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


Remembrance Day trips for Far East POWs by Big Lottery Fund

Hands holding medals

More than 54,000 WW2 veterans, widows, spouses and carers have embarked on commemorative trips

As the nation prepares for poignant ceremonies to commemorate the heroism of a special generation on this Remembrance Sunday (Nov 10th), veterans across the country will be embarking on emotional journeys both in the UK and across the world to pay their respects to those who lost their lives over 70 years ago.

The Big Lottery Fund has to date awarded over £26.6 million to more than 54,000 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers across the UK under its Heroes Return 2 programme.

Among those who have received an award is the National FEPOW Fellowship Welfare and Remembrance Association for a journey to Singapore and Thailand. The group, nearly all in their 90s, will be attending remembrance ceremonies in Singapore, and will travel to the infamous ‘Death Railway’ camp in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, scene of the Bridge over the River Kwai, to mark 11 November Remembrance Day commemorations.

Travelling with the group is 93-year old veteran POW William Mundy from Dartford, Kent. An RAF Aircraftman, William was 20 years old when he sailed from Gourock in Scotland on 3rd December 1941, on the City of Canterbury, bound for Kuala Lumpur. But as the Japanese made rapid advances through Malaya, William was re-routed to Batavia, (now Jakarta).

However, RAF operational life on the island of Java would prove to be short lived as William and his comrades were taken prisoner by the Japanese in Garoet, after the Dutch forces capitulated. Sent to Boei Glodok prison in February 1942, William then spent 1943-1944 incarcerated on Java, after which he was taken to Ambon, and then back to Java for another six weeks.

The Java POWs were set to work building airfields with ‘chunkels’ (wide  hoes) used to chip away at the coral which was then hauled in baskets slung on poles. Only a third returned from these camps, as the death rate was one of the highest with the prisoners suffering constant maltreatment, beatings, starvation and illnesses.

Veteran holds medals

More than £26.6 million has been distributed in grants by Heroes Return

He recalls; “We had to make a two days march from Ambon harbour to Liang, where we built an airstrip.

“On route to Liang is a Christian village, Waai. The villagers there took great risks, when we were working on the road through the village, to pass titbits under the walls of the hut to us.”

“No matter where I was in prison, the diet was the same; breakfast pint of steamed rice and spoonful of sugar, mid day three quarters of a pint steamed rice and “green” water and in the evening one pint of steamed rice and the “greens” that had been cooked in the mid-day water.

“Only those who were working were allocated food, so we needed to share ours with those in hospital or otherwise sick.”

“In Ambon it was breakfast before 8am and then a march of about three quarters of a mile to the airstrip, dressed only with a strip of material between the legs and so far as we could some sort of foot wear. Walking on the coral was soul destroying. There was a brief break between when we got there and started “work” and the arrival of the mid-day meal and another in the afternoon before returning to camp about six or six–thirty for the evening meal. Treatment, as experienced by all the prisoners was harsh as the ‘powers that be’ wanted the work finished yesterday.”

In June 1944 William was put on a transport ship destined for the Thai-Burma ‘Death Railway’ but was taken off the boat at Singapore and hospitalised at Changi suffering from Beriberi disease.  After six months in hospital he was transferred to the local Kranji prison as part of a forced labour group digging into the granite hillside to form bomb proof storage chambers.

After the Japanese surrender, William returned to the UK via Colombo, Suez and Liverpool on a Dutch boat in October 1945.

William said: “I think most people would ask why on earth I would want to go back to where I had such a traumatic experience. There are the war graves, where some of the 775 out of the 1,000 who didn’t survive are buried, and I would appreciate the opportunity to reflect on their sacrifice. ”

He continued: “Visiting the graves would also provide an opportunity to thank Almighty God for his grace, mercy, love and preservation which brought me safely back to the UK. I know I can continually do this but on the site would be very appropriate.”

William, who plans to take plenty of photographs to record his experience of the trip said:  “I would like these to be able to give my children and grandchildren the knowledge of what happened.”

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



BIG funding helps Josephine return to recall her ‘Malta Story’ by Big Lottery Fund
February 23, 2012, 12:02 pm
Filed under: Heroes Return | Tags: , , ,

Thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme, a war veteran from North Wales recently returned to her native Malta to recall the role she played in defending the strategically important Mediterranean island from falling into the clutches of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War.  

Malta Story, a classic 1953 British war film depicts the love story between an RAF pilot, played by Alec Guinness, and a Maltese girl during the heroic air defence of Malta when the island was under siege. 

Josephine looks through some old photos and memorabilia from WWII with her son, Paul Roberts.

Josephine looks through some old photos and memorabilia from WWII with her son, Paul Roberts.

This month, 85-year-old Josephine Barber from Rhyl returned to her native Malta with her son, Paul Roberts, to recall her very own ‘Malta Story’, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the love story depicted in the wartime classic. Josephine was a plotter in the Lascaris underground War Rooms during the conflict and had the important job of directing British Forces to engage enemy aircraft and monitor their activity.

Read her story in the Big Lottery Fund newsroom



Stanley McColl and his family revist France where he saw action during WW2 by Big Lottery Fund
November 9, 2010, 4:52 pm
Filed under: D-Day | Tags: , , , , ,

Stanley McColl was a young soldier in 615 Guards, Armoured Division, when his tank landed on Sword Beach on D Day +2 with the objective – to liberate Caen.

With help from the Big Lottery Fund, my sister and I took our dad who is now 85 years old, back to France in October 2010, with a view to revisiting Sword Beach. We flew to Paris and after a couple of days sightseeing, we then took the train to Caen. My dad said “the last time I was here – the place was flattened.”

The next day we had to get a taxi to Bayeux because the trains were off due to the General Strike. Once in Bayeux we spent the morning at the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy. After lunch we met our guide for our afternoon tour of Sword Beach. We were taken first to Pegasus Bridge where we saw one of the gliders, then we went to the German bunker which had a simulation of the noise experienced during the invasion attack on the beach. When we arrived at Sword Beach, the guide took us to the part of the beach where my dad had landed and he asked my dad to tell his story – which everyone on the tour found very moving. After the beach we went to visit the British cemetery and we signed the visitors book.

The following day should have been a nice trip back to Paris by train, but once again we were caught up in strike action. We were very lucky to get the last three seats on a shuttle bus back to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

We had a wonderful visit and we would like to thank the Big Lottery Fund, the staff at Normandy Sightseeing Tours and especially our guide Mathias.



Last hurrah for WW2 veterans by Big Lottery 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



Accomodation available for Veterans travelling to Thailand by Big Lottery Fund
December 14, 2009, 12:09 pm
Filed under: Far East | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Mr John Riggs’s organisation has a building/apartments in Thailand that he would like to offer to any veterans visiting Thailand under the Heroes Return programme. The accommodation will be free. John’s contact details:

John Rigg

Northern School of Asia & Oriental Cooking CIC

Unit 19

Meeting Industrial Estate

Burrow-in-Furness

Cumbria

LA14 4TL

Tel: 01229 829299



Memories of Adrano by Big Lottery Fund
December 9, 2009, 11:43 am
Filed under: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , ,


One of the towns we passed through was called Adrano and the impression it made on me was sufficient to inspire the only poem I have ever written or am likely to write. Apart from a slight alteration to the last few lines it remains as I wrote it some sixty years ago and I print it here without comment.”

Darkness was falling as we entered the town, but t’was light enough still to see
The shattered ruins of what had been, a town, in Sicily.
It wasn’t much to call a town, compared with those of greater size.
It wasn’t built for modern war and now a stinking heap it lies,
Rotting beneath the azure skies, of Sicily.

It seemed as if an angry God had run amok with gory hands,
Then dropped a veil, a canopy, of dirty, blinding, choking sands
And as to wreak his vengeance more
Had propped a body in each door

We drove on by with sober thought,
Of those poor b******s who’d been caught,
We grimaced at the sick, sweet, smell, of this small piece of man made hell
This could be you, the bodies said, this could be you, soon gone, soon dead
We hurried by, enough to be, alive that day, in Sicily”



Jack Fowler serving in the Army during World War Two by Big Lottery 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