World War Two veterans given silver poppies at ceremony

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Image caption,
The silver poppies were presented at a ceremony in Bangor, County Down

Twenty surviving veterans have been presented with special silver poppies to mark their service in World War Two.

They were presented with the poppies, which were made by County Down artist Sarah McAleer, in a ceremony in Bangor Castle on Friday.

All of the veterans range in age from 93 to 103 and live in the Ards and North Down Borough Council area.

They had served in forces including the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force (RAF) and Women's Royal Naval Service.

Image caption,
John Gilpin (right) says his memories of the war are "vivid"

They were presented to the veterans by the Ards and North Down Mayor Bill Keery and children from Bangor Central Integrated Primary School.

One of those who received a silver poppy was John Gilpin, who enlisted in the RAF in 1939 at the age of 17.

After time as a fitter for fighter planes in the Battle of Britain he became an air gunner in Bomber Command.

'I was scared but still did it'

He told BBC News NI his memories of dangerous war missions were still "vivid".

"We were all at that age and wild enough, I suppose," he said.

Image caption,
School pupils presented the veterans with their silver poppies

"I mean many a time I was scared, don't get me wrong, but you still kept doing it.

"We went to Turin with an engine on fire and we crash landed but we all walked away from it.

"We were attacked quite a few times flying with the Stirling Bombers and Flying Fortress.

"With the Flying Fortress we were carrying out secret work, working in conjunction with the Americans.

"I also had a brother who was a prisoner of war - he was slightly older than me."

Image caption,
All of those who received the silver poppies had served during World War Two

John said his wife had convinced him to attend Friday's ceremony.

"Normally I don't bother but the wife and them said: 'No, you must come!'" he said.

'Big battleships in Bangor'

Maureen Lightbody joined the Women's Royal Naval Service straight from school at the age of 18 in 1943.

As her mother was a young widow, she was stationed in Bangor where she had to signal code to ships entering and leaving Belfast Lough.

She would signal to ships in morse code using an Aldis lamp.

Image caption,
Maureen Lightbody remembers battleships in Belfast Lough during the war

Among her most enduring memories of the war was the US Navy's arrival in Bangor ahead of D-Day.

"All the big battleships from America were in Bangor," she said.

"On D-Day 40 ships left Belfast Lough overnight - it was unbelievable, it was some sight.

"I feel quite guilty because my role wasn't war but it was part of the war and it was important."

'I lost a leg'

One-hundred-year-old Arthur Bomber fought in the battle of Kohima in Burma against the Japanese army.

Image caption,
Arthur Bomber lost a leg during World War Two

He was so badly wounded in battle that he was given the last rites.

He said: "I don't really have too many memories apart from serving there and fighting against the Japanese.

"I ended up losing my leg."

Arthur said that getting a silver poppy alongside other veterans was "great".

"It's a real extra, isn't it? You don't expect these things."