War hero prepares for emotional return
By Lisa CleverdonA WAR veteran from East Anglia is to travel to Europe for celebrations held in memory of fallen comrades, thanks to money awarded to him by the National Lottery.
By Lisa Cleverdon
A WAR veteran from East Anglia is to travel to Europe for celebrations held in memory of fallen comrades, thanks to money awarded to him by the National Lottery.
Ralph Harrington is one of hundreds of Second World War air gunners planning a return trip to Holland as part of the 60th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8.
The 81-year-old, from Mildenhall, will be visiting the Dutch town of Dronten to take part in a special remembrance service for the men that died while helping to liberate the country during the six-year conflict.
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The trip is being funded by the Heroes Return and Home Front Recall schemes, set up to fund commemoration trips and events marking the anniversary of the end of the war.
Mr Harrington, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 for his service to the 78th Squadron of Bomber Command, will be travelling to Holland with his wife of 62 years, Kathleen.
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Almost 150 of Mr Harrington's comrades lie beneath the soil of the Netherlands, and some bodies are in downed aircraft that are still being brought to the surface.
"This will not be the first time I have travelled to Holland for VE Day, but this will be an extra special occasion," he said. "I am really looking forward to going, but I think it will be a very poignant and moving time."
Since the Heroes Return scheme was launched last year, more than 2,600 people from the East of England have been awarded grants to visit overseas locations.
Mr Harrington said: "I would have made the trip anyway, but it is nice to have financial help. It is very important to me to be able to go to Holland to remember those who fought in the war.
"We always get such a wonderful welcome when we go. Last time, when I was at the airport, a Dutch gentleman approached me and said 'You are my liberator, thank you'."
Mr Harrington served as an air gunner at an RAF base in Yorkshire between 1943 and 1944. He then went on to work in Transport Command, before finally leaving the RAF in 1947 and joining the Metropolitan Police.
He will fly to Holland on April 28 and will make his way to Dronten for a remembrance service on May 4 to commemorate the country's liberation on May 5, 1945.
After a civic reception, Mr Harrington will take part in a special church service before wreaths are laid by children in the town.
Dronten was built on reclaimed land and the town's war memorial is centred around the propeller from a Bomber Command aircraft brought to the surface.
Sara Betsworth, regional manager for the Big Lottery Fund, said: "The approach next month of the 60th anniversary of VE Day helps to underline how much Britain today owes to those veterans who fought in the Second World War."