Big Lottery Fund
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Big salutes nation’s veterans with £800,000 lottery funding

Second World War veterans across the country are set for trips to theatres of war throughout the world to commemorate the battles that led to the end of WWII with 430 grants announced today by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG).

This third round of announcements will see a total of almost 1,100 WWII veterans, widows, spouses and carers making commemorative trips to mark overseas anniversaries under BIG’s Heroes Return 2 programme which will run throughout 2009 and 2010.  Some veterans are travelling in groups or accompanied by family and carers, while others are making final solo visits to the places where they fought in the battle against fascism.

Peter Wanless, Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive, said: “The generation of men and women who served this country during the Second World War gave so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.  As they get older, pilgrimages to the areas where they saw service become ever more poignant and precious to our veterans.

“Today’s Heroes Return 2 funding announcement builds on the Fund’s previous support for our veterans. We were proud that we were able to contribute to events marking the 60th anniversary leading up to the end of the Second World War - including helping 39,000 veterans and their carers go overseas to revisit those sites where they saw action.

“This is why I am personally delighted today to announce this latest round of grants under Heroes Return 2, as we are making a further offer to fund the trips for those veterans who would like our support to attend anniversary events beginning in Normandy and continuing over the next two years to other commemorative sites across the world.  In this way, on behalf of the whole nation, we are honouring the service and sacrifice of so many of our veterans.”

One of those preparing for the off is Norman Vickerstaff from Nottingham, who receives a BIG grant of £2,000 to make a remembrance visit to Taiwan, where he was a prisoner of war for three years.

A signalman in the Royal Corps of Signals, Norman was called up in May 1940 and served first in the Indian Army and then in Malaya and Singapore. It was there, at Changi Point, that the allied forces surrendered to the Japanese on February 15 1942, and Norman was one of those taken prisoner and shipped to Taiwan.

He recalls: “I was based first at a camp where we were digging out a huge lake – now the headquarters of the Taiwanese Navy. It was backbreaking work, but at least it was in the open air, and far worse was to come.

“After two years I was transferred to a copper mine at Kinkaseki. It was a ghastly experience. We were working half a mile under a mountain, with no ventilation or lighting, and the temperature could reach 100 degrees. Over 100 men lost their lives in accidents, and we lived on three small bowls of rice and vegetable mush a day. Those who didn’t work quickly enough were beaten.”

After six months, Norman was finally freed and shipped home. By then, at 5ft 8ins, he weighed just 7 stone 2 lbs. He returned to his job as a railway clerk, married, and has been an active member of the Far East Prisoner of War Association ever since. Norman will be attending the annual commemorative service at the site of the Kinkaseki mine in November.

He said: “There’s a marble plinth with the story of the prisoners – the ones who made it home and those who didn’t – a permanent record of our history. I’ve been a couple of times before, and it’s a very moving experience, going back.”

Also awarded a grant in this round is Frederick Childs, from Reigate in Surrey. Frederick, now 86, served in the 7th Armoured Division known as the ‘Desert Rats’ as a tank driver, and will be using the Heroes Return 2 award to return to the beach at Salerno, Italy in October.

Mr Childs signed up to the Army at the age of 16 after being brought up in a Dr Barnardos home.  He was in the boys service at first and then when he turned 18 joined the 7th Armoured Division as a tank driver seeing action at the major battle of El Alamein, then throughout North Africa, along the Libyan coast to Tunis.

In 1943 the allied troops invaded mainland Italy at Salerno and the 7th Armoured Division approached in landing craft. Frederick remembers, “My overriding memory is of approaching the beach on the landing craft and of the water spouting up in huge shoots as the shells hit the sea. I’ll be going back to Salerno for the first time with my son and without this lottery grant I wouldn’t have been able to. I’m looking forward to it though and to seeing Salerno as it is today – peaceful.”  

Reg Chilton from Liverpool will also receive a grant today. Reg joined the Merchant Navy at the outbreak of war, aged just 15.  Finding his sea legs as a Deck Boy, it wasn’t long before he was reporting for service on the SS Sobo as part of a merchant convoy making its way across the paths of deadly U Boat patrols, on one of many perilous Atlantic voyages bringing vital supplies from America.  

Arriving in New York after his first trip young Reg, excited at the prospect of seeing the bright lights, was suddenly told he wasn’t allowed to go ashore and celebrate with the rest of the crew. However, his disappointment didn’t last long.

He recalls: “It was generally feared that there were Nazi spies watching ships come in to dock, and the FBI came aboard to look after the guns and armaments. I got friendly with one the detectives who took me home to the Bronx to meet his family. It was quite an experience for a young lad.”

Reg also saw action as part of an allied support convoy for troop landings in North Africa, Burma and Sicily, where he recalls the terrible moment when a remote controlled German floating bomb was heading at speed straight towards the convoy. He recalls, ”It was terrifying. You could see this red light coming towards you but there was nothing you could do to get out of its way. It missed us but destroyed and sunk the ship just ahead. We were very lucky that day.”   

Now aged 83, Reg and his wife Joan are looking forward to returning to Catania in Sicily, he said ”This award has given me the opportunity to go back to where we landed all those years ago. There was a wrecked British ship sunk in the bay and we swam out to it. I would like to go and see if it’s still there, though I won’t be doing any swimming.”

The Big Lottery Fund has already supported veterans through the Awards for All small grants programme with funding over £178,000 to support anniversary trips this year.

Launched to mark the historic 60th anniversary of D-DAY in 2004, BIG’s first Heroes Return scheme awarded £16.6 million to over 39 thousand veterans, spouses, widows and carers to fund commemorative visits to Second World War battlefields, cemeteries and other significant places across the worl.

Heroes Return was the centrepiece of the Veterans Reunited programme, including Home Front Recall, which awarded £19.2 million to support UK-based group events and activities to commemorate those who contributed to the war-effort on the home front. The programme also includes Their Past Your Future, an ongoing £9.6 million scheme funding a UK-wide schools and education programme to give young people the opportunity to learn first-hand from veterans about their experience of war.


Further Information

Big Lottery Fund Press Office: 020 7211 1888
Out of hours contact: 07867 500 572
Public Enquiries Line: 08454 102030
Textphone: 0845 6021 659

Full details of the Big Lottery Fund programmes and grant awards are available on the website:


Notes to editors

  • The Big Lottery Fund (BIG), the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out half the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.
  • BIG is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since June 2004. The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.
  • Since the National Lottery began in 1994, 28p from every pound spent by the public has gone to good causes. As a result, over £22 billion has now been raised and more than 300,500 grants awarded across arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment.
  • Heroes Return £17 million scheme provided funding to Second World War veterans, their wives or husbands, widows and widowers and, where required, their present-day carers to visit the overseas areas where the veterans saw active service.  By linking with activities funded through the Their Past Your Future scheme, Heroes Return is also helping to give young people a better understanding of the efforts and sacrifices made by veterans.
  • Home Front Recall provided grants of between £500 and £20,000 for regional and local projects across the UK in 2004-2005 that commemorated the events of the Second World War and the contributions of different groups in society.  The scheme funded a very wide range of projects including special community days; reunions and exhibitions; recordings of the experiences of those who lived through the War; plays and pieces of creative artwork. In addition, the scheme funded a number of national grants to organisations such as the TUC to fund a range of commemorative activities.
  • Their Past Your Future is a UK-wide education project led by a partnership of the Imperial War Museum, Museums, Libraries and Archives England, National Library of Wales, Northern Ireland Museum Council and Scottish Museums Council, supported by the Big Lottery Fund. The project aims to increase young people’s understanding and appreciation of the impact on people and places of conflict throughout the 20th century, including the Second World War. It also focuses on history, national identity and civic participation/responsibility through learning programmes, engaging with veterans and eyewitnesses of conflict, and with primary sources from UK museums, libraries and archives. The project was established in 2004 as part of Veterans Reunited, and concludes in March 2010.
  • The project website at includes a wide range of resources for schools to use to facilitate learning about the project themes as well as details of projects delivered by museums across the UK.

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