The Second World War affected the lives of millions of people around the world. From veterans to ancestors across the Commonwealth, these people are all united in their shared connections.
Rachel Howell’s late husband was Reverend Captain Charles Ernest Alcock (later Howell) who volunteered for the Army the day war broke out. He was appointed chaplain to the 4th Norfolks and sent to Singapore. As the troops landed, many were killed outright and survivors marched to Changi jail.
Sent to work on the Thai Burma ‘Death’ Railway, he was responsible for the spiritual welfare and support of his men. He was one of few allowed to travel between camps, and was therefore able to transport forbidden radio parts hidden in his Holy Communion case. Many of Charles’s men died on the Railway from disease, starvation or punishment, and Charles held funerals for them. He noted down in a book and on maps meticulous personal details and the exact place of burial of each one. The book is on display at Alrewas Changi Hut and the maps at TBRC in Thailand.
“I am grateful that he was able to bring comfort to grieving families by showing where to find their loved ones’ graves,” says Rachel, 95. Charles was awarded the MBE for his tireless work in the service of his fellow men.
Darbara Singh’s Story
Mr. Darbara Singh Bhullar enrolled in the British Indian Army on 17th February 1942 and served in World War 2. He served in Burma during 1944 as was part of the communications team within the Signals Corp. He was part of the 33 British Indian Signals corps and they went through the jungles of Imphal and they lived in various locations on the hills, mountains and slept on the ground.
Les Wills joined the Royal Navy before being posted to HMS Indefatigable, which was one of six Fleet Aircraft Carriers that made up the biggest task force of British ships ever assembled. More than 200 warships and over 500 aircraft sailed for the Far East to help the war against Japan.
Major Akram Saleem Mirza’s Story
Zakariya, aged 9, plays for AFC Bournemouth Football Academy. His great grandfather, Major Akram Saleem Mirza, was a commanding officer and major in the British Army. He was deployed in Burma to fight against the Japanese. He was awarded the Star of Burma medal, which was awarded to British and Commonwealth forces who served in the Burma Campaign from 1941 to 1945.
“My grandfather was a very brave man,” Zakariya says.
Private Jim Clark, 97, was in the Kings Liverpool Regiment. He was working as an apprentice grocer when he received his call-up papers in December 1942. Aged 18, he joined the Royal Suffolk Home Guar and underwent a six week motor vehicle training course before being posted to the Royal Norfolk regiment as a Private.
Jim was sent up to Liverpool, where he boarded a Dutch owned troop ship destined for India. Landing at Bombay, Jim then endured a 150 mile, week long train journey to the Deolali Transit Camp, nicknamed Doolally due to the notoriously unpleasant and dull environment.
From here he was transferred to the King’s regiment at Jhansi and began his training for the second Chindit expedition. On 5th March 1944, Jim, along with his comrades from 81 Column flew into Burma aboard USAAF gliders and landed at the ‘Broadway’ airstrip.
Rifleman Kap Bik’s Story
Rifleman Kap Bik served in the British armed forces of Burma before Independence in January 1948. He joined 1st Battalion, The Chin Rifle, in 1945 and served with 1st Chin Rifle until 1951. He was awarded the Burma Star Medal and the 1939-45 Service Medal by the British Army.
Rajindar Singh Dhatt joined the British-Indian army in his teens, his family unable to send him to college. After joining he was selected to become an army physical training instructor.
In 1944 as British and pre-partition Indian divisions fought for survival at Kohima and Imphal in North East India, Rajindar and his unit were sent to help break through. After the battle Rajindar would spend the rest of the war fighting in Burma.
Rajindar emigrated to the UK in the early 1960s and was to become one of the founder members of the Undivided Indian Ex-Servicemens Association, which brings together #SecondWorldWar service personnel from pre-partition India living in the UK.
Mervyn, from London, was just 18 when he signed up to serve in the British Army. He trained in Scotland and Leeds before heading to France and experiencing D-Day and other major milestones of the Second World War, including the liberation of Bergen Belsen. Mervyn stays in touch with other veterans and their decedents via Facebook and through groups that make regular trips to places of remembrance.
Joseph was at school in Ghana when war broke out. In 1943 he joined the army and would go on to serve in the 82nd West African Division.
When the division was sent to India Joseph went through intense training before being deployed to Burma where he would serve alongside Gurkha and British forces as part of the Fourteenth Army.
Sid Machin, 97, from Dorset, initially served in Chindit HQ as a Signaller, then went back to 1st King’s (Liverpool) Regiment and flew into ‘Broadway’ by glider on 5th March 1944. A member of 81 Column, 77th Brigade, he was part of a floater platoon operating around Broadway. When Broadway closed the 1st King’s marched across to support 111th Brigade at the stronghold codenamed ‘Blackpool’.
While supporting 111th Brigade a sliver of bamboo went right through his foot, which went septic, and he had to be carried on an officer’s horse for several days as he couldn’t walk. He ended up at Indawgyi Lake for evacuation, but missed out on a flying boat and had to go by raft to Kamaing for air evacuation to hospital in Meerut.
Pte Kwesi Amoateng’s Story
Pte Kwesi Amoateng lives in the small village of Bompata in the Ashanti Region of south Ghana. He served with the 81st Division during the Second World War.
99-yr-old veteran Private Alby Gibson was a soldier with the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, which made up one quarter of 77th Indian Infantry Brigade on Operation Thursday in 1944.
Margaret Joy Hunter graduated from secretarial college during the second world war and quickly found herself at the heart of Churchill’s government, working long shifts in the War Cabinet. Here she reflects on her unique experiences; from typing the orders for D-Day, to enjoying a movie night with Churchill in his pyjamas and finally the exhilarating atmosphere of VE Day at Buckingham Palace and The Mall.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden speaks to veteran Eric Axam
Eric was called up when he was just 18 and trained in Scotland and Wales before being posted to Belgium. He was part of the first British troops to enter Germany, serving in the 4th battalion of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. After the war, he returned to the UK to marry his childhood sweetheart Kitty whom he met while carrying their mothers’ bedding to Badcocks Air raid Shelter in London during the Blitz. They had three children, Erica , Diane, David and Eric continues to be an active inspiration to his 8 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren, being know as ‘grandad rocket’ to the youngsters because of the Farnborough Air Show Red Arrows Show, which can be seen clearly from his back garden.
Eric worked as a messenger boy for the London Electricity Company (LEC) before his call up so with his wireless training, after the war he returned to work at Falcon House (where the radar was invented) as a lab assistant.
The Premier League and Big Ideas have brought together young footballers and veteran players from the same clubs to discuss what it was like to live through the Second World War. Watch the films and send in your thought, letters or other creative messages for the men and women who served in the War.
Tom Moody currently lives in Toronto, Canada. He was with the Essex regiment during the war, being a part of the D-Day invasion and travelled throughout Europe with British Forces in France, Netherlands, Belgium. Tom was part of the reserve from 1936 and regular forces from 1939. Tom married Eileen and was a member of the land army during the war. In 1949, Tom moved to Canada with his family.
Kathleen Mary Ruane, from Dunstable was 17 in July 1944 when she volunteered to join the Women’s Royal Air Force. She was eager to do more on the war effort and started her intensive training learning coding where she was posted in London. Kathleen was invited to attend the Queen’s unveiling of the monument in London, celebrating Women of World War II war efforts. Kathleen will be 94 this year and she is a member of the Royal Air Forces Association.
Eric George Seeley served in the Royal Navy during the War. He was a Signal Operator onboard HMS Icarus. He had received this naval message from the Admiralty on the 7th May 1945, informing the crew when VE Day was scheduled for.
Mabel Rita Willing celebrated her 21st birthday on V.E. Day. She was a member of Women’s Auxiliary Air Force based at RAF Handforth from 1943. Mabel describes her 21st birthday as the most amazing day because the whole country was jubilant and she felt that everyone was celebrating her birthday.
Granville Hickey had joined the K.O.L.I (Kings Own Light Infantry) in 1940. He was later captured in France and marched on foot to a prisoner of war camp in Poland where he remained for the rest of the war. On April 11th 1945 Granville was liberated and taken by a Dakota Hospital plane to a hospital in Brussels. Granville was later flown back to England to a hospital in London. On VE Day 8th May, Graville travelled home by train to Doncaster where he was greeted with loud cheers by his parents, friends and neighbours.
Captain Brian Burnett MC had served as a gunner part of the 90th City of London Field Regiment, the 50th Infantry Division, in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily. On D Day June 6th 1944, Brian landed on Gold Beach in Normandy, as one of the first guns ashore part of the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland. On VE day Brian resided in Holland and shares the memory of a priest in a Carmelite Monastery handing him a little white card, on which he had drawn and written to celebrate VE day, welcoming the British troops. Brian had been awarded the Military Cross, the citation of his award mentioned his several acts of bravery, courage and devotion to duty.
Corporal John Sleep was in the 3rd Parachute Regiment and took part in the Experimental Jumps, seeing how low they could jump from (300ft!). He subsequently served in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Italy, although he did all his landings by sea. On VE Day John was convalescing in Great Yarmouth. John remembers the celebrations in the town, which he joined in, wearing his army uniform; consequently, he had plenty of drinks and “a few kisses!” He recalls watching engineers removing mines from the beach and washing the sand away with hoses. After the war John supported the campaign for War Widows to be given a proper pension. For nearly 40 years John has made annual trips to the town of Venray in Holland with other veterans and war widows.
My Great Great Uncle Jack’s Story (by Dora, age 10)
My great great uncle Jack fought in the Second World War. He was a rear gunner in the RAF and was lucky to survive the war. He used to fly in a Lancaster Bomber air craft and flew over 40 missions. On one of those missions he even had to jump out of his airplane with a parachute because his plane got shot down. That was very difficult from where he was in the back of the aircraft. He crashed in France and his family thought he had died. He got a George VI cross for acts of great bravery.
He went back to the place where his plane crashed when he was 89 years old. He died 2 years ago (age 97) and we miss him a lot.
William Bill Dunkinson was born on the 3rd of January 1922 in Brockenhurst. William left school at 14 to work as an apprentice motor mechanic. He then spent most of his early years in the Navy and was a vital part of D-day, evacuating troops of the beaches of France. At the start of the Second World War he worked in the New Forest in what was classed as a ‘protected’ or ‘reserved’ profession, which meant he was not called up to serve in the armed forces.
Louise Le Page was born in Guernsey part of the Channel Islands in 1920. When she had turned 18, she moved to London to start training as a nurse. Louise was a nurse in a London hospital when the Blitz started and remembers bombers attacking British cities, ports and industrial areas. Throughout her time as a nurse during the Blitz, Louise mentioned how frightened she was after seeing some horrific injuries from people that were caught in the bomb blasts. After the war had finished Louise travelled safely back to Guernsey, where she continued to work as a nurse.
My Great Grandad Arthur’s Story (By Ruan, aged 10)
My Great Grandad joined the RAF stationed in Scotland where he met my Great Grandma. They got married in Scotland just before Great Grandad was sent to India in 1942 for 3 ½ years. Whilst he was away my Great Grandma went to live with his parents in Earlsfield, London. Whilst in India Great Grandad worked with Lancaster Bombers. He was a rear gunner and engineer, although he did not fight in Europe, he was involved in stopping Japan invade the East. Great Grandad came back to London, England right before V-E Day.
I presume he was relieved to have found his family safe and sound.
My Great Grandad Harry’s Story (By Helena, age 9)
My Great Grandad Harry Litherland, was 21 when he went into the second world war. He travelled from Moreton in the Wirral to Egypt and Greece. While he was based in these countries he was involved in the Battle of El-Alamein and Operation Crusader. He was evacuated from Greece on a warship that nearly sank! Back in Egypt, Great Grandad suffered a severe injury when a bomb was dropped in front of his truck. He travelled back to England where he had his left leg amputated. Although he was going to have the operation he was glad to return to England because he had been worried about his family during the Blitz.
My Great Grandad spent the rest of his happy life as a painter. He married Pat, my Great Grandmother and had 6 children! Both legs had been affected but miraculously the other leg lasted for another 62 years before it needed to be removed.