Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

Familes of WWII veterans to hear messages home for first time in 70 years

December 24th, 2015

Designed partly as propaganda to show cheery soldiers having the time of their lives, they were carefully choreographed to send personal messages back to their home towns.

More than 600 examples of the films, lost for decades, were rediscovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during a refurbishment of the building years ago.

They will now be broadcast for the first time since the Second World War in a new Channel 4 programme, entitled Calling Blighty.

Channel 4 and the North West Film Archive have already put out on appeal seeking veterans who served in India, Burma and Sri Lanka and their families, with the hopes of including their reaction in a final broadcast.

Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF asks his wife to keep his bed warm for him The reels include footage from Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF, who tells his family: “I hope you are all right at home. I’m not doing so bad out here. It’s a bit warm. Getting decent grub, but missing the old fish and chips and a pint now and then, you know.”

With a cheeky look to camera, he tells his wife: “Anyway, keep the bed warm until I get home and we’ll get up them stairs. Cheerio”

Sam Marshall, a Gunner from the 21/8 Rajput HAA Regiment, told his family back in Manchester: “Well mother, Sam calling. I hope you’re quite well and in the pink.”

Other men are seen playing darts, polishing their specs and larking around in the background.

The messages are just two of hundreds recorded between 1944 and 1946 by the Directorate of Army Welfare in India.

At the time, British troops were stationed in India, Burma and Sri Lanka, fighting on even as Europe celebrated the end of war in what has become known as The Forgotten Army.

Without the possibility of home leave, and in an atmosphere where disease was rife and morale low, the Ministry of Defence embarked on a scheme to boost them with filmed messages to home.

Taking up to three months to arrive, with some servicemen dying before the messages got home, families and friends were invited to local cinemas to catch a glimpse of them.

These particular films were found on 25 reels in rusting film canisters in the basement of Manchester Town Hall, with paperwork detailing the names, ranks, regiments and serial numbers of participants surviving alongside it.

Steve Hawley, professor at the Manchester School of Art, said: “I saw an amazing film of servicemen in the second World War speaking to their loved ones, and mentioned this to Marion Hewitt, the Director of the North West Film Archive.

“To my delight, she told me that three decades previously, a pile of rusting film canisters had been discovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during refurbishment, and these were about to be thrown out when they were rescued by the Archive.”

Calling Blighty will air in early 2016 on Channel 4. The film is produced by Oxford Scientific Films.


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Appeal for public to attend World War Two veteran’s funeral

December 7th, 2015

Eric Gill died aged 99 at his home in Edlington, Doncaster, on November 30, and his carer and friend Gwen has launched a Facebook appeal for members of the public to attend his funeral.

Mr Gill was part of the 49th West Riding Infantry and was one of six D-Day veterans from Yorkshire to receive France’s highest military honour, Legion d’Honneur, in April.

The award was given to all surviving British veterans of the 1944 Normandy landings for their efforts in the liberation of France.

“Eric served in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry … he took part in the D-Day and Operation Market Garden and was recently awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French,” says the Facebook appeal.

“Eric only had a small circle of friends and family, some of which are unable to attend his funeral, either due to illness or location.

a great man always talked about his medals and the royal family on the 15 bus when he used to get on, i was thinking…

Posted by Darren Paul Sables on  Monday, 7 December 2015

What a gentleman, will miss all the stories from you, RIP eric,,xx

Posted by Anne Mccormick-green on  Monday, 7 December 2015

“We call upon the entire nation to consider attending his funeral in Doncaster.

“Let us show the world how much respect we have for Eric and the men who helped keep this great nation of ours free!”

His funeral will take place at the Rosehill Crematorium in Doncaster but a date has yet to be set.


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British and Japanese veterans shake hands in Second World War reconciliation event

November 12th, 2015

Mr Welland presented Mr Urayama and Mr Mikio Kinoshita, who served as a sergeant in the Japanese Railway Construction Army on the infamous Burma Railway, with photos of the Battle of Kohima memorial.

In return, Mr Urayama gave the British veteran a specially made tie, while Mr Kinoshita presented him with a traditional wooden doll made by his daughter.

Mr Welland, from Colchester, served in a special forces unit in Norway before being transferred to the Far East with the Royal Berkshire Regiment and sent to halt the Japanese advance into India.

The twin clashes of Imphal and Kohima were fought between early April and late June 1944 and involved heavily outnumbered British and Indian troops desperately fighting to deny the Japanese attackers the high ground.

The Japanese were forced to retreat south and the battle is considered the turning point in the land war in south-east Asia because it demonstrated that the Japanese were not invincible.

Mr Welland admitted that he suffered nightmares for many years after the war and recalled stepping over countless bodies on the battlefield. He travelled to Japan for the first time last year after meeting the daughter of a Japanese veteran at a meeting of the Burma Star Association.

The year, he attended a Remembrance Day memorial service on Wednesday at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in the Hodogaya district of Yokohama, and said he intended to return to build bridges with more Japanese veterans in the future.

“I want to keep doing things like this for a few more years, if I can,” he said. “It just keeps getting better.”


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Voices of Remembrance: Veterans of World War Two describe their experiences

November 7th, 2015

Ammunition was limited though and pilots like Mr Farnes could only fire for around fifteen seconds in total before they ran out of bullets. “You would come down (on an enemy plane) have a quick burst of four or five seconds and then possibly break away and have a look round,” said Mr Farnes, “and if it was clear you’d go back and have another go.”

Laurie Weeden was also a pilot but his plane was a glider, flown into occupied France on D-Day. In the back of his Horsa glider he carried a jeep and an anti tank gun to be used by the Allies to recapture Northern France. “Ahead of us we could see the bombing of the Merville Battery,” he says, describing the coastal fortifications the Germans had set up to defend the coast, “ a line of tracer went up in front of us and as it hadn’t hit me I presumed it was (aimed for) the chap ahead of me. Or perhaps it was a German aiming at me and was not a very good shot.”

David Burke

Having trained with the Post Office before the war, David Burke arrived in Normandy as a signals sergeant on ‘D-Day + 2’, attached to Canadian forces.

In the subsequent advance through northern Germany, he witnessed Bergen-Belsen.

‘I’ll tell you about concentration camps: if you’re downwind of it, it can sicken you. You never forget the smell.’

Servicemen and women from the two World Wars and later conflicts will be remembered on Sunday at memorial services across the country, with the main service taking place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.


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Prince Harry meets veterans and pays tribute to bomb disposal experts during service at St Pauls

October 26th, 2015

In a poignant address, Mr Kirkpatrick told the congregation: “It is extremely difficult to put into words what Jamie’s loss has meant to us, his family and his many friends.

Prince Harry arrives at St.Pauls (AP)

“We recall many family celebrations and events that would, under normal circumstances, be a source of happiness, but which are now inevitably a source of sadness too.

“We continue to reflect on all the ongoing events that he is now not around to witness and therefore seem somehow incomplete.”

Cpl Kirkpatrick was born in Edinburgh and lived in Llanelli in South Wales. Harry spoke to his family, including his young daughter Polly, at the end of the service.

Wearing a blue civilian suit with three medals pinned to his chest, Harry also spoke to former servicemen badly injured while serving in the forces.

They included Sappers Clive Smith, 30, from Walsall in the West Midlands, and Jack Cummings, 27, from Didcot in Oxfordshire. Both men lost their legs on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Mr Smith said he chatted with Harry about the Prince’s Invictus Games for injured servicemen, having taken part last year in the handcycling events.

“He is always very approachable and interested in what you have to say,” Mr Smith said.

Harry meets former bomb-disposal personnell at St.Pauls (Getty)

Discussing the service, he said: “It was quite emotional. It brings back memories of events you would rather forget but it was a very good service.”

Serving and retired members of the EOD community will deliver accounts of the conflicts and the part played by EOD units.

Officially formed in October 1940, the original Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit played an important role in the Second World War, dealing with tens of thousands of unexploded bombs in the UK and overseas.

Since then, bomb disposal has expanded from the Royal Engineers to function across the armed forces.

Mr Holland, best known for his long-running BBC Two music programme, has been honorary Colonel of the 101 Engineer Regiment since 2012.

Prince Harry leaves St.Pauls (PA)

He told the congregation that from its origins in the Second World War “this story of human courage is set in such contrast to the evil of indiscriminate destruction; and of the danger of unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices, and mines that remain such a threat to life and limb.”

He added: “The story of the men and women who have worked in explosive ordnance disposal is the story of teamwork and bravery, and often of great personal cost and the ultimate sacrifice.”

He also said it was important to remember we had once been “on the other side” and offer remembrance for German civilians who “still live with the legacy of our own weapons dropped in towns and cities that we once targeted for destruction in the battle against tyranny.”


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VJ Day veterans remember their war: ‘We knew what we were doing was vital’

August 16th, 2015

But following the Japanese surrender, Mr Giddings was dispatched to assist the Dutch colonial government in Indonesia, then facing a nationalist insurgency for independence.

Back in 1940, at the start of it all, he had lied in order to do his bit. Aged 17, Mr Giddings headed to his nearest RAF recruitment station, in Gloucester, and told them he was 18 – allowing him to sign up. He said: “ After the Battle of Britain I thought ‘I’ve got to get in there, the Air Force needs me.’”

Following basic training in Skegness the teenager was among the first to put his name down when the call came for volunteers for overseas duty and in December 1941 he was posted to Air Headquarters Singapore.

He was lucky not to be captured before his war had even begun. On its way to Singapore his ship fortuitously broke down and when the rest of the convoy – which had sailed ahead to the British colony – was captured by the Japanese, it managed to make its way to Burma instead.

Here Mr Giddings fought with 17 Squadron, flying a Hawker Hurricane fighter. Overwhelmed by the Japanese in 1942, British forces retreated to India, where Mr Giddings took part in the four-month long defence of Agatala.

But his most dangerous mission was yet to come. In 1944 he signed up for “volunteers for hazardous duty” and found himself pitched into the battle of Kohima, north east India, where the Japanese were attempting to capture a key ridge held by British and Indian troops.

It was the task of Mr Giddings and his fellow volunteers to keep the defenders supplied, something they managed to do until the Japanese retreated on June 22 that year.

He rejoined 17 Squadron, this time flying Spitfires, and took part in the battle of Mandalay, which saw the Japanese overwhelmed by Allied forces – thanks in part to British supremacy in the air.

The battle, which raged from January to March 1945, proved a turning point in the war in the Far East and Mr Giddings and his squadron were subsequently ordered to take part in the recapture of Singapore, which had fallen to the Japanese in ignominious circumstances three years earlier.

By the time the men got to Singapore however, the Americans had dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the Japanese surrendered, bringing the war to an end, and Mr Giddings and his comrades were met with no opposition.

With the war over Mr Giddings was given two weeks leave and hitchhiked back to Britain, only to be sent back to the far east to help Dutch forces fight what was ultimately a losing battle against Indonesian independence. It was, the 92-year-old now says, “almost as bad as Burma”.

After leaving the RAF in 1947 Mr Giddings, who joined fellow veterans in Saturday’s VJ parade along Whitehall, worked in engineering and insurance, while also serving as a civilian volunteer in the Royal Observer Corps as part of Britain’s Cold War defences. He went on to become Mayor of Banbury and is now the chairman of the Burma Star Association. In 2003 he was made an MBE for his services to the association.

THE SOLDIER

Dan Chapman, 92

Dan Chapman, aged 21 and in Wivenhoe on Friday (Martin Rose)

Dan Chapman was among thousands of British troops at sea preparing to invade Malaysia when he heard it was all over.

As the men of his 26th Indian Division braced themselves for the bitter fighting that would follow Operation Zipper’s imminent seaborne assault on Port Swettenham, south west of Kuala Lumpur, word spread that Japan had surrendered.

Mr Chapman, now 92, said: “This time 70 years ago we were waiting on board ship to land against the Japanese in Malaya. We were about to do the landing when the atom bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered. We were saved from invading at the critical last minute, saving many Japanese and Indian Army lives. I felt somewhat relived, to put it mildly. I think we were all pleased that it was over.”

With the planned invasion averted, the 26th Indian Division was diverted to Indonesia to take the surrender of the Japanese in Sumatra.

“We weren’t sure whether we were going to be met by bullets or surrender, so we were a bit apprehensive,” said Mr Chapman. “But it went off all right and eventually all the Japanese surrendered and were sent back to Japan.”

But Mr Chapman’s war continued for another 12 months, as the 26th Indian Division took part in anti-insurgency operations on behalf of the Dutch colonial government. “My war just carried on,” he said.

Born and bred in Barking, east London, he had joined the British Army in September 1941, just before his 18th birthday, having already experienced the terror of the Blitz and served in the Local Defence Volunteers and Home Guard.

After a year in the Royal Corps of Signals and the Royal Army Service Corps he was transferred to the South Staffordshire Infantry Regiment and posted to Bangalore, where he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Garhwal Rifles, reaching the rank of Captain.

Mr Chapman, who was awarded the Burma Star and left the Army in 1947, went on to have three children and six grandchildren with Eileen, his wife of 65 years.

Seventy years on the retired bank manager joined other veterans at the Wivenhoe Branch of The Royal British Legion in remembering those who did not survive the war,

“I will mostly be thinking about lost comrades and some of the good times,” he said. “And just being alive.”

THE RADIO OPERATOR

Gladys Wilkins, 92

Gladys Wilkins as a young woman and at her home in Redbridge on Friday (Julian Simmonds)

Women like Gladys Wilkins played a key role in the war – a role only recognised in recent years for its true worth alongside the exploits and bravery of the front line troops.

A Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) radio operator, first at Flowerdown, near Winchester, then in Columbo, Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – it was her job to intercept enemy massages and relay them back to Bletchley Park for decoding.

The Flowerdown intercepts allowed the RAF to bomb German U-boats whose signals had been overheard by operators such as Mrs Wilkins. When she was transferred to Columbo, in January 1944, the coded messages she intercepted from Japanese forces again provided priceless intelligence for the allies.

“We were able to pin point a lot of the things they were doing,” said Mrs Wilkins, now 92. “We knew that what we were doing in helping defeat the enemy was vital.”

Just how vital became only too clear when the war ended and freed allied prisoners of war began to arrive in Ceylon en route to their home countries. Mrs Wilkins and her colleagues were there to meet them at the quayside to try and help the men, emaciated from their pitiless ordeal, become acclimatised to liberty once again.

To this day the thought of the men’s skeletal features still reduces Mrs Wilkins to tears.

“We’d meet the POW ships coming back to Columbo and take the men for a coffee, just to try and make them feel normal again. Seeing them come down the gangway in the state they were in was terrible. I shall never forget that,” she said. “We didn’t want to upset them, so we didn’t mention things like the Blitz or what had happened at home.”

While returning to Britain by boat, in 1948, Mrs Wilkins met her future husband, Stanley, who had fought behind enemy lines with the Royal Marines Special Operations (385 Detachment), carrying out sabotage raids after being dropped by submarine or boat near Japanese occupied territory.

The couple, who went on to have three children, moved to south west England, where Mr Wilkins worked as a vet before joining Dorset police and rising to the rank of Chief Inspector. He died eight years ago.

Before joining Saturday’s VJ commemoration parade, organised with help of Royal British Legion, Mrs Wilkins, who now lives in Redbridge, east London, said: “I’m very proud of what my husband did, but I’m also proud of all the people who never came back. And I shall be wearing my medals with pride.”


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VJ Day 70th anniversary: a veteran’s story

August 14th, 2015

The Radar Technician was soon diverted to Singapore at short notice to fight the Japanese.

Gordon was on board a ship bound for Singapore

The group of ten men in his convoy were sent to guard a refinery armed only with one service rifle and ten rounds of ammunition each.

After the refinery was taken by Japanese paratroopers, Gordon and his group of men were forced to flee to Java – only to be captured by the Japanese and taken to a PoW camp in Hiroshima.

Only when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima was Gordon freed

He would remain in the camp until he was 25, when the Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I still have nightmares about this but was lucky to come home. Some people say they should not have dropped the Atom Bomb on Japan,” says Gordon.

“In my opinion if they had not nearly all the PoWs would have died or been killed by the Japanese.”


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The bravest of all are those veterans who can keep a secret

November 7th, 2014

By day Roberts was a humble banker, but his alter ago, Jack King, was central to national security. When his role was revealed, his daughter was astonished. “We’re still reeling from it,” she said. Her father was not around to tell her himself, for he had taken his secret to the grave, in 1972.

Suburban bank clerk Eric Roberts

And while it would be bad news for spy novelists and espionage thriller directors if everyone kept tight lipped for ever, I cannot help feeling astonishing, redoubled admiration for those brave souls who are not only prepared to risk life and limb in the service of their country, but also willing to forgo any applause for having done so.

That is selfless heroism of a rare kind. Yet it is the heroism that I saw time and again as obits editor at the Telegraph, when stories of eye-popping wartime bravery emerged only because documents were found after someone’s death. We also frequently wrote sentences such as: “Her military exploits only came to light when, for a school project, her grandchild asked her about what she had done during the war. It was the first time she had discussed it in 55 years.”

Sometimes we ran something along the lines of: “He rarely discussed his service after the war, merely stating that he had fought alongside many brave men.” The full details only emerged in records held at the National Archives.

You have to admire that reticence, diffidence even. Take Rose Robertson, for example. She died in 2011 aged 94.

“Sworn to lifelong secrecy,” our obit stated, “she underwent tough counter-interrogation training. For the rest of her life she was very reluctant to speak about her secret work. On the rare occasions when she did, it was with self-effacing modesty, though it was clear that her memories caused her considerable distress.”

Doubtless many spies and special forces soldiers are left in “considerable distress” by the memories of what they have gone though. How that distress must be exacerbated by the loneliness of not being able to tell anyone.

War correspondents, who suffer their fair share of PTSD, sometimes say that they are spared the worst mental hangover because they relentlessly tell and retell the stories of their scrapes. In fact there is little they like better. Rob O’Neill didn’t have that option, that comfort. And there seems little doubt that he was an extremely courageous man. How can anyone who has endured less possibly condemn him?

But that only confirms the point that the greatest heroes are those who you will never know about, at least in their life times, because they just don’t talk about it. They all deserve a medal. A big one. They just won’t ever be able to wear it in public.

Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer… – An Anthology of The Telegraph’s Greatest Ever Obituaries


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Squatters take over British Legion building, barring D-day veterans from event

June 12th, 2014

The squatters refused to let in members of the legion and brought in mattresses, computers, games consoles and a dog to the building in Lewisham High Street in south London.

The squatters, who were mainly Polish and in their twenties, left a mess behind in the building and were eventually evicted by the Metropolitan Police following claims they had stolen gas and electricity.

Christine Rosenbaum, 67, told the Evening Standard: “They [the squatters] said they had nowhere to go and we were unable to get them out because of a change in the law.

“The windows were broken from where they had got in. They had gone through all the cupboards and the drawers to see what they could find.

“It was very messy and the kitchen was a state.

It was very upsetting because we didn’t know if we would get the building back.”

Doreen Hughes, 77, secretary of the East and Central Lewisham branch, said they hoped to raise enough money to redevelop the building and help others, including younger veterans.”

A spokeswoman for the Met Police said they spoke to the squatters and “asked them to leave.”

She added: “The rightful occupier is now back in the premises.”


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Reliving the war takes a toll on veterans

June 9th, 2014

Sixty-one years later and aged 92, he retraced that journey and recorded his thoughts and memories in a series of articles for the Telegraph.

Bill always had a simple matter-of-fact use of language but, increasingly, the tone of the articles was unrelentingly bleak. The photographs that accompanied the daily reports seemed to suggest his increasing frailty. It was clear that the journey was shining an all-too-bright light into his memory, highlighting things that had been laid to rest there for decades.

Bill was never one to throw in the towel. So, when many would have come home early, he pressed on. His war had appeared to end in triumph with the award of the Military Cross and a citation that highlighted personal bravery and loyalty to his men. But for him it was a disaster. In April 1945, one month before VE Day, Bill’s company were led by faulty intelligence into an ambush at a bridge over the Twente Canal. His actions led to his MC, but in the engagement 22 of his men were killed and another 20 wounded. The dead included Bill’s two favourite subalterns, both in their early twenties. The death of these young men, who so nearly survived the war to build new lives with the ebullience of youth, traumatised their commanding officer, who regarded their loss as his responsibility.

Bill privately considered his years as a soldier to have been the most admirable of his career; surprising, perhaps, for the only man to have ever been a cabinet minister and editor of a national daily newspaper. But his recollections of the war years were hardly ever revealed – and only to close family. They were sealed up by scars inflicted at the end.

Before Bill left for his VE Day memorial expedition, he was still formidably engaged with life. Only a year earlier he had marked his 90th birthday by flying to Darfur in Africa to report on that country’s humanitarian crisis. But from his return home in 2005 until his death two years later, the enthusiasm and tenacity that had driven him on ebbed inexorably away.

So as their ranks thin like falling leaves, we should think carefully about how we expect our veterans to engage with ceremonies and anniversaries. For us it is a proper and laudable marking of history. For some of them, as with Bill, it can be a journey into a past that they have been relieved to leave behind. They were there, we were not.

George Plumptre is chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme


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