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Lottery millions to aid return of the heroes

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 25, 2013

  • War veteran George Harris, from Sidmouth, has already revisited some of places in the Mediterranean he stopped at while serving on board a minesweeper. Left, a photo of him as a 20-year-old sailor in Malta in1944

  • George Harris (circled) with fellow crew members in 1944. 'Their faces came back to me while I was on my Heroes Return visit. I've often thought of them over the years,' he said

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Veterans are being offered another chance to make the emotional journey back to the battlefields where they fought in the Second World War.

The Big Lottery Fund is making millions of pounds available under their second Heroes Return programme which aims to help former servicemen and their families.

George Harris, from Sidmouth, has already journeyed to the Bay of Genoa in Italy where he revisited some of places in the west Mediterranean he stopped at while on board a minesweeper.

Now 87, the former Able Seaman recalled his experiences and said it was a hugely rewarding trip.

"We would tow metal cables behind us that would sweep just under the surface," he said.

"The cables would slice through a mine's mooring cables and it would float to the surface.

"I was a gunner on the bow and when it came to the surface I would shoot at it from a safe distance. If you hit one of the horns that stuck out it would explode. If I didn't hit a horn then eventually the mine would get so pumped full of shells and water that it would sink to the bottom.

"One time we were sweeping somewhere off La Spezia and Genoa in Italy and a German Tiger tank began from the shore at our flotilla.

"Luckily we were too far away for him to hit us. Sometimes US bombers dropped bombs into the bay – perhaps they thought we were Germans. One day we heard that a US Liberator had gone down and we were asked to look for it. We spotted a huge inflatable life-raft and thought we'd found them – but it was empty.

"I wasn't in any real danger during the war and it was actually a wonderful part of my life.

"There were 18 of us on board the motor launch – that was it. We went all around the West Mediterranean – Corsica, Sardinia, Santa Margarita and off the south of France. We were together for a whole year.

"They were such lovely blokes. I was the youngest on board – most of the others were in their late 20s or maybe early 30s. I expect they will have passed away by now.

"The most vivid war memories that I have are those of the chaps on board. Their faces came back to me while I was on my Heroes Return visit. I've often thought of them over the years."

The Big Lottery Fund has already awarded more than £25 million to more than 52,000 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers across the country for journeys in the UK, France, Germany, the Middle East, Far East and further afield.

Mark Cotton, Big Lottery Fund head of South West region, said that from today more money would be available for veterans.

He said: "The experiences they revisit remind us that we must never take for granted the peace this generation secured for all of us and the debt we owe for the freedoms we enjoy and value today."

For details of how to apply contact the Heroes Return helpline: 0845 00 00 121 or go to www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn

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