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

Scottish veterans return to where they served by The National Lottery Community Fund

Veteran holds medals

The Big Lottery Fund today announces its latest round of funding made through Heroes Return 2, which enables veterans to embark on poignant visits back to the places where they saw action almost 70 years ago.

John Wotherspoon, 88, from Bonnybridge in Stirlingshire, made a special trip back to the beaches of Normandy in June this year.  Thomas served in the 15th Division of the Scottish Royal Engineers and landed in France two weeks after the D Day Landings on June, 20 1944.

John said, “A lot of people don’t know but there was still a lot of fighting going on.  We were a mile or so behind the infantry guys; the Germans were really organised and we were being attacked from all sides.  I was only 18 at the time and had never really experienced anything like that before. I have been back to Normandy before but on this trip I got to do things that I didn’t get a chance to do the first time. It meant a lot for me to go back again.  It’s really hard to explain to people but it still makes me emotional after all those years.”

Rose Gallagher, from Troon is going to South Africa in January next year.  Rose said, “My husband, Thomas, was in the Royal Air Force and spent over three years of the war there training pilots. He died in 1992 but he used to talk about the place a lot. He loved the country but unfortunately he never got the chance to go back.

“He applied for a job there shortly after the War ended and even had an interview lined up but he met me and that was that. I’m going back with our daughter and we would like to try and go to some of the places he spoke about. It’s lovely to get this experience and also have the chance to feel close to him again.”

John and Rose are amongst six Scottish Second World War veterans who will be making poignant commemorative visits as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme.

Big Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said, “We are extremely proud to support veterans and their families to reflect on their experiences of the Second World War. The heroism of that time should never be forgotten and the stories we hear from those who served with such distinction are testament to that.

“Earlier this year the Big Lottery Fund extended the programme to enable veterans to apply for funding to make second trips. In this way, Lottery funding continues to assist these modest heroes and their families join up with their comrades and revisit the places where they demonstrated such dedication and bravery.

For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn

“Being a Wren sounded glamorous” by The National Lottery Community Fund

Former Wren Wendy Hogarth, 89, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, is about to take her first trip through the Heroes Return programme and is urging other veterans to apply for funding for a first or second visit.

Wendy Hogarth (photo credit - Dan James)

Wendy Hogarth (photo credit – Dan James)

Wendy joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and was trained as a radar mechanic, testing equipment for aircraft. She met her husband George, a Scottish RAF night fighter pilot, at RAF Defford and they married four months later in September 1944.

However they were soon separated when Wendy was posted to Arbroath, Scotland. While on leave, George visited her in Arbroath and the couple enjoyed New Year’s Eve together.

Those few days together meant so much to them that Wendy is making a Heroes Return visit to Arbroath, and the Victorian mansion Letham Grange where she was stationed.

She said: “Worcestershire is about as far as from the sea as it is possible to be, but I thought being a Wren sounded glamorous and I had visions of being a member of a boat crew. I was told I would be a radio mechanic as I had studied Maths and Physics.”

After learning some basics like soldering joints at Chelsea Polytechnic she was sent to HMS Ariel in Lancashire for three months of practical training.

She recalled: “I was then sent back to Worcestershire to RAF Defford and a top secret experimental radar establishment at nearby Malvern. I didn’t really know how important radar was going to be but we knew how serious it was when we had to sign secrecy documents.

“It was at Defford where my life changed for I met a handsome RAF pilot who was resting there and we got married. He flew as a night fighter in Mosquitoes. Later on his role shifted to intruder patrols – he used to fly out looking for targets to bomb such as trains and ammunition depots.

“Shortly after we married I was posted to Arbroath. Being apart was nothing unusual during the war. I never worried too much about him – I guess we were young and very positive and never thought anything would happen to us. We wrote to each other a lot – loved ones writing to each other every day was not unusual during the war.

“After we married I spent New Year in Scotland for the first time. George came up on leave and we stayed in a hotel on the main square. What a difference New Year’s Eve was – the town went mad – dancing in the streets and bands playing.”

George passed away in August 2011 just before his 90th birthday. Now Wendy is planning to return to Arbroath and Letham Grange, to revisit the places the couple spent during that New Year period.

She said: “Those days were very important to us – when we bought our first house we called it ‘Letham’ and our second ‘Letham House’. This is why I want to return to Arbroath. Those few days together that New Year were very special.”

For more information about Heroes Return, call the advice line on 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn