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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK
'Everyone wants to talk about the war'
By Lincoln Archer
BBC News

As the Royal British Legion launches its campaign marking the 60th anniversary of VE day, a former RAF crewman says the war still holds a fascination for the younger generation.

Image: Royal British Legion
Bill Stoneman joined the RAF in 1942, aged 18
In 1945, when the end of the war in Europe was announced, Bill Stoneman was in Wiltshire, preparing to head to the bombing raids over Okinawa.

The RAF gunner had already been part of a crew known as Moon Squadron that had flown with Bomber Command, dropping agents and supplies behind enemy lines.

That night he and his mates lit a bonfire on the parade ground, a spirited - and illegal - end to one of the spontaneous celebrations sparked across the country.

"We were all thrilled. It was like being released, we were all free again," he said.

Resurging interest

Sixty years on, Mr Stoneman, now 81, said there has been a surge of awareness of the sacrifices and contributions made during the war, something that had not been there in previous years.

Reunions are getting fewer and further between as the chaps get older. Sometimes they just send newsletters
Bill Stoneman
"It used to be that you did not mention what you did during the war. For years people never spoke about it," he said.

"But now there's a great interest in what happened, and in what us old codgers did."

He said that was brought home to him last year, when he went to speak to some children in Cornwall.

"I thought if I padded it out it might go for 20 minutes or so. Over an hour later the kids were still telling me what their grandparents had done in the war!"

That family connection seems to form a substantial part of what is keeping interest in the period alive, he said.

Image: Royal British Legion
Mr Stoneman won the Distinguished Flying Medal during the war
"It's brought it to life for them personally, everyone is getting more involved because they want their own family's involvement remembered."

He said such stories had to remain alive to ensure history did not repeat itself.

Mr Stoneman was speaking on the way to Dover, for the Royal British Legion's "Nation's Biggest Thank-You" campaign.

He said events such as these were increasingly important as veterans grow older, but they were also a "thrill" to those involved.

"Reunions are getting fewer and further between as the chaps get older. Now sometimes they just send newsletters because people can't all get together anymore.

"But these ceremonies are a great thrill. It knocks years off your life, you feel like you're 20 years younger being driven to a celebration like this."


His first dealing with the Legion did not come until 1994, when he was managing a caravan park in Cornwall after 37 years in the RAF.

He realised he was having trouble hearing higher pitches, such as a ringing telephone or a woman's voice.

It turned out to be tinnitus, a condition common to rear gunners. The Legion helped him secure a 20% war pension, which he said he would otherwise never have known he was entitled to.

Mr Stoneman called on the group again in 2000, when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and he became her carer.

"It certainly takes the stuffing out of you," he said. "But they were brilliant and gave me amazing support. I owe them a great debt."

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