World War Two veterans from across Ireland are making emotional journeys to the places where they fought thanks to our funding.
Our Heroes Return 2 programme is allowing George Lemon, 88, from Belfast, George Hopley, 91, from North Down and Ted Jones, 89, from Dublin to revisit their wartime postings across the world, from Florida to the Bahamas and Europe.
George Lemon, from Newtownbreda in Belfast, is travelling to battlefields in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland later this year but was just 18 and in sixth year at Larne Grammar School when he signed up with the RAF in 1941. “You don’t think much about the dangers at that age – you just want adventure. Things were going quite badly at that stage in the war with Dunkirk and so on, so I suppose I had these romantic notions of taking to the hills to defend the country,” he explained.
George began his training at Lords Cricket Ground which was the receiving centre for the RAF then and progressed through various courses before being designated as a bomb aimer flying operational missions over France and Germany.
“At the time you don’t really feel afraid – before we’d take off I sometime felt anxious, but once you’re airborne the training takes over. When you’re flying though you’re quite divorced from what’s going on below so this trip will be an experience and help me appreciate the full story of what I was involved in,” said George.
“This trip will be a chance to think again about the role I played in those days and I really appreciate the opportunity.”
George Hopley, from North Down, is travelling to Nassau in the Bahamas later this year where he was stationed as RAF ground crew after joining up at just 18 with the RAF’s 502 Ulster Squadron.
“I was sent to the RAF’s base in the Bahamas in 1944 to train on American aircraft, chiefly the Liberators,” he said. “The Big Lottery Fund has given me a wonderful opportunity to go back later this year to a place I never thought I’d see again because it’s so far away. It’s given me a chance to think back and reminisce.”
Ted Jones, from Dublin, is travelling to Pensacola in Florida where he completed his pilot’s training at the RAF base there. Ted trained on Catalina seaplanes and gained his wings on April 29, 1942, as well as being recommended for a commission and made a Captain with the 190 Squadron in March 1943.
Ted said: “I was fortunate enough to fly with a great bunch of blokes during the war and that makes all the difference. Travelling back to Florida is a great opportunity to re-visit old sites and memories, a chance to remember those years.”
The Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme pledges funding for veterans, spouses, widows and carers across Ireland and the UK wishing to mark overseas anniversaries. They can also receive funding to take part in an official commemoration in the UK.
The Big Lottery Fund has extended the programme and it has no fixed deadline for applications; so you can apply for funding now.
To find out more visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk; the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 Hotline is also open for all veterans to ring for further information on 0845 00 00 121.