Oh what a lovely war

Kenneth Mason, front row, right, with Navy colleagues outside their billets in Sri Lanka during World War Two

Kenneth Mason, front row, right, with Navy colleagues outside their billets in Sri Lanka during World War Two

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WORLD War Two veteran Kenneth Mason’s recollections of his time serving in exotic places in the Royal Navy used to captivate his daughters when they were growing up in their Sheffield home.

The 89-year-old was stationed in places including the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Durban, in South Africa, and Cyprus. But his fondest memories were of his time in Colombo, the capital of Ceylon - modern day Sri Lanka - where he was stationed for two years as a telegrapher.

His job involved using Morse Code and intercepting messages sent to ships in the Japanese fleet, which were then sent back to the UK for decoding at Bletchley Park.

Now, almost 70 years after he was based on the island, Mr Mason has been able to return to the country with funding from a National Lottery scheme.

Kenneth, his wife of 59 years Joan, aged 80, and daughters Jane Holloway and Karen Oakley, were able to travel east as part of the Heroes Return scheme, which has helped 51,000 war veterans return to the places where they served during past conflicts since it was launched in 2004.

Kenneth, who now lives in Chapeltown, said: “I lived in Colombo for two years and forged lots of friendships during this time.

“It will always be a significant part of my life, which is why I was so keen to go back and see what became of the place. It was particularly important to be able to share this experience with my wife and daughters who accompanied me on the trip.”

After the war, Kenneth kept in touch with old comrades including Gordon Aston, from Lancashire, who he remained friends with until Gordon died in an accident in the 1960s.

Kenneth’s mission on his return to Sri Lanka included showing his family the beach where he used to visit on his days off and the nearby Mount Lavinia Hotel.

During the war, only officers were allowed into the hotel, so Kenneth was delighted to be able to step inside on his return and experience the luxury himself - which included taking a dip in its swimming pool.

Kenneth joined up aged 17, leaving his job as a trainee draughtsman in Sheffield before the compulsory call-up, because he particularly wanted to serve in the Royal Navy and conscripted service personnel did not have a choice about their role. After the war, Kenneth returned to Sheffield where he met Joan, and they settled in Rivelin where they brought up their daughters. He worked in the offices of Sheffield steel firms including Firth Vickers.