Romford war hero commemorates World War 2 campaign in Croatia
A Romford man helped organise the commemoration of an often-overlooked campaign in Yugoslavia during the Second World War.
Peter Bickmore, of Clyde Way, Rise Park, organised regular commemorations for the Coastal Forces Veterans Association , whose members fought Hitler’s Nazis in the Adriatic.
The troops were stationed on the island of Vis, where future Yugoslavia President Josip Broz Tito’s resistance forces were hiding.
It was not regarded by the Germans as an important outpost, which enabled British forces to stealthily attack German positions and aid the resistance of the country, then known as Yugoslavia.
Mr Bickmore, 86, was just 18-years-old and working in a factory in Hainault when he joined the navy.
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“I was in the invasion of Sicily, based in Italy, and then it was decided by those in the know that we should help Tito and the partisans,” he recalled.
“It makes me reflect that we were so lucky never to have been invaded.”
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Day-to-day operations included disrupting German supply lines.
Mr Bickmore said: “One of the obstacles was that as an island it was quite easy for the Germans to mine. Looking back there was a lot of fear. We were fearful each time we went on patrol.”
At the 40th anniversary commemoration in 1985, 150 ex-servicemen turned out to mark the occasion.
This year only four servicemen were able to attend in Croatia, the country that now includes the island of Vis, but senior government officials from Croatia turned out alongside British embassy staff to unveil a plaque commemorating their heroism.
The CFVA is no longer operating, due to the age of the remaining members, but has a website at www.cfv.org.uk.
Mr Bickmore himself was awarded the Empire Medal for rescuing the lives of comrades from a sea which was full of mustard gas after a German air strike.
On December 2 1943 a Nazi air raid on the port of Bari, Italy, hit supply ships including an American one containing the deadly chemical.
He said: “The place was alight. We were asked to pick up survivors.
“I got severely burnt and covered in blisters on my arms and the back of my neck.”
He said that an Italian film maker is currently working on a film about the raid.
“But that’s a different story,” he said modestly.