THOUSANDS of brave men and women put their life on the line for their country during the Second World War.
In June 1940, thousands of British and French soldiers had to be evacuated from Dunkirk to flee the fast approaching German Army.
Just a week earlier in nearby Arras, heroic 19-year-old George Iceton was part of a counter attack.
George has visited the areas where he served in Belgium and France for the first time.
He spoke to the Mail’s Dominic Shaw.
STOOD in a hut with a camera thrust in his face, the emotions became too much for George Iceton.
He broke down.
Almost 70 years earlier this same small, seemingly unassuming hut in Mont Cassel, in France, was the scene for hundreds of atrocities.
Heroic British soldiers, some who were just teenagers, would be taken in groups of five and walked to the hut.
Little did they know in that short walk that they were taking their final steps.
Moments later they were shot.
Their mums, dads, girlfriends and children at home would never see them again – and they never got to say goodbye.
Fortunately George never had to make that walk – he was one of the lucky ones.
He was also one of the brave soldiers that put his life on the line to fight for his country.
George, who celebrated his 91st birthday earlier this year, now lives in Seaton Carew, but spent his early years in Barnard Castle, a time he remembers fondly.
Upon leaving school at 15 he started work as an apprentice fitter, in Darlington.
But his future years were to follow in the footsteps of his dad, Charlie, who served in the Royal Engineers in the First World War and he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
George recalls Thursday, August 31, 1939, when he joined the town’s Territorial Army.A day later he was called up and two days later he was at war.
Sat in his living room surrounded by pictures of his time at war, George, a dad of four, granddad of seven and great-granddad of three, told the Mail: “I remember being called up and going to serve in Cherbourg in France as the second line of defence.
“It was all completely new to me then, I was still a really young lad.”
Despite serving in France and Belgium, fortunately George was not one of the soldiers who had to be evacuated from Dunkirk beach.
But just a week before the mass evacuation started, he was part of a counter attack at Arras, where he was awarded a Military Medal for his bravery under fire.
He was taken to a hospital in Belgium where he was treated for his injuries – all of the time unaware of the German’s advances in Dunkirk.
In the years after, George served throughout the world including Egypt, Iraq, Cyprus and North Africa.
But he was never to forget that time in France and Belgium.
Last year for the first time since those life-changing weeks, George, along with around 60 others including his son, Stephen, 66, visited the towns in France and Belgium where he served.
The trip was partly funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 scheme, which covers the travel and accommodation costs for veterans returning to the places where they saw action.
“It was certainly an experience to go back and see those places again,” said an emotional George, who spent his life with wife Josephine before she sadly died three years ago, aged 92.
“I saw things that you will just never, ever forget.”
George, a dad to Sylvia Rice-Oxley, 63, Linda Bushnell, 58, Sheila Calvert 52, and Stephen, said: “People who I became close to and who became my friends died out there.
“I can’t begin to put into words how it feels to lose someone who you have served alongside.
“And the most difficult thing is you just have to get on with it, you have to carry on fighting.”
The Big Lottery Fund wants to give the same opportunity to even more veterans this year and help make it possible for them to go back like George did.
Anna Southall, the Big Lottery Fund’s UK interim chair, said: “The popularity of Heroes Return is reflected in the many emotional letters we have received from veterans and their families.
“It is clear how valuable these journeys are in helping veterans come to terms with traumatic events and experiences and to remember those lost almost 70 years ago.”
Back in the hut and George, who became a fitter after the war, has broken away from the rest of the group.
He stands alone and thinks back to the hundreds who were murdered in the very spot where he stood.
Tears fill his eyes. He was one of the lucky ones who never made the trip to this hut.
But the sights, smells, sounds and memories from his time at war will stay with him forever.
Veterans can apply for grants for commemorative journeys and application is open until Saturday, December 31, this year.
For more information call 0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn