this year to remember those who weren’t as fortunate as I was.”

Bill had been signing the leather-bound book of remembrance at Arromanches D-Day Museum when he spotted Clifford’s handwritten entry directly above his.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw his name and a mention of the Essex Yeomanry in the book, but there it was in black and white. I’d been given a commemorative medal by the Mayor of Arromanches so asked her just when Mr. Baker had been into the museum that day. When she said only twenty minutes before and that his coach to Port Talbot was now boarding in the car park, I decided that I had to take the chance to catch him.

“The lady mayor ran off and thankfully managed to halt his coach before it left,” he continues. “After 67 years we were face to face again so you can imagine just how emotional that was. We had a chat about D-Day and the events that happened such a long time ago. The memories of it all are still very clear in my mind.

“I never imagined that we’d see each other after all that time, let alone in a place so close to where we were last together. After I’d said my goodbyes and boarded the coach again everyone onboard broke into a roar of cheers and applause. It made my trip that bit more special.”

After recovering from his war wounds back on home soil, Bill rejoined the Essex Yeomanry in France. He fought on with them through Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany.

Surviving countless skirmishes with the enemy and some of the coldest winter weather on record, Bill was finally demobbed in December 1946 and in later years enjoyed a successful career in the motor industry which allowed him to travel across the world once again.



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

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/isleofman/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8977000/8977199.stm



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

http://www2.biglotteryfund.org.uk/pr_220110_uk_hr_last_hurrah_for_wwii_veterans



Jack Fowler serving in the Army during World War Two by The National Lottery Community Fund
December 3, 2009, 10:35 am
Filed under: memorial | Tags: , , , , , ,

This picture shows a young Jack Fowler in the middle of his friends that he saw service with in the Second World War



Jo Wood from BIG’s East of England office attends Jack Fowler filming by The National Lottery Community Fund
December 3, 2009, 10:29 am
Filed under: Far East | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jack Fowler from Oulton Broad near Lowestoft was a prisoner-of-war at Kinkaski prison camp in Taiwan for over three years. The grant enabled Jack to return to Taiwan and Hong Kong with his wife Pearl and daughter Bridget at the beginning of November.  When I visited Jack he was being filmed for one of the short films BIG is producing about veterans returning to the places where they saw combat. It was utterly amazing to hear about Jack’s experiences that he remembers so well, and that vividly depict the horror and chaos of war – experiences that I can only imagine. Jack also showed me many photographs from his days in the army – some of him a young boy of 16 technically too young to enlist but he did so nevertheless. He also showed me a photograph of his father, a soldier in the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) in the First World War.

Jack’s spoke of his trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong as atime for him to remember the men, some of them his good friends, that didn’t make it back from the POW camp, and also to meet up with the men who survived and share their stories.

It was an honour to meet Jack and his wife Pearl who made the film crew and I very welcome. Jack was a natural in front of the camera too which made life very easy for the film crew!



Final thoughts by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:47 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Our trip to Egypt was a once in a lifetime experience. It was fascinating for my father to re-visit and for myself to experience just a very small part of what he, as a young man, must have endured, and maybe bringing just a small understanding of the effects this terrible war had on the lives of so many of his generation.



How the war affected both sides by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:46 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We also visited the Italian and German war graves. Originally these graves had been together but the German cemetery has been moved and stands just off the shoreline. Both of these are also beautifully maintained monuments to all those young people who lost their lives in this terrible conflict



Memories of battle by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:45 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

At El Alamein Museum we saw a 3 ton truck that was exactly what my father and his fellow soldiers had made their home whilst in the desert. They would dig into the sand and drive their lorry in, covering themselves with a tarpaulin at night so as to be warm and not visible to the enemy. It was said with meaning that really the real enemy at this time was the desert.

The soldiers would not always know where the enemy actually was. Although appearing flat, the desert is not at all, and has many ridges that can hide tanks and soldiers. Also, when Germans captured British vehicles they would sometimes use these in battles so it was not always possible to recognise the real enemy.



Food for thought by The National Lottery Community Fund
November 26, 2009, 11:44 am
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Lunch this day consisted of tahini and cold chips, cheese rolls, cucumber and a tomato with an unusual fruit drink as accompaniment. This was taken in the middle of the desert, perched on an extremely uncomfortable rock in 40 degrees heat. But this couldn’t even begin to compare in discomfort to what my father and his generation must have borne. We didn’t complain. We were beginning at this stage to desire some different kind of fayre for our meals but bore this also with fortitude when my father explained that his daily diet was corned beef and hard taq biscuits that the soliders had to crush with water in order to make them edible. He also said that he only got one pint of water a day, and he recalls that sometimes he had to give some of this to the cook.



Visiting the Cemeteries by The National Lottery Community Fund

The cemeteries play host to the dead from many faiths:- Jews, Muslims, Christians, and are all beautifully maintained. This we found surprising as we had only expected the war graves to be so well tended.

The War grave we visited this morning was the final resting place for not only the fallen of WWII but also, the battles of a bygone age – now seen only in films. Napoleon fought battles along these shores and many dead from this time can be found in the graveyards. Whilst my father inspected the row upon row of pristine and highly respected graves of WWII I found myself very touched by a tomb dedicated to the family of one Daniel Frazer. The epitaph read:-

Maggie Frazer died 1892         34 years

Also lie here her children

Elizabeth         died 1887        11 months

Isabella            died 1891        6 years

Daniel              died 1891        3 years

“Sleep on loved ones and take your rest, I loved you well, but Jesus loved you best.”

Other inscriptions I found touching included, “He does not die who lives on in the hearts of loved ones.”

We both were wondering what these cities/ places must have been like in 1892.