A DECORATED veteran who survived 60 bombing missions during the Second World War is helping troubled soldiers cope with the horrors of modern warfare.
John Hall, from Grindon, is drawing on his time as a Lancaster rear gunner in missions over wartime Europe to mentor former members of the Armed Forces who are struggling to deal with civilian life.
The 89-year-old has been attending group sessions run by the About Turn and Forces for Good charities, which aim to help ex-service personnel suffering problems such as unemployment, combat-induced stress or homelessness.
“I talk to them and try and find out their story first, find out what’s troubling them,” he said. “I try to show them that they have got friends, that they’re not alone. I try to give them confidence to carry on, rather than sit back and let it all happen.”
Mr Hall, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George VI in 1943, has also given presentations to group members who have served in Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, the first Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the lectures, he talks about his own wartime experiences, how he managed to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and adapt to civilian life after leaving the services.
It is hoped his “wisdom and enthusiasm” will help to encourage those recently out of the military to get their lives back on track.
“You had nightmares, but after 12 months you got yourself hardened to it,” he said. “But you had to stick it out or else you were labelled a coward,” he added.
Mr Hall’s remarkable figure of 60 missions included being shot down twice over the Channel.
The first time saw him and his crew spend four days in a dinghy.
They were picked up off the Isles of Scilly, apparently only minutes away from heading out into the Atlantic Ocean where they would probably have been lost forever.
“Shortly after we got back, our commanding officer Guy Gibson told us to get into a Lancaster and go fly around for a couple of hours,” he said.
“We couldn’t work out why he’d told us to do this, but he later said he wanted to keep our confidence up and it worked.”
Wing Commander Gibson later became famous for leading the legendary Dam Busters raid in 1943.
As a result of his own wartime heroics, Mr Hall’s DFC medal “For Valour” was pinned on his chest by King George VI, who showed signs of his famous stammer.
“He spoke to me afterwards and stammered a bit,” he said. “When he got stuck on a word, I’d say ‘Oh yes sir, I know exactly what you mean’ to save him embarrassment and he looked quite grateful for that.”
Oscar-nominated Colin Firth plays King George VI in hit film The King’s Speech, which shows how the monarch battled to overcome his stammer.