A Second World War veteran was thrilled to be invited back to the Far East with members of his family, to revisit places still vivid in the memory of a once fresh-faced teenage wireless operator. DAN COOMBS met up with him to hear his account of the trip
RON Pinder, 84, was among a group of former Royal Navy sailors on a two-week trip to Singapore last month, paid for by the Heroes Return scheme. The scheme gives Big Lottery
Fund grants to veterans to take their families back to the scene of their active service. For most, this would be impossible without lottery help.
"When I was there in Malaysia all those years ago, I had no idea that, 65 years later, I would return with my family," said Mr Pinder, of Harvil Road, Harefield
He took his wife, Gwen, and son and daughter-in-law, David and Jane Pinder, for celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the end of the war.
"We flew directly from Heathrow, and were there in less than 24 hours," said Mr Pinder. "When I signed up to go to war, the journey took more than six weeks by boat.
"That only got us as far as India, then we had to get to Malaysia."
Mr Pinder served in the Royal Navy's East Indies Fleet and later the British Pacific Fleet. He was 17 and living in Hillingdon when he signed up."I was a wireless operator and was taught the job back home," he said. "You're taught it very well and you never forget it. I learned it on the Isle of Man.
"We had to do Morse Code. I still know it, but it no longer applies, sadly. We communicated with other ships and the Indian Army, and it really was an international language.
"On board ship, you have to do everything, unlike in the other services. You have to do cleaning when you were off duty. We all mucked in together."
The nostalgic trip took the Pinders to Singapore, on the tip of the Malay peninsula, which Mr Pinder found had changed dramatically since the war.
"Singapore was not a country then, it was just part of Malaysia, which wasn't even called Malaysia," he recalled. "It was just known as Malay.
"Now it's like New York, and it's all skyscrapers. It wasn't like that when I was there.
"On our trip we were treated like royalty, put up in a five star hotel and wined and dined.
"We went to our old naval base, which was really a quite emotional experience."
The East Indies Fleet took on the Japanese invaders as they swept south and west. Singapore itself fell in February, 1942, and the fleet fled to Java on to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon.
The British Pacific Fleet was involved in the reconquest of the eastern Indian Ocean once the tide of war had turned against Japan.
After the war, Mr Pinder worked as a printer for the Middlesex Chronicle, the Gazette's predecessor paper. Now retired, he was grateful for the chance to return - but also philosophical.
"When the opportunity came, we just had to take it," he said. "It may be the last chance for me to see the old place
"It would be nice to go back for the 70th anniversary but this was probably our last one."
Mrs Pinder, 78, said: "I am so proud of him. It was a fantastic experience."