Photographer captures memories of World War Two veterans

Alan Johnson is one of the veterans taking part in the Portraits and Voices of WWII

An exhibition capturing the stories and memories of World War Two veterans has opened in Stockport.

North west portrait photographer Allen Thomasson has teamed up with the Royal British Legion to record and preserve their stories for a unique exhibition.

Allen has been meeting veterans for the Portraits and Voices of WWII exhibition that runs at Stockport Art Gallery until November 18 to coincide with this year’s Poppy Appeal.

Allen said: “It has been great to meet so many veterans and capture their unique stories on video.

“I have also taken photographs of them to create the portraits.

“I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people, with equally incredible stories.

“My motivation is to preserve the memory of those who served in WWII and to capture their stories before they are lost to history.

“It’s been a very humbling experience, and it will be particularly poignant to be able to stage this event in Stockport during the period of Remembrance as my first ‘sitters’ are members of the Stockport and Normandy Veterans’ Association and friends.”

During the exhibition, visitors will be able to make a donation to the Royal British Legion, the UK’s leading Armed Forces charity.

The Legion’s Area Manager, Alison Bunn, said: “The Royal British Legion is at the heart of a national network that supports our Armed Forces community through thick and thin, ensuring that their unique contribution is never forgotten, so we are genuinely excited to be part of this amazing project as we pass the torch of Remembrance from generation to generation.”

Tom Boardman

One of the veterans featured in the exhibition is 99-year-old Tom Boardman from Leigh.

Tom was posted to Singapore but was captured by the Japanese in February 1942 before being put to work on the notorious Burma Railway.

Geoffrey served on HMS Exeter, which was sunk by the Japanese.

Tom said: “When we arrived in Singapore in 1941 we thought we were in heaven – little did we know what was to come.

“We were captured and then shipped in cattle trucks, four days without any sanitation at all, terrible conditions, just one meal per day and we arrived very distressed.

Tom Boardman
Tom Boardman was on the HMS Exeter

“We were sent up to Chungkai which became our base camp and we started building the railway until we got to Burma 12 months later.

“We worked through the monsoon season and it was grim, people were dying left, right and centre, from malaria, dysentery and amputations caused by leg ulcers – but I had the willpower to live on.”

During his captivity, Tom contracted malaria 32 times, not to mention several bouts of dysentery.

He said the only way to survive was to stay positive – he even made a ukulele out of wooden cases and telegraph lines.

“You had to have will power to survive. If you couldn’t overcome the desperate situation then you’d die,” he said. “You either thought ‘I’m going to get out or I’m going to die’.”

Tom Boardman
Tom with his ‘ukulele’ made out of Red Cross wooden cases and telegraph lines

Alan Johnson

Another veteran featured in the exhibition is ex-Royal Navy man Alan Johnson, who was born in Gorton in July 1925. He enlisted at the age of 18.

Now 92, Alan still vividly remembers his escort duty, both in the Atlantic and safeguarding the passage of two Russian convoys past Iceland, which won him the Arctic Medal presented by the Russian Embassy.

He served on the Minesweeper HMS Onyx during the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, three weeks short of his 19th birthday.

His ship joined the flotilla minesweeping towards the French coast in misty conditions, which obscured the coastline.

HMS Onyx was actually close to a gun battery at Fleury, so the cover of the mist proved crucial.

Alan said: “Just after 5am the mist suddenly began to clear, and looking astern I could see from that horizon to that horizon nothing but ships and landing craft coming straight towards us.”

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson enlisted at 18

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