VETERAN Thomas Hedley is to make an emotional return to the Far East where he fought in a famous naval battle almost 70 years ago.
The 89-year-old, from Silksworth, served on the HMS Saumaraz during the Second World War, fighting in the Battle of the Malacca Strait.
The former able seaman, who also helped keep the supply lines to Russia open during his time on the Arctic Convoys, was on board the British destroyer when it helped sink the Japanese cruiser Haguro.
During a 1945 search-and-destroy operation to set a trap for enemy vessels, a flotilla including HMS Saumaraz launched a salvo on Haguro and its escort Kamikaze, which later escaped.
Two men on board HMS Saumarez were killed and three burned in the boilerroom when a shell severed the main steam pipe.
As veterans marked Victory over Japan Day, great-grandad Thomaswas preparing to visit Thailand next month, thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme.
“The trip will bring back a lot of memories,” he said.
“The fighting was tough. It was also done at night, which meant all we saw was lots of flashes.
“There was also a hell of a lot of noise, crashes and bangs.”
After volunteering for the Royal Navy as a teenager, Thomas, who was trained to operate the onboard guns, also fought in the Battle of North Cape, off the coast of Norway, which ended with the sinking of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.
The ex-gun-layer, who will be joined by his daughter on the Thailand trip, said: “We were always at sea during the war, so it will be nice to see something of the country.”
The Big Lottery Fund has extended its Heroes Return 2 Programme.
This will ensure Second World War veterans will have a second opportunity to apply for a grant towards travel and accommodation expenses to enable them to make trips back to places across the world where they served, or make a commemorative visit in the UK.
For more information, call 0845 00 00 121.