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Monday, February 9, 2004

Battlefield Return

Veterans of the Second World War are to be given financial help from the National Lottery to pay for their return trips to the battlefield.

Listen to the EXTENDED WEBSITE ONLY VERSION of Bob Walker’s interview with WWII veteran Peter Boyle.

Veterans of the Second World War are to be given financial help from the National Lottery to pay for their return trips to the battlefield.

Thousands of former servicemen are expected to make their pilgrimages this year, starting with the 60th anniversary of the D Day landings in June.

The New Opportunities Fund, under a scheme called Heroes Return, is making millions of pounds available to help anyone who wants to visit the graves of their comrades, be it in Northern France or Burma.

Men like 80-year-old Peter Boyle, who took part in one of the most famous parts of Operation Overlord … D-Day.

Sitting in his living room in his Nottinghamshire home, Peter Boyle doesn’t look or sound like a hero. But a hero he most certainly is.

Mr Boyle was just 20-year-old when he flew his troop-carrying Horsa glider to PegasusBridge, well behind enemy lines.

The plan was to capture the bridge over the CaenCanal and hold it until relieved first by paratroopers and then by Lord Lovat’s commandos.

The gliders landed within a hundred metres of the bridge, although Mr Boyle’s plane hit a patch of sodden ground and was broken in two. His co-pilot Geoff Barkway pulled him from the wreckage of the cockpit but was then hit himself by enemy fire, eventually losing his arm as a result.

Mr Boyle then supported the ground troops with a Piat anti-tank gun. They held off the German counter-attacks until they were reinforced by Allied paratroops.

The force then held the bridge until the commandoes arrived several hours after the landings, led by Lord Lovat’s personal piper.

“I shall never forget the sound of those pipes,” said Mr Boyle. “I remember it so well because I didn’t really like bagpipes!”

In contrast to the smooth-running of the PegasusBridge operation, Mr Boyle also took part in Operation Market Garden (the disastrous attempt to capture the bridge at Arnhem which was immortalised in the film A Bridge Too Far).

He saw comrades standing next to him killed and was eventually captured by SS troops when their tank blew apart the building in which he was hiding.

Mr Boyle ended the war in a PoW camp. He took his chance of escape when the guards ran away as the Red Army closed in.

But his wartime experiences didn’t help when he returned to Nottingham. He was initially turned down for several jobs, because he was too young.

Click here to hear the extended version of the interview with Peter Boyle.

Click here for the broadcast version, plus to hear Arts Minister Estelle Morris explain more about the 'Heroes Return' scheme (09/02/04).

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