Fiona Bruce and Roadshow specialists draw together a group of previously unheard stories of wartime and sacrifice at Staffordshire's National Memorial Arboretum.
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On first glance, this doesn't look
like much - a scrap of paper
and some dried petals -
but when I tell you
that it's a poppy picked from
the Flanders battlefield in 1917
and sent by a wounded soldier
to a loved one at home,
it becomes a poignant and evocative
witness to the First World War.
Such small pieces speak loudly
about the courage, loss and heroism of conflict.
In this programme, we're about to hear some remarkable untold stories
of lives overshadowed by war.
Welcome to a special edition of The Antiques Roadshow
from the National Memorial Arboretum.
Last year, we appealed for stories
of sacrifice and service in the face of war,
and that triggered hundreds of responses from viewers,
eager to share their families' accounts.
These aren't stories of military commanders.
Instead, we're focusing on often unpublished yet significant actions
of men and women on the front line and on the home front,
whose lives were changed for ever by their wartime experiences.
We can share a few of those with you tonight.
Our backdrop is the National Memorial Arboretum,
near Lichfield in Staffordshire, which was opened ten years ago.
Part of the Royal British Legion, it's a living tribute
to those who've lost their lives in conflicts
since the beginning of the 20th century.
At the centre is the striking Armed Forces Memorial,
a tribute to all the men and women who've died
since the end of the Second World War.
There are 16,000 names here
and that number's still growing.
When you see all these names
so beautifully carved here,
you get just a sense of the scale of the loss of life -
it's almost overwhelming - and people travel
from all over the country to come here.
Often they have no grave to visit,
but they can come and see the names of loved ones on the wall.
We've only time to feature a fraction of the wider story
depicted here, but our small team of experts,
Graham Lay, Paul Atterbury,
Hilary Kay and Bill Harriman, are here to meet our invited guests
for this special Remembrance edition of The Antiques Roadshow.
This is one of the most fantastic groups of medals
that it's ever been my privilege to record on The Antiques Roadshow,
and I'm guessing that this is the recipient,
and can you tell me about him?
He was my mother's first cousin.
He was relatively old at the beginning of the war.
He joined the Army, who kicked him out because he'd got flat feet,
and so he went and joined the Navy and became...
-They didn't mind flat feet, then?
-No, no, apparently not.
And he became a naval mine disposal officer.
As you know, it's a pretty hairy occupation.
-And it earned him his George Cross.
I can tell from this group that he must have been an extremely
-distinguished mine disposal officer.
-Yes, he was.
Here we have what is often known as the Civilian's Victoria Cross,
the George Cross,
and also, remarkably, with it, the George Medal,
two of the highest accolades for gallantry -
that isn't in the face of the enemy - that the country can bestow.
You have to do exceptional things just to get one,
but to get two... So, what did he do?
Well, I was going to say, "take mines to pieces"!
But the George Cross, in his citation,
it was one of those mines
with a delayed fuse that ticks,
and it was damaged,
and as soon as he started working on it -
he had to pick the remains of the mechanism out with his fingers -
-the thing started ticking again.
And he just had time to - as he described to me -
dive into his trench, before it blew up.
-And fortunately for him, he was under the blast.
And it blew his eardrums out and he was pretty shaken by it.
I'm not surprised!
They're not exactly small things, are they, mines?
We can actually see one here, a huge sphere, packed with explosives.
-And he was mere yards away from it when it went up.
This must have been some time in 1942, I would guess.
For me, as a little boy who was about five then, I remember
being deeply impressed because he could blow smoke out of both ears.
Yes, that would have impressed me as a little boy as well, I have to say!
Well, I think it's lucky that a lot more wasn't fractured,
and I think more to the point, it's very lucky that he managed to defuse
these mines, because they caused huge problems,
mainly with civilian morale, and jobs like this were so important
because they knew that once the air raid had gone,
there would be somebody there, sweeping up the nasties
that had been left, ticking away. So that's obviously why he was given
these two very, very, important awards.
I've said that this is the most fantastic group of medals
that it's ever been my privilege to see on the Roadshow.
Have you ever thought what the value of it might be?
Well, vaguely, but...
Obviously, you can't put a monetary value
on the sheer naked courage of somebody who sits on an explosive
and twiddles around with the fuse, knowing that any minute,
he might be spread into atoms. But it has a commercial value,
particularly in the current market, which is very, very buoyant.
And I can see that if those were put to auction,
being, as we know, only one of eight known groupings of these
two medals, I can see that making £100,000.
They're not for sale, I'm afraid.
Oh, I'm sure that Uncle Geoffrey would be very, very pleased to know
that all these years afterwards, people thought so much
of the tokens that he was given for such gallant work
-and I'm humbled to see them, absolutely humbled.
Anyone interested in the history of the First World War as I am,
inevitably thinks about the Royal Flying Corps, what it was like,
those extraordinary experiences of aerial fights in that period.
This really takes me straight into it - you know,
here is one of those great moments.
Two German Albatrosses, an RE8 about to be in great trouble,
and of course that great hero - or whatever he is - the Red Baron.
-Yes, that's right.
-So, is there a background to this?
My father started at the beginning of the war.
He volunteered to join, he'd just left school
and he was going to Cambridge,
but he decided that he should serve his country.
Just out of patriotism?
-Yes, literally. And...
-It was his duty.
-He was an 18-year-old.
18, at that point.
When he got his commission, they just asked if he'd like
to join the Royal Flying Corps, which was a newly developed thing.
He thought that would be great.
Anyway, he loved flying,
he only had 55 minutes - according to his log book -
dual control, before he was allowed to go up on his own,
which was amazing.
-I think it's an insight into how it was, because we were very short of pilots.
At that point in the war, the aeroplane still wasn't taken very seriously.
And people were just flung up into the air,
they had no parachutes, aeroplanes were very easily destroyed,
-they burst into flames very quickly.
And so death was very, very quick and very unpleasant.
And I think that the life expectancy at the worst
was something like two weeks.
-Terrible, isn't it? Yes.
-But he came through.
He came through, yes. He was lucky, but he was also a very skilful pilot.
-This is him, presumably.
-Gosh, he looks young, doesn't he?
-He was young.
He was awarded the MC by the King and heard somebody whisper, "Doesn't he look young?"
-Well, they all were.
-He was very young, yes.
So we've got two pictures of him here.
-Are these his, as well?
-Yes, this is his actual helmet and one of the goggles.
So, tell me about this moment of drama.
Well, he'd already prepared what he would do.
Usually, the English planes rushed for home and they were shot down,
so he decided that he wouldn't do that. He would rush for home
a little way, but when they got close enough, he'd turn the plane
and go into the middle of them.
But the Red Baron chased him and was shooting him hard,
so he put himself into a spin, which was a very dangerous thing to do,
and managed to pull out
and the Red Baron thought he'd got him, and had flown away.
-But he lived to tell the tale.
-So many didn't.
The Red Baron was an extraordinary phenomenon, Von Richthofen, he was such a skilled pilot.
And in fact, in the end,
he was killed on 21st April 1918,
and it's thought he was actually shot down by ground fire,
-not by the attacking aeroplanes.
-And it was the end of the legend.
But of course, this image is
so lively about what it must have been like,
and looking at it, as I did, at the beginning,
I thought - that aeroplane has had it, it's full of holes.
It never flew again when he got it back.
-But he did. That's the key thing.
-He did, yes.
Did he commission this painting?
He did, yes. He explained exactly how it was.
And Ralph Gillies Cole captured that moment.
The painting is a great image,
it's a wonderful evocation of First World War flying.
-I don't know what he paid for it in 1979 when he commissioned it, do you?
It's probably worth £500-£800,
-something like that, as a painting.
Helmets, goggles, they're worth £200 or £300.
A propeller tip as a photograph frame was actually quite well known
at the time, again, you're looking at £50, £80, £100 for the item.
-But this is not to do with the story.
It is about taking us into those extraordinary days when people
lived extraordinary lives and frequently died in a horrible way.
-But he came through.
-His star was watching him. Thank you.
-Thank you very much.
When we recorded this programme, back in September,
I met an extraordinary woman, Zdenka Fantlova,
who brought us our smallest item,
which represents the darkest episode of the Second World War.
Zdenka, yours is an incredible story
of survival against the odds.
You were 19 when you were taken to Terezine Concentration Camp,
or Theresienstadt as it's known.
You were then taken...
You survived six different camps...
-..ending up at Belsen.
The first camp, Terezine,
you survived there because of love.
Is that right?
The whole war is because of love, from beginning to the end.
Now, tell me about that. Love of whom?
Because when you are 19, you take it seriously,
your boyfriend is the whole interest in your life and he was there.
But very early in the time,
he was shipped to the East by a transport,
and this was almost deadly because nobody knew where the people went.
Before the transport, he made his way to the women's camp...
..brought a ring...
Now, this is the ring here.
..which he made himself. I don't know how.
-It's terribly fine.
-He engraved it with his name, Arno,
13th of June, 1942.
Slipped it on my finger and said, "This is our engagement ring,
"it will protect you, and if we survive the war,
"I'll find you somewhere".
Kissed me and was out of the door and gone.
This ring for me was a symbol of love and hope,
and I was absolutely determined -
it doesn't matter what comes,
I'll have to survive so that we can meet again
and live together for ever.
That was, you know, that was this idea.
But he didn't survive, did he?
No. I didn't know that, only after the war.
He was one of the transports...
Thousand young men up to 30,
taken to Poland,
lined up and machine-gunned.
And he risked his life to make this ring.
Yes, and me, too. Because it was not allowed -
this was against the rules to have anything,
ring or earrings or anything,
you have to give it up, and I had to hide it.
And when I came to Auschwitz, there was a girl
who had an engagement ring under the tongue,
they took her away and she lost her life.
And I had it on my finger and somebody said,
"For heaven's sake, take it away, because a piece of metal
"has no value, just throw it away".
And I knew I can't throw it away,
I would have lost the ground under my feet.
And I put it under my tongue as well,
was determined - put my life on the line,
so that come what may...
We've got a picture of Arno here.
-Is this him, here?
That was just prior to being taken to the camps.
-So that's you and him together?
And you know, promise of loving and living together for ever -
you know how it is.
But for me it was very important. Nothing else mattered.
At the end of the war, you ended up in the infamous Belsen camp...
That's right, yes.
..where so many, many people died.
And when it was liberated - when the British soldiers came to Belsen -
you were in a barrack which was right at the end of the camp,
-away from where the British soldiers were.
And you thought that even though the camp had been liberated,
you would die there.
I never thought I would die, it never occurred to me.
You were close to death, though.
I was skin and bones, and 20,000 corpses lying around me
and I never thought I'd be one of them.
And yet, I could have been.
And it was the last moment,
a line between life and death when you feel you're going,
and then the member of the British Army appeared
and he saved my life.
Tell me about that. What happened?
wanted me to stay where I was,
and I said, "I can't," and I spoke the language.
You spoke English to him.
And asked him if he can't leave me there, he should shoot me,
it would be quicker. And he suddenly changed, you know,
the whole face changed, like in a film.
He was a human. And he said, "All right, stay here
"and I'll come in the morning and pick you up," and I believed him
and he did come.
He put me in a sheet, pushed me
in between four stretchers in a military ambulance and off we went.
And all I had - my naked life and the ring on a string on my neck.
It was all I had.
And he saved my life,
and I never had a chance to say thank you because he disappeared.
And after the war, I lived in Australia,
there was no chance looking for him, and at least,
this opportunity, I would like to say thank you, wherever he is.
Well, I mean, it sounds like if he hadn't intervened,
that would have been it.
That would have been it. One of the many.
But now I live another life
and I'm grateful for every single day.
Of all the gardens and memorials here,
I think this has to be the most poignant.
We're in the eastern woodland, where next to a tribute
to the Royal Army Medical Corps sits this moving reminder
of an uncomfortable aspect of the First World War.
It's called Shot At Dawn and it commemorates over 300 British
and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice.
It's a sad reflection of the desperation of war,
particularly when you think that many of them were underage
when they volunteered, just boys.
In 2006, they were all posthumously pardoned
after a long and vigorous campaign by their descendants.
And it's a fitting backdrop for our next story.
Well, we're standing here, in front of what, for many years,
some people have felt a very controversial memorial.
Why have you brought us here?
Because that man proves that this is the right thing to do.
My dear Uncle Frank, Frank Handley Ridgwell,
was condemned to death on the 10th February 1916
for allegedly sleeping on duty.
He had done a second sentry duty for a sick friend,
a young officer inspected him,
claimed that he was asleep.
He was given a ten-minute court martial, sentenced to death.
No defence counsel.
It took a fortnight for that sentence to be confirmed,
he was given back his rifle, sent back to the front
knowing he might be shot by the enemy, or his own people behind him.
That sentence was commuted to five years' penal servitude.
He worked off that five-year penal servitude
by extraordinary bravery at the front,
for which he received a certificate of honour from his regiment.
He was shot twice - once through his left breast pocket by his pay book,
through the photograph of his sister,
my dear Auntie Cis, who I was brought up next to - there's the bullet hole -
and once through his other tunic pocket,
where the bullet bounced off his cigarette case.
He then served with great distinction.
He was captured by the enemy, ill treated in prison,
escaped, was protected by Belgian citizens,
whom he loved dearly for it,
made his way to the coast,
was arrested by the British authorities as a deserter -
his pay book proved that he wasn't -
and he was shipped home in uniform
and was discharged as the private he began.
-Good grief. What an extraordinary career!
-He was 24.
And there's the record of his actual sentencing,
of the commuting of that sentence
and of the wiping off of that sentence, all in a few lines.
How did you feel when you found out,
presumably as young man,
that your uncle had been...
Immensely proud of him.
The fact that he had been convicted of cowardice?
No, of sleeping.
As I knew him, I knew that couldn't be right.
The critical thing to bear in mind, if I may say so,
is that sentences to death increased rapidly before every great campaign.
-This was the General Staff
strengthening the resolve of what were called the poor bloody infantry.
-And this was as a deterrent, wasn't it?
That man was sentenced to death three months before the Battle of the Somme began,
in which he served with great distinction.
Now, during his very brief trial...
..if it can be called a trial - presumably he...
I know you said he wasn't represented by legal...
-That's the evidence of all these trials.
-He didn't even have
-a soldier's friend?
-I gather not.
Well, he may have done,
but frankly, if I may be blunt,
it was the word of a young officer against a grocer's assistant.
I see. So you think it might have been a class aspect?
Oh, I'm sure it was, I'm sure it was,
and I would venture to suggest
that most of these extraordinary young men
were the victims of a military class system as well.
If I had a fraction of his courage,
I'd be a very fortunate man.
The unveiling of new memorials is a regular feature at the arboretum.
On the day we visited, His Royal Highness the Duke of York,
in his role as Colonel in Chief of the Yorkshire Regiment,
was there for a dedication ceremony.
Your Royal Highness, this is a fitting place to talk to you,
given your role and your service in the armed forces.
I've seen some of the names from the Falklands campaign.
Of course you, as everyone will know, were in the Falklands,
so it must have poignancy for you, seeing the names of people you knew.
It does, and it brings back the sorts of thoughts
that one was going through then.
I mean, there was huge anxiety of what it was.
Were we doing the right thing?
And of course, we were going to recover British territory.
But it's a memory now,
and this is what's so weird.
I mean, it's going to be 30 years next year.
That's an awfully long time ago, but it's still very fresh as a memory,
if you understand what I mean,
and I always think about the people who I was serving with.
There was great camaraderie about what we were doing.
There are moments of...
hilarity that I remember.
We were under one missile attack one day
when a friend of mine and I
were trying to fix, or finish, a Rubik's cube.
Those were the days when this cube thing, you know...
-I remember it very well!
-You remember it very well.
And just as the missile attack was taking place, we completed it,
and we were told everybody had to lie on the floor,
because on deck, we had to take cover.
And we were lying on the deck with a completed Rubik's cube between us,
and I always thought,
I wonder what people would think
if something ghastly had happened and we'd been hit
and all they'd found was two bodies and a Rubik's cube.
Small things like that stick in one's mind. So, I mean, it's remarkable,
and it brought home to me how fragile we are as a human being.
How important is it, do you think, to have a place like this
of national remembrance?
I think it's very important,
because we remember on Remembrance Sunday,
or on 11th November every year,
those that have died in the service of their country,
but actually, there's more to it than that.
There's more about actually allowing
those who have lost friends and loved ones
to be able to come somewhere
where they can know that they are never forgotten.
-Your Royal Highness, thank you very much.
-You're very welcome.
This very interesting collection of objects clearly relates
to the conflict in the Falklands.
Yes, Glamorgan was in the thick of the action
from the very first day.
And on 12th June, just two days before the surrender,
Glamorgan was ordered to go inshore to support 45 Commando
in their attack upon the Two Sisters Ridge.
But 45 Commando took longer than anticipated to take the mountain.
The Navy is not in the business of leaving soldiers in the lurch,
so we stayed on the gun line until 45 Commando had completed.
We then started to hurry back towards the aircraft carriers
and I saw, at eight miles, coming from what I thought was Eliza Cove,
a fast-moving contact which I interpreted as an Exocet missile.
-You were navigating officer.
-Navigator on the bridge.
And about 20, 30 seconds later,
I saw the faintest of blips coming from the land.
It wasn't there the next sweep,
and my heart breathed a sigh of relief, and then the next sweep
there was a firm echo and the next sweep another firm echo,
and in my heart of hearts
I just knew it was an Exocet missile.
And so I gave the order "Starboard 35", a pre-planned manoeuvre
to turn the quickest way, to take it at a ten-degree inclination,
to try to bounce it off the ship's side.
But we hadn't completed the turn,
and we were heeling at 14 degrees, and you can see...
This is the actual bridge clinometer,
-which is at the moment set at 14 degrees.
-That's at 14 degrees.
And presumably that's quite an amount of heel, is it?
That's really a significant amount of heel,
and that lowered the ship's side just enough
so the missile just clipped the upper deck
and then skidded along the upper deck whilst being deflected upwards.
It exploded just short of the hangar
and blew a large hole in the upper deck
and a hole in the next deck down,
and the missile body went through the hangar door
into the fully fuelled and fully armed helicopter,
which promptly blew up.
We were the only ship to survive being hit.
Turning the ship gave the damage-control teams
the chance to save the ship.
And they need all the credit they can get.
But, sadly, we lost 14 members of our ship's company.
But it could have been so much worse.
-How many men in the company?
-Just under 500.
The Argentine marine who actually pressed the fire button
on the Exocet launcher,
he contacted the HMS Glamorgan website and apologised,
and I responded to his contact
and said he doesn't have to apologise
because he was doing his duty, just as we were doing ours.
And I went out to Argentina a few years ago with my wife
and I met Jose in Rosario,
and he was a very nice man, nice family, and...
-So you bear him no ill will?
-No ill will, whatsoever,
because, you know... It's the politicians I'm not so keen on.
But I have a great respect for the Argentine service personnel,
who did their duty.
Well, I think one of our themes today is remembrance,
but I think the sub-theme that you've brought out from that,
-that's just as important, is reconciliation.
-No point in winning the war if you can't win the peace.
-I'll drink to that.
We're standing in an area of the arboretum today
that relates to the Far East, prisoners of war,
and we're standing in front of
a section of the Burma-Thailand railway.
You've also brought along
this Japanese sword
which, from the covering of the scabbard, relates to the Second World War.
It can't be yours, because you're not old enough. So whose was it?
This was brought back by my father, Captain Charles MacDonald,
from Burma, where he was a Japanese prisoner of war.
And why was he a prisoner? Why was he taken prisoner?
Well, he volunteered to go into Burma behind the enemy lines,
for the second Wingate expedition, which was going to liberate Burma,
and he led a nine-man patrol
which was to live off the land and gather information
which would be fed back, which would help the British re-invade Burma.
Because they were living off the land, they were short of food,
and they went into a Burmese village for supplies.
They were told to come back the next day. My father was suspicious.
He thought they were being set up.
Indeed they were - as he and his sergeant and an Indian soldier
went into the village to get supplies,
a machine gun opened up on them at very close range.
And my father went to the ground,
the Indian soldier and the sergeant ran into the jungle.
My father then charged the machine-gun nest, threw a grenade,
and the last thing the Indian soldier saw of him
was him falling down to the ground with a cry,
and so he had apparently been killed in action.
And was that reported back?
That was reported back,
and so for five months my mother thought that he had been killed in action.
And then it started to filter through that perhaps he had survived,
he may have been wounded, possibly a prisoner of war,
and by that time he was in Rangoon jail at the southern end of Burma.
Now, you've brought one or two other objects.
Who does this show?
That's my father and mother on their wedding day, Boxing Day 1940.
They got married very quickly because he was being sent overseas,
and she didn't see him for another five years!
-Five years. Can you imagine it?
And what's this little... luggage label?
I think this is the most poignant.
My mother received this a few months after he'd disappeared,
-which simply says "Kit of a deceased officer"...
-Oh, my goodness.
..which is pretty final.
I wonder how she would have coped with thinking he had been killed.
I think she was an amazingly tough character,
and I think she hoped against hope
he would survive, that he'd be protected by God in some way,
and of course, indeed he was.
And you've also brought along this postcard.
Yes, this is remarkable.
I think her first knowledge that he was still alive
came in a short press cutting in the paper
about his lone attack on the Japanese position.
And the very next day she sent this postcard, via the Red Cross.
-And what does it say?
-Well, amazing. "Darling, first card to you.
"All overjoyed at news after five months missing. Have faith.
"You're in my heart always."
HE CLEARS HIS THROAT I'm afraid I get a bit choked!
-I can see, I can see.
-"All my love, Mary."
But, I mean, this is amazing history,
absolutely extraordinary history,
and, you know, you can imagine,
it's so sort of straightforward.
There's clearly great love, but it had to be written in capital letters,
you could only have a certain number of words, and she had to convey...
her overpowering sense of happiness and relief that he'd survived.
He was the very first Far East prisoner of war
to arrive back in this country.
He was only eight stone, and he was a bigger frame than me.
And my mother,
I suppose probably rather proudly,
marched down Oxford Street with him,
and it stopped the traffic.
-Stopped the traffic?
People were so horrified, because they'd never seen anything like this.
I have to say that this is one of the stories today
that has really moved me personally.
It really has.
Christopher Wren said, "I build for eternity,"
and St Paul's Cathedral, perhaps, during the Second World War,
became an icon that focused the nation's pride,
particularly during the Blitz period,
and civilians were incredibly important
in preserving St Paul's during that time.
Tell me about somebody who was involved.
My grandfather, Alfred Henry Sharr, had joined St Paul's Cathedral
as a maintenance man in 1935,
but coming up to the beginning of 1939,
the Dean and Chapter said that,
with war imminent, they had to try and protect St Paul's as best as possible.
Didn't Winston Churchill say
that St Paul's must be protected at all costs?
That came in 1940 during the Blitz
because there were so many near misses.
A bomb had hit near the south tower
and gone down some 90 feet before they managed to dig it out.
-But my grandfather was part of the team that became
St Paul's Watch, and they ended up with some 280 people.
Their main tasks were to guard against incendiaries, bombs,
act as fire watchers.
-They were all volunteers.
-They were indeed.
And here is an image of your grandfather
actually abseiling down the dome of St Paul's!
I can't see much evidence of health and safety.
I think it was invented just after that photograph.
Perhaps BECAUSE of this photograph!
I suppose that the most famous incident
which involved an attack, really, on London
was that night of 29th December, that extraordinary Blitzkrieg,
when 100,000 incendiary bombs like this...
-This is an incendiary bomb?
-Still with its fuse in.
Still got its fuse in, but nothing else, one presumes.
And these were dropped in clusters, so they created absolute havoc,
and there was a firestorm on that night.
That was the big raid
when they considered they were after St Paul's Cathedral. It was iconic.
You're right, Churchill had decreed that it must be saved at all costs.
At that point, they put in far more firefighters
into St Paul's, they put hoses on ropes to pull them up into the dome
so they could fight fires.
And that night was the night of the spring tide,
the lowest tide on the Thames,
hence they couldn't get the water out of the Thames to fight any fires.
And I suppose if there's one image that sums up
St Paul's and its position
as a survivor...
it is this picture taken by Herbert Mason.
It was taken the morning after 29th December,
on the morning of 30th December,
with St Paul's caught in the first ray of the rising sun.
And there was a huge discussion about this.
Would it serve to inspire the people or to depress them?
And it wasn't printed until the following day,
on 31st December, because it was decided
that actually it embodied the spirit of Londoners
to survive the Blitz.
-And Christopher Wren was right - he did build for eternity.
Meet Whacker. He's probably the oddest object we've seen today.
He's a mascot for a bombing crew during the Second World War,
and he was actually injured in action himself.
Look, he's got a shrapnel hole here
and on the back, a swastika for every bombing raid the crew went on.
Now, lots of people wrote in to us about mascots.
I think one of the most unusual
is your story of a mascot, Robin, and it was a cat.
A cat called Pyro, who was the pet cat of my father, Bob Bird,
and they served together in a secret wing of the RAF
called the Experimental Seaplane Research Centre at Helensburgh.
-Taking reconnaissance pictures?
-Pictures of flying boats,
such things as the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb and ways of sinking U-boats.
And where did Pyro the cat come into it all?
Pyro wandered into the base and made a home in the darkroom,
and Bob didn't see it there
and actually nearly cut its tail off when he closed a sliding glass door.
And this is Bob and the cat, here, is it?
This is Bob and the cat. Bob took it to the medical officer,
who repaired the cat's tail,
and they became friends.
The cat used to follow Bob, so Bob took him flying with him,
in the flying jacket.
-And this is his flying jacket here.
-It is. To keep Bob warm
and as a lucky mascot to chase the gremlins away.
So everything worked smoothly when Pyro was in the plane.
Until one day, when Bob was flying at 20,000 feet in extreme cold,
and he was changing his camera lens and his fingers froze to the camera.
Bob took his fingers off the camera, but they were frostbitten.
And he warmed them on Pyro, and when he was hospitalised afterwards,
the medical officer said, "Pyro's repaid his debt.
"You saved his tail and he saved your fingers."
My goodness! Air crews were superstitious.
They were flying in such dangerous circumstances,
and these mascots became terribly important to them.
All the crew welcomed him,
even though he shouldn't have been there, really.
Pyro was the even more secret bit of the secret wing.
He was sworn to secrecy. He never spoke about his war, Pyro.
-Kept his lips firmly sealed.
This is the photograph of a very young man.
Who is he and how old was he?
He's my grandad and his name was Edward,
or Teddy, and he is 19, roughly, in that photo.
And what was his war?
His war, really, was...
He had quite a safe job, and I know that he was doing
some engineering on aircraft
and doing things around England, based around England.
So in the 1940s, in the middle of the Second World War,
-he was ground crew.
And he then put himself forward,
because he realised they were losing lots of air crew
and that they needed more men.
He felt that he needed to do his duty and help win this war.
-So what did he do?
as an air gunner, and he did this in secret, without my nan knowing.
-So he volunteered.
And when we talk about going into the bombers as a gunner,
that was THE most dangerous job,
whether you were a rear gunner or wherever it was.
You were very, very easily picked off
by the Messerschmitts or whoever was defending the target.
It was my nan's nightmare. And they'd discussed it,
and she said that was the one thing that she was afraid of him doing.
So this is a photograph
-of your grandfather Teddy and your nan on their wedding.
Maisie and Teddy
on their wedding day.
The entries in the logbook finish in 1942.
He was shot down in a Halifax with the rest of his crew.
-So all the crew were...
-All the crew were dead, yes.
And there are the terrible formal letters that come through,
advising, you know, "Lost in action, presumed killed",
and then a confirmation that he was in fact known to be killed,
not just missing.
But then what about this? What is this?
It's the letter he left,
explaining to my nan why he felt he had to put himself forward,
that would go to her in case anything happened.
I can tell you that, holding this in my hands, actually,
the hair on the back of my neck is rising,
because this, to me, is an incredibly powerful document.
Now, this letter has been obviously treasured and loved,
and it starts...
It's dated 2nd May 1942, written in Croft,
which was where he was based then,
and it starts, "Dearest, it's now 7pm."
And I'd like you to take the story up. I don't know if I can read it.
So, you've got it transcribed there.
Read a little bit out to me.
"When you read this letter, one of two things would probably have happened.
"Either I shall be home, off operations,
"or I shall be missing.
"That is why I want to write this letter, dearest.
"Now this is where I have to confess to deceiving you, darling.
"I've never done it before, and I hope
"I never will have to do it again.
"I hope you understand..."
Sorry. "..but I couldn't help it.
"The main thing was
"that I didn't say what aircraft I was flying in.
"Well, they were the big, four-engined Halifaxes.
"Understand, darling, I was to fly over Germany
"of a night and also sometimes of a day.
"It was the one thing you dreaded, wasn't it?
"That was the reason I didn't tell you.
"I hadn't the heart, darling. I love you too much.
"At the moment, there are only two months to go
"before our baby comes into this world.
"If you do happen to get this letter in unhappy circumstances...
"..which I pray to God you won't,
"remember, darling, unhappy moments often turn into happy ones,
"and never give up hope.
"Remember, don't give up, and keep your chin up, darling.
"Au revoir - not goodbye - beloved.
"Yours, with all my love, my dearest, Teddy."
That's quite some letter.
There's not really much more one can say about that, actually.
We've only really read a part of it,
-because it is an incredibly powerful document.
-It is, yes.
Um, and it's all about...
-the ones that are left behind.
It's...incredibly powerful stuff,
and I'm very, very moved
and delighted that you've been able
-to share it with us.
-Thank you for allowing me.
I should think just about every family has a link
to someone who is commemorated here at the arboretum.
And incidentally, it's open every day, except Christmas Day,
and entrance is free.
Before we go, I just want to share one more
evocative item that's been brought along today with you.
It's a telex
that was sent on V-J Day, Victory over Japan Day,
15th August, 1945.
"Most immediate, all concerned home and abroad,
"splice the mainbrace."
It was sent by the Admiralty,
and what it meant was "The war is over!"
Now, just imagine what it felt like
to the troops, the airmen, the sailors, receiving that.
All the suffering, all the carnage, had come to an end.
It's just one of the fascinating and moving things we've seen today.
You can see more of what we filmed on our website, if you want a look.
We'll be back on the road
with our usual Antiques Roadshow next week.
But from everyone at the National Memorial Arboretum, bye-bye.
In 2010, Antiques Roadshow appealed for stories of 'Unsung Heroes' to test the waters for a Remembrance special. Many hundreds of remarkable and moving stories followed, and in this special edition Fiona Bruce and Roadshow specialists draw together a powerful group of previously unheard stories of wartime and sacrifice at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Just as in the regular editions of the programme, a single object or group of objects act as the way in to each of the remarkable accounts, which include a daring escape from the Red Baron in World War One, a heart-warming story of a cat which acted as a lucky mascot to the crew of a 1940s bomber, and a poignant letter from a husband who was lost in action, explaining to his wife why he lied to her in order to best serve his country.