Written by Major Sean Murphy, Chairman of the Royal British Legion in Dublin
As hundreds of veterans mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Major Sean Murphy, the Chairman of the Royal British Legion in Dublin, reflects on what the Heroes Return programme means to Ireland’s war veterans.
I was working in The Royal British Legion Office in Dublin when the Heroes Return programme was launched in 2004. It caused great interest but we recognised that it was a UK initiative and we could be excluded.
The total number who volunteered from the then Free State will never be known, but it was considerable. Bernard Kelly’s ‘Irish Ex Servicemen of The Second World War’ quotes a figure of somewhere between 68,000 and 80,000 volunteers.
An estimated 9,000 lost their lives and 780 Honours including eight VCs were awarded to individuals from independent Ireland.
This deserved recognition and we put forward a case which allowed us to join Heroes Return with WWII Veterans from across the UK, to be taken back to lands where we saw service.
Heroes Return generated a wonderful feeling among the ex service community across the Republic of Ireland. They were enthused and reinvigorated by thoughts of travelling to wartime locations, with families and friends, to be reunited with many former comrades.
All sorts of interesting people, with varied stories to tell, took part. One was an 80-year-old former nursing sister and member of The Queen Alexander’s Imperial Nursing Service who had served long years overseas and had crossed swords with Japanese forces during the war. We arranged for her to travel, accompanied by her daughter, to Burma. And she made a marked impression upon all who travelled with her.
It is fair to say that when we speak of veterans, that we by and large overlook the all important contribution made by nursing sisters and other women who served in the forces during wartime.
Heroes Return brought together many such as she and a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and good-fellowship developed among them. I experienced this when I met with them and family members who travelled with them and who were equally excited and appreciative of what the Big Lottery Fund was doing on their behalf.
I feel that this recognition for World War II veterans was well deserved, and in some cases long awaited. The Big Lottery Fund afforded recognition to people that they had not enjoyed before. It allowed them to blossom and take public pride in their contribution to the wartime effort of the Allied Forces – their stories, many of which had remained hidden, were published widely in the media and this new-found recognition was very much appreciated.