Veterans urged to find peace at last

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A veteran is urging others to exorcise their demons as he did with a visit to the place they served funded by the National Lottery.

The Big Lottery’s Heroes Return scheme paid £1,250 for Bill Macauley, 85, of Kettering, to go back to Hong Kong, where he was interned by the Japanese after joining the Civil Defence Force as a teenager.

Mr Macauley, who went on to serve 23 years in the RAF before becoming a nurse at Kettering General Hospital’s accident and emergency department, visited the grave of an unknown soldier whose burial party he’d led, but who had since been identified and re-buried.

He said: “It was a catharsis. I knew this chap who I’d buried. I thought: ‘I know who you are.’ That had been bothering me for years.”

On his trip back to the former colony, Mr Macauley visited the Sai Wan Cemetery and the Stanley Military Cemetery, where the Japanese buried prisoners from the nearby concentration camp in which he was interned.

He said: “The Stanley Cemetery, where we were imprisoned, was very emotional.

“I knew names and helped to bury people there. When I wandered around almost every headstone was a name I knew.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission asked Mr Macauley to identify four names at each cemetery he was officially visiting.

But the veteran, who signed up as a Dispatch Corps Messenger for the Air Raid Precaution Service as a 15-year-old when a naval officer visited his boarding school looking for volunteers, could have named dozens.

Even walking through the streets of Hong Kong along which he had carried messages – and bodies – brought the memories flooding back.

A former comrade’s wife said she had heard more about her husband’s experiences on the short trip than she had in the 70 years in between.

As well as the trip to Hong Kong in 2005, Heroes Return paid for Mr Macauley, who suffered from Far East Prisoner of War Syndrome, to meet up with other allies interned in the Far East in Stratford Upon Avon last year.

The fund paid £50 a day to cover his expenses.

Mr Macauley had been thinking of doing a return visit for some time and was delighted when he found out he qualified for a Heroes Return grant to pay for a trip.

He said: “I love being around other veterans as it makes me feel at home.

“Even though Hong Kong is now full of skyscrapers, ground level on the streets still felt familiar to me.

“We are all pensioners now and not everyone has the money to take one of these trips. That’s why the National Lottery funding is so crucial.

“Part of the joy of my trip was watching the reactions of my fellow veterans as we visited places that were particularly poignant to them. No-one should be deprived of having that cathartic experience if they want it. I could not recommend it enough.”

More than £27 billion has gone to 370,000 voluntary and community groups, arts, education, sport, heritage, environment and health projects across the UK since the National Lottery started in 1994.