Lotto lifeline for veterans' homage to comrades

WAR veterans are set to make a poignant final trip to pay tribute to their fallen comrades after being offered a lottery lifeline.

The Second World War veterans are preparing to travel to the towns and villages in Holland and Belgium where they fought to free Europe from the Nazis 60 years ago.

The 25 former members of the 44th Lowland Brigade (15th Scottish Division) feared they would not be able to find the cash to travel across the North Sea for what they expect, for many, will be their last visit.

Despite raising almost 14,000 in three years of fundraising, the elderly ex- servicemen were still several thousand pounds short of what they needed to make the trip.

But the former soldiers are now confident of making the journey after being invited to bid for National Lottery cash to make up the shortfall.

Their visit in September will allow them to take part in events to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Gheel Canal and the liberation of the Dutch town of Tilburg.

Organiser George Simmonds, 77, chairman of the 8th Battalion The Royal Scots (1939-1945) Veterans’ Association, said today he hoped the men would be able to renew old acquaintances in what might be several of the ex-servicemen’s last trips to the battlefields.

"A lot of us are a bit frail and will be accompanied by carers and wives, but we will be able to visit various places connected with our time there during the war," he said.

"It is 60 years ago now, but those of us who lived through it will never forget."

The soldiers involved were originally from Edinburgh and the east of Scotland, but many have now moved around the country.

They are now awaiting final confirmation that their lottery grant has been approved, but plans for the trip are already well advanced in anticipation. "We have raised close on 14,000 and we are delighted that the Colonel of the Regiment, Major General Mark Strudwick, and his wife will have the time to join us," said Mr Simmonds. "We are very grateful for the donations we have received.

"We have done a deal with an airline to fly over. Men are flying from three airports across the UK, as we are a very cosmopolitan regiment now.

"We just need to wait for the funding to come through now."

The 8th Battalion The Royal Scots, the 6th Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the 6th Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers formed the 44th Lowland Brigade (15th Scottish Division). They fought as one during the war, helping to push the Germans out of the countries they occupied for five years.

Mr Simmonds, who lives in Dunfermline, added: "I am having a great problem trying to track down two qualified nurses to accompany us over for the five days.

"Since we are a group of 80-something men I think it would be sensible to have some kind of stand-by care."

The trip is being organised for September 10-15, with the men flying out from Edinburgh, Liverpool and Luton to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

It is estimated to cost around 20,000 in total. The men have raised 14,000 and the remaining 6000 is expected to be met by the lottery funding.

They will be met in Holland by a Dutch military coach and taken to a hotel in the town of Eindhoven for the duration of their five-day stay.

During the trip they will visit the sites of battles such as the Gheel Canal in Belgium, which was fought on September 12, 1944, and the town of Tilburg, which they helped to liberate on October 27.

They will also visit war graves and attend a number of events, including lunches and dinners with local mayors and a ceremony in Belgium attended by the British Ambassador to Brussels.

Although Mr Simmonds returned to Holland and Belgium in 1999 for the 55th anniversary, it will be the first time many of the veterans have been back since the war.

The group will also be accompanied by the Royal Scots Association Pipe Band who contributed 1000 towards the fundraising and who will beat the retreat in Eindhoven.

Colonel Dick Mason, regimental secretary of the Royal Scots, said today he was in the process of filling out the paperwork for the New Opportunities Fund.

The fund is a lottery distributor, which has set up Veterans Reunited, to enable former servicemen to obtain lottery funding to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the events that led to the end of the Second World War.

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