A Northern Ireland WWII veteran has made an emotional journey to re-visit old friends and memories thanks to a Big Lottery Fund grant.
Ninety-year-old Royal Royal Air Force veteran Lithgow ‘John’ McFarland was awarded a grant from our Heroes Return 2 programme to return to his flight base in England to commemorate the battles he fought in and the comrades he lost during the Second World War.
John’s story is an exciting and very moving one . When he decided to join up in 1940 he could never have imagined the adventure which lay ahead. But the fact that a young man of just 18, son of a L/Derry farmer and more used to hand-milking the cows, ended up shot down and imprisoned in an infamous Nazi stalag is a story worth telling.
In June 1941 John was formally called up as a navigator for the 75th New Zealand Squadron. They flew from a remote based near Ely in East Anglia and took part in mining perations, as well as drops to the French Resistance. But it was during one of theose missions that his plane was shot down.
“Everything happened so fast,” he explains. “We had to bail out and use our parachutes. The parachute wrappers used to put little notes in with the silk saying things like ‘all the best’! Only three of us survived that night – the rear gunner’s parachute failed to open. That could have been any one of us for you just grabbed a parachute on your way out to board the aircraft.”
John was captured by the Nazis and sent to a prisoner of war camp where he spent the rest of the war and experienced some terrible hardships.“I’ve never experienced cold like it. One POW found a rat and held onto it just to keep his hands warm!” he recalls.
He has since kept in touch with other ex servicemen and last year, on a trip funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, visited his old Ely base. “It was a great experience to go back to the base and we were very well looked after. We enjoyed it immensely and it brought back old memories,” says John.
“I appreciate very much that the Big Lottery Fund gives people like us a chance to remember those times and those friends again, for the bonds of war are very strong.
To read more about John’s compelling story and to find out about the funding available from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme go to: http://bit.ly/wLGXcZ