Belfast Telegraph

Honoured for their service, 15 Northern Ireland war veterans are awarded silver poppies

 

Maureen Lightbody
Maureen Lightbody
Maureen Lightbody
Michael Hutchison
Michael Hutchison
Norman Dickson
Norman Dickson
John Gilpin
John Gilpin
Jim Shannon MP with John Milliken and his son Martin
The annual memorial service remembers Northern Ireland prison officers
Susan Murphy, with a special poppy for her late grandfather Basil Martin, with Lady Sylvia Hermon

By Christopher Leebody

Fifteen of Northern Ireland's World War Two veterans were honoured on Friday with a commemorative silver poppy for their service ahead of Remembrance Day.

The event in Bangor Town Hall saw ex-services personnel and their families trade wartime tales and comradeship over a poignant but memorable lunch.

The men and women were then each presented with a silver poppy, designed by local artist Sarah McAleer, by pupils from Bangor Central Integrated Primary School.

One of those in attendance was John Gilpin (97) from Belfast, who served in the Royal Air Force between 1939 and 1945. John was 17 when he joined the forces, serving with RAF Bomber Command as an air gunner.

With Bomber Command being one of the most dangerous service branches, John remembers some "very dicey moments", and feeling lucky compared to other colleagues.

He said: "We got shot up a few times, crash landed, but we all walked away from it. That was life in those days, you accepted it all. Around 50,000 were lost in Bomber Command. Those are the lads to be respected.

"I've a lot of good memories too.

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"Everybody in that crew was like a brother.

"I am honoured today, it's a lovely gesture to look at all these people here together in respect."

Maureen Lightbody (94) joined the WRENs - the Women's Royal Navy Service - straight from school in 1943. As she was just 18 and her mother was a young widow, Maureen remained stationed at the Royal Hotel in Bangor as a Visual Signaller.

Unlike most, Maureen admits she had a happier experience at that time of her life than many others.

"I feel a bit of a fraud because my war in Bangor was such a happy one. I only have happy memories of the war really, never sad ones".

Norman Dickson (98) served in the Royal Engineers between 1943 and 1945.

Norman, who was previously awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal, France's highest distinction, was joined by his daughter Carol.

She said: "As he has got older it's the sad memories, the bad memories, the thought of all his friends who were killed."

Carol explained that yesterday's ceremony, organised by Ards and North Down Borough Council, was a "complete surprise", adding that her dad was "delighted when he heard he was coming, he couldn't wait to get here".

Susan Murphy collected a silver poppy on behalf of her grandfather, Basil Martin, who passed away in August at the age of nearly 105. A veteran of the RAF, he served from 1940 to 1945. While Susan admitted that it was "a pity he wasn't here to take part", she added that the whole family are "extremely proud of him" and that "he was a remarkable man".

Michael Hutchison (94) served in the Royal Navy between 1943 and 1946. The radar mechanic saw service aboard HMS Squirrel, built in Harland and Wolff, mine-sweeping the Strait of Malacca, near Malaysia.

Reflecting the modest trait of many of his generation, Michael joked that he was "not quite sure why we are being given this silver poppy. I didn't do anything special".

John Milliken (94) joined the RAF at 17 and served between 1944 and 1948.

His son Martin said the ceremony was a "proud moment" for the family and that John's silver poppy will proudly sit "in the centrepiece of the fireplace" at home.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Prison Service held its annual service yesterday to honour the memory of those officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

A wreath was laid by its director general Ronnie Armour who praised the memorial as "a reminder of the professionalism, commitment and dedication" to all those who had served.

Belfast Telegraph

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