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Our fitting tribute to Ireland’s war heroes

6 June 2014

In September 2004 we made history when our Heroes Return programme was extended to the Republic of Ireland and allowed World War II veterans from all of Ireland to revisit the battlefields where they saw active service. Amanda Doherty pays tribute to a group of men and women whose contribution to the Allied war effort has only recently received its due.

Irish veteran wearing uniform and medals in 2014

Our Heroes Return programme has helped World War Two veterans like Pat Gillen from Cork in the Republic of Ireland, who took part in the D Day landings, return to the places where they served.

The actual number of personnel from Ireland who served voluntarily in the British Army in WWII is not known.  However, as at 31 December 1943, 43,500 personnel who had been born in Ireland were serving, not just in the named Irish regiments, but throughout the whole of the Army. (SOURCE BRITISH EMBASSY IN DUBLIN)

The announcement that the Heroes Return programme – three months after it was launched in April 2004 – was being extended to the Republic of Ireland meant that men and women from across Ireland who had volunteered for active service had their significant contribution recognised – many for the first time.

We saw this as a fitting tribute to Irish men and women who volunteered their services to the Allied Forces and who now had the chance to join with their comrades-in-arms to return to their theatre of action.

In September 2004 veterans from across Ireland joined us at Leopardstown Park Hospital in Dublin when the Princess Royal made a special visit to announce the extra funding and to thank the veterans personally for their sacrifices during WWII.

In the first year of the programme more than 160 veterans, spouses and widows from Northern Ireland and the Republic made emotional journeys to battlefields across the world in trips funded through Heroes Return.

Heroes Return is a wonderful scheme and I feel privileged to have been able to capture the experiences of many veterans who had made a poignant journey back to the battlefields, many for the first time in 60 years.

The experience of returning to those places with former comrades and sharing the memories of a key stage of their lives has been absolutely vital over the years and I am delighted that we enabled many veterans to make that special journey of remembrance.

As we celebrate our 10th birthday and look back over the impact of our funding in the past decade, I feel proud to have been involved in a programme that made history in Ireland and to have met some amazing men and women who made huge personal sacrifices for freedom.


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