He flies in to honour World War II comrades

He flies in to honour World War II comrades
88-year-old Briton Raymond Fuller visited the Kranji War Cemetery and Memorial on Friday, to pay his respects to those who lost their lives during the war.

SINGAPORE - The fighting he tries to forget. But Mr Raymond Fuller does hang on to the memories of the people he met and lost during World War II.

"By and large, you shut all the bad things (from the war) out of your mind," he said. "But I don't want to forget all of it, for the simple reason some of the best people I've ever met in my life I met and served with during the war."

That was why the 88-year-old British war veteran was in Singapore to visit the Kranji War Cemetery and Memorial on Friday, to pay his respects to those who lost their lives during the war.

Mr Fuller, who lives in Dorset now, joined Britain's Royal Navy in 1943, when he was 17. He served as an air mechanic on the vessel HMS Illustrious and kept the aircraft on board ready for war.

The fleet was mostly based in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, but took part in the Battle of Okinawa until accumulated battle damage forced the ship home in May 1945.

Mr Fuller was never based in Singapore, but friends from his hometown Surrey defended the island in 1941, just before the Japanese Occupation. They never returned.

On Friday, with the help of his 71-year-old carer Peter Thomas, also an army veteran, he climbed the steps of the memorial to place a wreath of poppies and observe a moment of silence.

He said that it was important to visit the war memorial to remember those who never made it.

His $8,200 trip was sponsored by the Heroes Return programme run by the Big Lottery Fund, a British non-governmental organisation which distributes money raised from ticket sales of the national lottery. Since the scheme started in 2004, hundreds of war veterans have visited Singapore.

Said Mr Peter Ainsworth, who chairs the Big Lottery Fund: "Veterans tell us these (visits) are important to them... and it reminds us that we must never take for granted the peace their generation secured for all of us."

Mr Kannaya Somu, the manager of the Kranji memorial, said he has seen "quite a number" of these veterans come to pay homage. "I hope more Singaporeans would visit. People need to know about these warriors who fought for our country," said the 60-year-old.

Mr Fuller admitted that work in the HMS Illustrious' hangar, where the temperature was "absolutely horrendous", was tough. "We were actually exhausted all the time, too exhausted to be afraid," he said.

But the experience has shaped him as a person. "(A war) tends to make a man of you," he said. "You've got to do your best to survive." He has two children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife died 11 years ago.

This may be his last trip here, as he is getting weak, he said, having also visited the memorial in 2010.

But some things will not change. "It may be terribly narrow-minded of me, but I will never knowingly buy anything that is made in Japan."

This article was first published on January 25, 2015.
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