Episode 3 Remembrance Week


Episode 3

Gethin Jones presents stories from people involved in past and present conflicts, including a poignant and moving diary kept by a young Royal Marine in Afghanistan.


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Transcript


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Hello, and welcome to Remembrance Week.

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I'm in Afghanistan to see the selfless work

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our incredible servicemen and women do here every day.

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As Remembrance Sunday approaches,

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we will also hear first-hand from those who went before them,

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and share their extraordinary accounts

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of friendship, courage and loss.

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Coming up on today's programme:

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the tragic story of a Royal Marine who kept a remarkable diary

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of life on the front line in Afghanistan.

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It's very much as if he's in the room with you.

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You know, I can hear his voice, pretty much.

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A young Second World War nurse describes

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the discovery of the Belsen concentration camp

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and her fight to save the lives of the survivors.

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It was heartbreaking. Heartbreaking.

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No-one could envisage that human beings

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could be treated in such a way.

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And a bomb disposal officer in the Falklands remembers

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the terrifying moment when an unexploded bomb suddenly detonated.

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I was drifting down this very long tunnel

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with a very bright light at the end of it.

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And I honestly thought I was dead.

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Throughout history, war diaries have offered us a fascinating insight

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into the reality of daily life on the front line.

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And it's no different today.

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John was a fun-loving youngster, which was great.

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He used to play army, soldiers in the back garden

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and over the woods, yeah.

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Amazing.

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John was two years younger than me,

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but we were so close.

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Kind of like living with your best mate

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than living with your brother, really. Yeah, it was good.

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It was at 13 that he started going to the Air Cadets.

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Came up with the idea that he wanted to be a Royal Marine officer.

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He was so focused then,

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everything he did from that point on was with that as his aim.

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John Thornton realised his boyhood dream of becoming a Royal Marine.

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His proud family were there to watch his passing out parade.

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Quite a tearful day, actually, cos all the commands, all about

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"Royal Marines Young Officers do this, do that,"

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and then the last command was "Royal Marine Officers, do your duty."

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I mean... Yeah. Quite tearful now, actually, thinking about it.

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Yeah, it was a brilliant occasion. It was good, it was brilliant, yeah.

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Yeah. He'd reached his goal. Yeah. He'd done it.

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Following a tour of duty in Iraq, John was posted to Afghanistan.

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The night before they flew, I think, he rang,

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and just said... Which he hadn't done before Iraq, which was strange,

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but he phoned up and said, "I just wanted you to know that

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"if something happens, I've written letters for the family.

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"I've left them on my desk in my room."

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"If anything happens, can you go and pick them up?"

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That was...kind of really hit home to me then the kind of gravity

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of the situation again, that there was that chance

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that he may not come back.

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John made the decision to keep a diary of life on the front line.

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A remarkable record of his private thoughts and emotions.

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His first entry describes writing those letters to his family.

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"Deployment day."

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He was telling us that he was going to be OK,

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because he'd got a great bunch of guys, they were very experienced,

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and he was going to be behind the big guns

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sitting on the peaks at Kajaki Dam.

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So we weren't to worry about it.

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While he was out there, there was a lot of phone calls that, you know,

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he'd tell me in detail what had happened,

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whereas Mum and Dad got the parents' version of the story, I think.

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Early in 2008, British troops

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were the target of numerous improvised explosive devices.

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One of John's colleagues was killed.

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But in his diary, John was defiant.

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John was into the last weeks of his tour of duty.

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His family couldn't wait to see him again.

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Counting down the days, and you start to plan things

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for when he gets home.

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I know Mum and Dad had even started buying, you know,

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"welcome home" banners and all this kind of stuff.

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This was to be John's last diary entry.

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Two weeks before they were due to come back,

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and we were in here just cooking some dinner

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and the door bell rang, and you think, "Who's this?

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"20 past eight on a Sunday night."

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And I went to the front door, and opened the door.

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And it was a Royal Marine and a padre.

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And before they say anything, you just instinctively know.

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It can be nothing else.

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My head was just going, "Please say he's just badly injured,

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"please say he's just badly injured."

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"Sorry to have to tell you that your son, Lt John Thornton,

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"was killed in Afghanistan in action earlier today."

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On March 30, 2008, John Thornton was killed

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when his vehicle struck a roadside IED.

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He was 22 years old.

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You kind of hear those words

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and your whole world is just kind of shattered.

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It was like a physical blow.

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I can remember I sort of reeled back across the porch.

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Mmm. And...yeah.

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That was before they'd said anything.

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Horrible day. Mmm.

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Definitely was. Yeah.

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For me it wasn't until the coffins came off the plane

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that I really believed what had happened.

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And then you think, well, yeah, actually, this is all real.

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It is all happening.

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You could almost touch the end of the tour. You knew how close he was.

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He was going to be moving into my flat.

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He'd had a shelf cleared in the cupboard and, you know,

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there was a shelf in the fridge cleared for him,

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all that kind of stuff.

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It did make it...

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all the more kind of unfair and cruel

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that he was so close to the end.

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I said to Mum and Dad that on his desk,

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he'd just left, basically, letters to all of us

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with a Bible on top,

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and then his Iraq tour medal on top of that,

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because he knew that that would be needed for the funeral.

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To me, he said, "Live life for the both of us."

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It doesn't make it any easier, but it is comforting.

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I think things would have been more difficult without that.

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John's personal possessions were collected together in Afghanistan

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and returned to his family.

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Amongst them was his diary.

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He'd written it just as he talked.

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It's very much as if he's in the room with you.

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I can hear his voice, pretty much.

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John's family set up a Young Achievers Foundation in his name.

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And they decided to publish his diary

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as a precious record of his service.

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We discussed as a family

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that we wanted to see John's words in print.

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It was really important for us to do that. Er...

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And so I started typing it up then, so that was when I read it,

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as I typed it up. And it was very difficult.

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I admired you for typing it up, I must admit.

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I don't think I could have done that. I couldn't have let anyone else

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type it up. It had got to be me. Yeah.

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For me, it was quite a comfort as well to read his diary,

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because I just got that sense of his enjoyment

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and passion for his job.

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John's older brother Ian is himself a serving soldier.

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I wanted to do it for myself, but at the same time, obviously,

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I did feel like I was to an extent following in his footsteps

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and carrying on the work that he'd done, which was quite nice.

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On Remembrance Day 2011,

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Ian paid his respects to the brother he lost so early in life.

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For me to be in Afghanistan on Remembrance Day,

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obviously the place where John died, it was quite an emotional day.

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You're not just paying respect

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to everyone that's made the ultimate sacrifice before.

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When it's your brother who's given his life out there as well,

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it feels very much more, you know, a personal event.

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Remembrance Day still is a very difficult time.

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That said, in some ways,

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it's a comfort to know that the nation remembers.

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During World War II, over 850,000 British Empire servicemen

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were deployed to Burma.

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It was Britain's longest campaign of the war.

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And for one airman, it was the location

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of an extraordinary story of survival.

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Two years after World War II began,

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22-year-old Ray Jackson joined the RAF.

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When I decided to become a pilot,

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my parents were not very happy initially, particularly my mother.

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Words of advice from my father, he shook my hand solemnly

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and said, "Watch it, son."

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In 34 Squadron,

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Ray thought he'd be flying over the skies of Europe.

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Having trained in South Africa,

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we thought we were coming back to fly in the UK.

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Out of the blue, we were being posted off to Burma.

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In 1943, Ray joined the Burma campaign,

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which started two years earlier

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when Japan had invaded the British colony.

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There was a bunch of about 20 pilots and everybody's name read out

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and told where they were going.

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They got down to the last three,

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which was Burgess, Tibbetts and Jackson,

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"You'll be delighted to know you're going to be posted

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"to the airfield nearest the Japanese."

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So I tried very hard to look macho and "let me get at 'em"

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and thought "Just my bloody luck," you know.

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Flying a single-seater aircraft, the Hurricane bomber,

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Ray would support ground troops in Burma.

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They were fighter bombers, they could carry two 250-pound bombs

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and they had four cannons as well.

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So they could do a pretty devastating job.

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And we worked with the Army.

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The Army would ring up and say

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they would like a certain point on the map pinpointed, bombed.

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After four successful missions,

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Ray was given the orders for his fateful fifth mission.

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We were doing a north-to-south run on quite a big village.

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It was thought that the Japanese had a lot of stores in there

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and that there were a lot of them there.

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We'd just dropped our bombs

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and suddenly there's an almighty bang on my port wing.

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The engine was catching fire

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and I could see the engine oil just flying out.

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So there's no way you could possibly force-land an aircraft.

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So I realised I'd have to bail out.

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The nose dipped a little bit and as I fell out I banged my head.

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I had my hand on the parachute cord,

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but I don't remember pulling the ripcord at all.

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But I remember sort of coming to and everything was blue.

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And I thought I was dead and in heaven.

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I looked up and saw the parachute and realised I wasn't in heaven at all,

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there was a parachute there,

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somehow it had opened and I was underneath it.

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He'd survived the fall, but now he was in an area

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occupied by the Japanese in the middle of the Burmese jungle.

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There were several fires lit in different places.

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The Japanese had fired some of the scrub to try and drive me out.

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Desperate to escape, Ray ran deep into the deadly jungle.

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A day or two later, I was trying to cross what I'd call a large river

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and I lost my footing and was swept away into a big pool.

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I'd got a machete, a '38 revolver, wearing boots

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and what in effect was like a glorified boiler suit.

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So how I managed to swim out of there, I do not know.

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Evading the enemy, Ray had now been stranded for days without food.

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Alone and worn down, his trek through the dense jungle soon began

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to take its toll.

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Eight or ten days through, I guess,

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I did think very hard about shooting myself.

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Mm.

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I was feeling so low, I almost couldn't feel anything, I suppose.

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I had been thinking very hard about what to do with myself

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and I...I had a sort of vision of my mother

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and visions of people that I cared for, yes.

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Then, after I'd had it, I decided to soldier on.

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He was now determined to fight for his life.

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Surviving on the little food he found in the jungle,

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Ray was desperate for anything he could find to eat.

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There was a stream running up the side of a hill

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and I saw something that looked like a wizened potato.

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And I decided to have a bite at it.

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And almost instantly my lips swelled out

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and I looked a horrible sight and felt dreadful.

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I thought I was a goner.

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I lay down by the side of the stream and I suddenly heard a scream.

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I saw a lady there looking at me and she ran off back down the hill.

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He'd been spotted by the Naga, a people indigenous to the area.

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His luck had finally changed, and he was taken back to their village.

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I was given a mirror by one of the small boys there

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and I looked almost like Robinson Crusoe.

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I had a great big black beard and then a big fat sort of ugly lip

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and I looked a real villain.

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I wouldn't have trusted myself one iota!

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Ray was nursed back to health,

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and in the week that followed, the Naga took him closer to safety,

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each village giving him a warm welcome.

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After three weeks in the jungle,

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his fighting spirit was finally rewarded.

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Late one evening, a Naga came in with a note.

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There was a secret army called Force 136 that operated behind the lines.

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The note read, "We know you are in the area, Jackson, we are sending

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"a patrol to pick you up and here is some grub for the time being."

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With the help of local agents,

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Force 136 carried out secret operations.

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Nearly a month after his crash, Ray was reunited with his squadron.

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He sent a message home.

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"Bailed out over Burma.

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"Took three weeks walking out.

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"Miraculous escape, safe and well, writing, love, Ray."

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Ever since his ordeal,

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Ray and others had wanted to repay the kindness of the Naga people,

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who'd helped them during the war.

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We decided to set up a trust.

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What they are trying to do is to try and see,

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ensure, that some goodness has actually come out of a war.

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I wasn't a wealthy man, but I was lucky,

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I came into an inheritance about the time.

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And of the various suggestions made of what I could do to help the Nagas,

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it was to fund a basketball court.

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It gives me a lot of pleasure

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to think of youngsters enjoying themselves.

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Almost 70 years since Ray's near fatal

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three weeks in the jungle,

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he owes every day to the people who saved him.

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I'm quite sure, if they had not found me and helped me,

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I would not have lived beyond that time. I would have died.

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I'm certain of it. So I owe the Nagas my life.

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In 1982, nearly 28,000 British troops headed to the South Atlantic

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to reclaim the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion.

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Amongst them were two men who had the terrifying task

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of defusing unexploded bombs dropped by the enemy.

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I joined the Army in 1958 as an Army apprentice at the age of 15.

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I suppose I had a natural sense of adventure

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and it was that that led me to join the Army.

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As I got further trained, then I became the bomb disposal officer.

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The risks are high in bomb disposal, it's a dangerous job,

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let's not beat about the bush.

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But my family knew that it was what I was trained to do.

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In April 1982, the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands

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led to a bitter conflict.

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Royal Engineer John Phillips volunteered to go

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with colleague Jim Prescott as a two-man bomb disposal team.

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Jim Prescott was a staff sergeant in the same squadron as me.

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And it was because of his expertise

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that he was selected to be my number two.

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I know Jim was very nervous.

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A few days after the Argentine invasion,

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John and Jim set off for the Falklands.

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Neither was expecting the scale of the challenge ahead.

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We arrived in the Falklands on Friday 21 May.

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A beautiful day, the sun was shining, a clear sky.

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In preparation to retake the islands, the Royal Navy's warships

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arrived at San Carlos Bay to secure the beachhead.

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It was a couple of hours before we actually got attacked.

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KLAXON BLARES

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Ship's klaxons were sounding

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which gave us a 25-minute warning of incoming aircraft.

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And then they were upon us.

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And it was unreal

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because we'd not experienced this level of aggression before.

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We really started to realise that we were in the thick of it now.

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The Argentine pilots were very brave.

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They came in so low that a lot of the bombs

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didn't have sufficient arming time in their flight

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before they hit the target.

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Just one day after arriving,

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they were called to their first job.

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Their role would later be dramatised in a BBC film.

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Faced with a 1,000lb bomb,

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they began the terrifying task of deactivating it.

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What we try to do in bomb disposal is to separate

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the means of firing from the main charge.

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Once you've done that, all you've got is a container of explosives,

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which is easy to transport.

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After two tense hours, John and Jim defused the bomb,

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saving the ship and those on board.

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The following day, the instruction was,

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"You are required at HMS Antelope."

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Attacked by Argentine aircraft, the Antelope had been left

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badly damaged by two bombs, both of which had failed to detonate.

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Exactly the same bomb, exactly the same situation,

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only this time I could see that the pistol,

0:24:250:24:27

which was the means of firing the bomb at the back, was damaged.

0:24:270:24:31

As John and Jim began their task,

0:24:310:24:34

the crew were moved to the upper deck for their own safety.

0:24:340:24:38

It's a great responsibility.

0:24:380:24:40

But if you thought about the outcome of disaster,

0:24:410:24:44

then you wouldn't do it.

0:24:440:24:46

So you just get on with the job you are trained to do,

0:24:460:24:49

which was make that bomb safe.

0:24:490:24:50

John and Jim now began working on the bomb.

0:24:540:24:58

The damage caused on entering the ship

0:25:010:25:04

had made the bomb more difficult to defuse.

0:25:040:25:06

After three failed attempts, they tried a different technique.

0:25:090:25:13

We attempted to cut the pistol off remotely.

0:25:130:25:19

And when we did that, after a short delay,

0:25:200:25:24

there was an almighty explosion.

0:25:240:25:26

Jim and I was standing next to each other when the bomb exploded.

0:25:300:25:33

Next thing I know, I'm flying through the air.

0:25:330:25:35

But this was all in slow motion.

0:25:350:25:37

When I was flying through the air,

0:25:370:25:39

I was drifting down this very long tunnel,

0:25:390:25:41

with a very bright light at the end of it.

0:25:410:25:43

And there was a silhouette of my father at the end,

0:25:430:25:46

who'd died a few years before.

0:25:460:25:47

And I honestly thought I was dead.

0:25:470:25:49

I thought, well, I was so calm and relaxed, it was quite surreal,

0:25:490:25:53

and I thought to myself, "If this is death, it's not so bad."

0:25:530:25:56

I wasn't feeling any pain, I was just drifting through the air.

0:25:560:26:00

But then, a few seconds later, or milliseconds probably,

0:26:000:26:03

I hit the floor, which brought me round, back to reality.

0:26:030:26:07

KLAXONS BLARE

0:26:090:26:11

The bomb had exploded without any warning, causing total devastation.

0:26:130:26:18

My left arm had been damaged.

0:26:180:26:21

So I had a good feel round to see if my legs had been broken or anything

0:26:210:26:25

and they hadn't, so I stood up.

0:26:250:26:27

And then I started looking for Staff Sergeant Jim Prescott.

0:26:270:26:31

By now, of course, there was a fierce fire on board ship,

0:26:310:26:35

there was smoke everywhere.

0:26:350:26:37

I was joined by one of the naval firefighting crew

0:26:400:26:44

who told me Jim was dead.

0:26:440:26:47

I put my hand on his shoulder and I followed him to the escape hatch.

0:26:480:26:52

The captain, quite sensibly, gave the order to abandon ship.

0:26:520:26:56

Forced to evacuate,

0:26:580:27:00

John and the crew left HMS Antelope to its fate.

0:27:000:27:04

I kept asking them to go back and get Jim out because, to me,

0:27:070:27:11

get his body out so he could get a decent burial,

0:27:110:27:13

but the naval tradition is, they stay on board.

0:27:130:27:16

Jim had been the only one killed in the explosion.

0:27:180:27:20

John sustained severe injuries, needing treatment straight away.

0:27:200:27:26

Next thing I know, I'm being woken up and there was a head

0:27:260:27:31

over my left shoulder, into my left ear,

0:27:310:27:34

saying, "We've had to take your arm off."

0:27:340:27:36

And I just nodded in acceptance.

0:27:360:27:38

Nearly a month after the explosion, John was reunited with his family.

0:27:400:27:45

But he couldn't forget the family that Jim had left behind.

0:27:460:27:50

She'd lost her husband.

0:27:510:27:52

Um...carrying out my orders, basically.

0:27:520:27:57

You know, I was the boss, Jim was doing what I suggested we do,

0:27:570:28:00

although we discussed it.

0:28:000:28:01

So there was a lot of guilt feeling there.

0:28:010:28:04

Survivor's guilt I think they call it.

0:28:040:28:06

When I wrote to his wife, it was very difficult, actually.

0:28:070:28:10

Because I had survived, and there I was with my wife,

0:28:120:28:15

happy families, and she'd lost her husband.

0:28:150:28:17

John will never forget his colleague and friend.

0:28:200:28:24

Remembrance Sunday, until 1982, was just a matter of getting in uniform,

0:28:260:28:30

polishing your shoes, going on parade

0:28:300:28:32

and respecting those in previous wars.

0:28:320:28:34

Now it's more personal. Now I remember people.

0:28:340:28:37

Every single veteran that walks past the Cenotaph this weekend

0:28:390:28:44

has their own memory of war, memories they live with every day.

0:28:440:28:48

Our remembrance silence is our tribute to them.

0:28:490:28:53

We have troops serving all over the world, not just here in Afghanistan.

0:28:550:28:59

The one thing they crave more than anything is a little bit

0:28:590:29:02

of normality from home.

0:29:020:29:04

So I've come to the place that provides it.

0:29:040:29:06

Welcome to the Total Ops Connection.

0:29:060:29:08

We're broadcasting all across the Forces' world from

0:29:080:29:11

our little fruit container here in Camp Bastion.

0:29:110:29:13

Very nice to have your company.

0:29:130:29:14

The forecast across Afghanistan, unsurprisingly, very hot today.

0:29:140:29:20

Here we are... Richard Hatch is one of the top presenters

0:29:200:29:23

on BFBS Radio and he is based in Bastion.

0:29:230:29:27

Rich, a pleasure to meet you out here in Afghanistan.

0:29:270:29:30

You are responsible

0:29:300:29:31

for the morale of our troops.

0:29:310:29:33

What kind of things do you do here?

0:29:330:29:34

The shows are all about the audience. That is essentially why we are here.

0:29:340:29:38

It's all about messages, military stories and a bit of banter.

0:29:380:29:42

We're here in Afghanistan, we're in the sun, living their life,

0:29:420:29:45

trying to make it fun, trying to make it entertaining.

0:29:450:29:47

If you're anywhere in the Forces' world,

0:29:470:29:50

you can get in touch on the BAT Phone,

0:29:500:29:51

which is the red phone, 6901.

0:29:510:29:53

Coming up in the show today, we will be linking up with

0:29:530:29:56

Chris Pearson at an airfield on the edge of Salisbury Plain.

0:29:560:30:00

It's a dangerous place to be.

0:30:000:30:01

Everyone's emotions are heightened more because they are here.

0:30:010:30:04

Everyone, personally,

0:30:040:30:06

is having their own...tough time

0:30:060:30:08

being away from home, doing tough jobs.

0:30:080:30:10

The troops may be thousands of miles from the UK, but there are

0:30:120:30:16

still shops and cafes selling the kind of stuff we all buy back home.

0:30:160:30:20

The places that are always busy are the gyms.

0:30:200:30:23

These men and women really do like to work out.

0:30:230:30:26

Wing Commander Steve Dharamraj is the man whose job it is to keep

0:30:280:30:32

everyone happy in Camp Bastion.

0:30:320:30:34

I suppose welfare goes hand-in-hand with morale, which is

0:30:350:30:40

one of the most important things out here? Absolutely.

0:30:400:30:45

In the military, we call it the moral component of warfare.

0:30:450:30:48

If people are of good and high morale,

0:30:480:30:50

they'll perform their tasks better.

0:30:500:30:52

So all of the welfare, the gymnasiums, the communications,

0:30:520:30:56

the shops, all of that, go to contribute to keeping the men

0:30:560:30:59

and women focused and happy.

0:30:590:31:01

If they are focused and happy, then they perform much, much better,

0:31:010:31:04

especially in these austere operational environments

0:31:040:31:07

that we are operating in now.

0:31:070:31:09

The single most important job of the welfare team is making sure

0:31:090:31:13

our troops stay in touch with their loved ones.

0:31:130:31:16

Storybook Soldiers and now Storybook Wings is a great idea.

0:31:160:31:20

It gives mums and dads the chance to read to their children back home.

0:31:200:31:24

RAF Sergeant Steve Baird is recording his story today.

0:31:240:31:29

Tell me about your family.

0:31:290:31:31

My wife is called Catherine.

0:31:310:31:33

She is in the air force as well.

0:31:330:31:34

My son's four this year in November. He's called Bradley.

0:31:360:31:40

He has grown up an awful lot, even while I've been away.

0:31:400:31:42

It is really really hard.

0:31:440:31:45

I never realised how hard it would be being away from them both.

0:31:450:31:48

Seeing him smile and listening to him learn new words and come out

0:31:520:31:55

with sentences and think, "Where did he get that from?" It's just...

0:31:550:32:00

his growing-up process.

0:32:000:32:01

What book have you decided to read today?

0:32:010:32:03

I'm going to be reading something from Roald Dahl today.

0:32:030:32:06

It's part of the Revolting Rhymes book.

0:32:060:32:08

It's Goldilocks And The Three Bears.

0:32:080:32:10

He loves his reading at the moment, which is really good.

0:32:100:32:12

Hopefully he can read this story along with it.

0:32:120:32:15

Hello, man. It's Daddy.

0:32:150:32:17

I'm going to read you a sort of nursery rhyme.

0:32:170:32:21

Goldilocks And The Three Bears.

0:32:210:32:23

"This famous wicked little tale

0:32:240:32:26

"Should never have been put on sale

0:32:260:32:29

"It's a mystery to me

0:32:290:32:30

"Why loving parents cannot see

0:32:300:32:32

"That this is actually a book

0:32:320:32:35

"About a brazen little crook

0:32:350:32:37

"Had I the chance..."

0:32:370:32:39

"..The end." I hope you enjoyed it, my little man

0:32:430:32:46

and I'll be home very, very soon.

0:32:460:32:48

I love you both. Bye.

0:32:480:32:50

Once recorded, the CD is wrapped up and sent home to Mummy and Bradley,

0:32:500:32:55

with love from Daddy.

0:32:550:32:57

Bradley, look what we've got from Daddy!

0:32:570:33:00

"This storybook belongs to Bradley."

0:33:000:33:04

Shall we open it up? Yes. It's for me. For you!

0:33:040:33:08

'"Goldilocks And The Three Bears.

0:33:080:33:11

'"This famous wicked little tale

0:33:110:33:13

'"Should never have been put on sale

0:33:130:33:15

'"It's a mystery to me

0:33:150:33:17

'"Why loving parents cannot see

0:33:170:33:19

'"That this is actually a book

0:33:190:33:22

'"About a brazen little crook."'

0:33:220:33:24

It's lovely to hear Steve's voice on a CD and a nice story for Bradley.

0:33:240:33:30

Ah!

0:33:300:33:31

SHE LAUGHS

0:33:310:33:32

'"The end." I hope you enjoyed it, my little man.

0:33:320:33:35

'I'll be home very, very soon. I love you both. Bye.'

0:33:350:33:39

In World War II, British nurses went wherever our Armed Forces were.

0:33:460:33:51

The phenomenal skill, composure and courage

0:33:510:33:54

of these great women should never be forgotten.

0:33:540:33:57

NEWSREEL: 'In every battle area are the hospitals.

0:33:570:34:00

'Here, with a quiet and steady devotion, the Army's nurses,

0:34:000:34:04

'sisters of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service,

0:34:040:34:08

'they are to be found performing their duties of mercy.

0:34:080:34:11

'Their foundress, Florence Nightingale.'

0:34:120:34:14

I always wanted to be a nurse because it's caring for people.

0:34:170:34:21

We were brought up being taught about Florence Nightingale

0:34:210:34:24

and all those stories!

0:34:240:34:26

Now 100 years old,

0:34:280:34:30

Mada Clare remembers her days as a nurse in the Second World War.

0:34:300:34:34

Matron called the senior staff and said war was imminent

0:34:340:34:38

and she'd been asked to send four of her staff as volunteers

0:34:380:34:44

to join the Queen Alexandra's Nursing Service.

0:34:440:34:46

I didn't give it a second thought. I just volunteered.

0:34:460:34:51

And I had no idea what it meant at the time.

0:34:510:34:54

Mada was 25 when she volunteered.

0:34:570:35:00

The women of Queen Alexandra's Nursing Service

0:35:000:35:03

risked their lives, providing medical support to our troops.

0:35:030:35:07

My parents were rather, well, shocked. I was so worried.

0:35:090:35:13

They said, "What have you done?" "I've joined the Army.

0:35:130:35:16

"They are wanting volunteers." And that was it.

0:35:160:35:19

The very next day, war was declared.

0:35:210:35:24

EXPLOSION

0:35:240:35:26

Mada left civilian nursing,

0:35:290:35:32

travelling to what she thought would be her new hospital.

0:35:320:35:35

We were to report to a military hospital

0:35:350:35:39

but when we got to Preston, in the North,

0:35:390:35:42

we found it was not a hospital.

0:35:420:35:44

We were given a list of camping equipment.

0:35:450:35:48

We were issued with a tin hat and we were each given three army blankets.

0:35:480:35:56

And we realised then that we were not staying in England.

0:35:560:35:59

It was time to face the reality of war.

0:36:020:36:05

In the opening months of the conflict, Mada was among

0:36:090:36:11

more than 1,000 nurses sent to France to treat our troops.

0:36:110:36:15

Very challenging, it was so different from civilian nursing.

0:36:180:36:22

The conditions, everything.

0:36:220:36:24

We would arrive and there would be a reception tent where

0:36:240:36:30

the very sick people were brought in straight from the battlefield.

0:36:300:36:35

There were some very stressful cases.

0:36:350:36:39

Very horrific, really.

0:36:390:36:41

Mada followed the troops from Dunkirk to the deserts of Egypt.

0:36:440:36:48

She assisted in operations

0:36:490:36:51

and treated casualties from the front line.

0:36:510:36:53

As the fighting went on, we followed.

0:36:550:36:58

We were on the road in a mobile unit following the troops.

0:36:580:37:02

After five years in the midst of war,

0:37:060:37:09

Mada was about to take on her biggest challenge.

0:37:090:37:12

NEWSREEL: 'The naval bombardment opened up.

0:37:130:37:16

'It was like a convulsion of nature.'

0:37:160:37:18

Treating the casualties of the Normandy invasion.

0:37:190:37:22

D-Day was the largest sea and land invasion in history.

0:37:250:37:29

Over 156,000 Allies landed in Normandy to fight the Nazis.

0:37:290:37:35

It was the first time I'd experienced anything,

0:37:350:37:40

shall I say warlike?

0:37:400:37:41

One really felt, you know, we were in the midst of it.

0:37:430:37:46

NEWSREEL: 'Casualties in the first hour were heavy.'

0:37:470:37:50

Medical teams faced their own battle -

0:37:500:37:53

treating and keeping alive thousands of casualties

0:37:530:37:56

in the weeks that followed.

0:37:560:37:58

It was rather, I say, frightening.

0:38:000:38:03

We had to do emergencies before they could get

0:38:030:38:06

even the camp big lamps up.

0:38:060:38:08

I remember the first time there were four people needing amputations.

0:38:080:38:14

We had to do a very quick emergency.

0:38:140:38:19

Despite witnessing the trauma of war,

0:38:210:38:24

nothing had prepared her for what was to come.

0:38:240:38:27

We moved on right through France, Belgium, Holland,

0:38:290:38:33

all the way through.

0:38:330:38:34

Nursing the troops as they advanced through Europe,

0:38:350:38:39

Mada arrived in what seemed like a typical town in northern Germany.

0:38:390:38:43

We went into Zell.

0:38:430:38:45

We took over a hospital, which had been run by the nuns.

0:38:450:38:49

And that's when Belsen was discovered.

0:38:490:38:51

On 15th April 1945,

0:38:530:38:57

British forces liberated survivors of Belsen concentration camp.

0:38:570:39:01

Set up by the Nazis, the camp was used in their systematic

0:39:040:39:08

campaign of persecution and genocide.

0:39:080:39:12

As the British walked through the gates,

0:39:120:39:14

the horrors inside were fully exposed.

0:39:140:39:18

Some of our medical officers had gone to Belsen

0:39:180:39:22

and they were in tears. We wondered what had happened.

0:39:220:39:27

They said, well, something dreadful had been discovered

0:39:270:39:31

and they couldn't tell us.

0:39:310:39:32

The things in this camp are beyond describing.

0:39:320:39:36

When you actually see them for yourself,

0:39:360:39:38

you know what you are fighting for here.

0:39:380:39:40

The first pictures of Belsen were developed in our X-ray department

0:39:400:39:44

and that was the biggest shock of all, I think.

0:39:440:39:48

This morning, we buried over 5,000 bodies. We don't know who they are.

0:39:550:39:58

Behind me you can see a pit, which will contain another 5,000.

0:39:590:40:03

No-one could envisage

0:40:050:40:06

that human beings could be treated in such a way.

0:40:060:40:10

It was heartbreaking, heartbreaking.

0:40:110:40:14

They were not war casualties, it was just human beings just...

0:40:210:40:28

Around 50,000 survivors were found in Belsen.

0:40:300:40:34

More than 13,000 later died,

0:40:340:40:37

too weak to recover from this systematic abuse.

0:40:370:40:40

Along with the medical teams, Mada faced an overwhelming task.

0:40:440:40:49

I was in charge of a hut about over 20.

0:40:490:40:53

We were assembled and said that we were going to nurse them,

0:40:540:40:58

had to nurse them.

0:40:580:40:59

They said the average weight would be five stone.

0:40:590:41:03

They'd been starved and we were having to feed them

0:41:040:41:08

on pre-digested food.

0:41:080:41:10

You just had to try and feed them

0:41:100:41:12

a little at a time just to keep them alive.

0:41:120:41:15

I don't think anyone in the medical profession encountered

0:41:160:41:20

anything like it.

0:41:200:41:22

I think it was the most terrifying situation I'd ever been in,

0:41:230:41:29

in my nursing.

0:41:290:41:30

Survivors of Belsen were nursed back to health

0:41:340:41:37

with thanks to the devotion of nurses like Mada

0:41:370:41:40

I think you felt privileged to think that we were there to help them.

0:41:420:41:46

They were so grateful, they would be shouting, "English sister,

0:41:480:41:52

"so pleased to see an English sister. English sister." Yes.

0:41:520:41:57

The sights of war have stayed with Mada throughout her long life.

0:42:010:42:05

But with remembrance also comes the chance to reflect on the good

0:42:060:42:10

amongst all those who served.

0:42:100:42:12

To see that procession of the veterans marching,

0:42:130:42:17

it really is very touching.

0:42:170:42:20

The elderly people in that procession, it just sort of

0:42:210:42:27

reflects what it was like in wartime, the comradeship, you know.

0:42:270:42:30

It's still there. They are all together.

0:42:300:42:33

BIRDSONG

0:42:410:42:43

On tomorrow's programme...

0:42:450:42:48

In World War II,

0:42:480:42:50

gunners in Bomber Command knew every day could be their last.

0:42:500:42:53

One man beat the odds to tell his tale.

0:42:530:42:56

I got the name of being lucky, a bit of a lucky character to fly with.

0:42:560:43:01

AIRCRAFT DRONES

0:43:050:43:07

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:320:43:35

Gethin Jones joins the troops in Afghanistan for a week of programmes commemorating the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women in conflicts now and then. The stories include a poignant and moving diary kept by a young Royal Marine in Afghanistan; the extraordinary tale of survival of an airman shot down over Burma in WW2; and a British nurse describes the horrendous discovery of the Belsen Concentration Camp.


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