Kirkby veteran finally gets his Second World War medals after 66 year wait

NMAC11-3077-1'Fred Weatherall with his medals
NMAC11-3077-1'Fred Weatherall with his medals

WHEN Fred Weatherall left the RAF at the end of the Second World War, he did not think it was important to collect his medals.

Speaking from his home in Kirkby, the 93-year-old said: “I was going home to be demobbed and the skipper said to me, ‘are you going for your medals?’

“I said, ‘they are worth nowt’. He was quite annoyed and he said, ‘get out of this office’. We had been as good as friends.

“I never gave it another thought until my nephew asked why I hadn’t had my medals.”

Now, more than 66 years after the end of the war, Fred has finally received his medals, along with a certificate, from the Home Office.

He was given three medals including the Atlantic Star for the work he did at sea during the conflict.

When he returned home, he did not think about the medals. He eased back into civilian life and got a colliery job - but he says that at the time, people did not mention it.

“You came back from war but no-one was bothered about it,” he said.

Before the outbreak of war in 1939, Fred was an electrician at Kirkby Colliery and he joined the RAF on 14th September 1940 at the age of 20.

He says: “The union said there would be no conscription from Kirkby Colliery until March 1941 but then I got my papers in September 1940 because there had been a cock-up. I had only been married for about six weeks before I had to go.”

After completing his engineering training, Fred served with the RAF’s Air-Sea Rescue unit.

The role of the unit was to rescue pilots who had fallen to sea when their aircraft had been bombed.

Until 1941, Britain had no co-ordinated air-sea rescue units and if a plane went down at sea, it was almost impossible to get the boat to the crash site.

This all changed in 1941 when a Directorate of Air-Sea Rescue was established to give pilots the best possible chance - although the idea still took some getting used to as Fred remembers when he was told he would be setting sail.

He said: “A boat in the air force? The air force doesn’t use boats.”

Fred was responsible for looking after the engine on the ship and he remembers one occasion when the ship apparently struck a mine.

He says: “I was the only one in the engine room - there was only room for one man.

“It was as if we had hit a mine because we came to a stop. Everybody had a job to do to see what damage had been done.

“There wasn’t any but we pressed on our way.”

Following Germany’s defeat in May 1945, the British forces concentrated their attention on the war in the Far East.

Fred’s nephew Terry Hickling, who has a keen interest in history, said: “They were on their way to invade Japan, but when they dropped the (atomic) bomb on Nagasaki, the Japanese packed up so they had to redeploy them to different things.”

Fred added: “We got the message that Japan had packed in because we had dropped the bombs on them. We called in at Singapore but we weren’t allowed ashore.”