A WAR veteran today spoke of his emotional return to the battlefield where his comrades were killed during the Second World War.
Former soldier Jack Watson was still a teenager when he joined the army in 1941, fighting in the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy, which left a quarter of a million dead or wounded.
Now the 88-year-old, from High Barnes, Sunderland, has travelled back to the war zone to pay his respects to the fallen as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return trip.
“We spent a full day in Monte Cassino and it was a very emotional time,” he said.
“Many things had changed, the town has been rebuilt, but there were landmarks there that were exactly the same.
“It brought back a lot of memories – both sad and happy.”
Allied forces spent months fighting their way up from southern Italy towards Rome, with the monastery of Monte Cassino at the strongest point of a powerful German defensive line.
As well as the bombing of the 1,400 year-old Benedictine monastery, the 1944 conflict saw the town of Cassino come under heavy fire.
Mr Watson, who served as a signaller with the 75th Medium Shropshire Yeomanry Royal Artillery, took part in observation and target-spotting while helping to maintain communications on the front line.
As well as Americans and British, the Allied forces included French from North Africa, Indians and Gurkhas, New Zealanders, Canadians and Poles.
“I lost many friends out there,” he said.
“There were 14 to 20 from the regiment that were killed. We also visited the war cemetery while we were there to remember them and lay poppies.”
The grandfather, who also served in Egypt, was awarded a £1,425 grant from the Big Lottery Fund to make the four-day trip earlier this month.
“I’m really pleased I went, possibly for the last time,” he added. “It was very important to me.”
For more information about the Heroes Return scheme, call 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn