Second World War prisoner of war pays tribute to coronavirus victims during remembrance event

A VETERAN airman shot down and taken prisoner by the Nazis in the Second World War has described the year-long coronavirus pandemic as one the most ‘depressing’ moments of his life.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 9:40 am
Candle to make a Beacon of Remembrance in Grosvenor St, Southsea Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230321-32)

John Castleton, 98, was blasted by German anti-aircraft fire as he carried out a bombing run in the heartland of the Third Reich during the closing chapters of the war.

The Southsea pensioner had been part of the 76th Squadron RAF with Bomber Command, flying in Lancaster and Halifax planes, when he was forced to bail out of his blazing aircraft.

But despite the horrors of the conflict and the hardships he faced in a Nazi prison camp, the retired flight engineer said being forced to isolate inside his home for the past year had been a struggle.

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David and Joanna White and Joanna's father, John Castleton, use candles to make a Beacon of Remembrance in Grosvenor St, Southsea Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230321-33)

John was speaking out as he joined a national ‘Beacon of Remembrance’ event last night marking all those to have lost their lives since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Patriotic John, who lit candles in the garden of his home in Grosvenor Street, Southsea, said: ‘This past year has been a strain. I’ve seen all the people around me suffering.

‘There have been the odd times when I have got really depressed and it’s very difficult to cope with.

‘So many people have died this year. It’s so sad.’

John Castleton pictured during his time with the RAF in the Second World War

The remembrance event came on the year anniversary of the first lockdown last March.

It saw landmarks across the UK being lit up to honour the more than 126,000 people to have died from Covid-19 nationwide.

Among the buildings to join the national moment of reflection included Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower.

Meanwhile, people in homes across the area lit candles and held them by the doorsteps or in their windows.

Joanna and David White and Joanna's father, John Castleton, use candles to make a Beacon of Remembrance in Grosvenor St, Southsea Picture: Chris Moorhouse (230321-31)

John was joined during his tribute by his daughter, Joanne White and his stepson, David White.

Joanne, 61, who has cared for her dad throughout the pandemic, said: ‘Families haven’t been able to say goodbye to their loved one. It’s been horrible.

‘We just wanted to show our support. The NHS has been brilliant. Words can’t describe how amazing they’ve been. They’ve been unbelievable.’

The moment of reflection came just hours after John received his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

The veteran – who will turn 99 on Wednesday – praised those involved in the vaccination effort and said: ‘They have been marvellous. These people are all volunteers and they are just marvellous.’

The national remembrance event was organised by the end-of-life charity Marie Curie, which encouraged people to stand on their doorsteps with their phones, candles or torches.

In the capital, Trafalgar Square the London Eye and Wembley Stadium were among landmarks that lit up yellow at nightfall to mark the occasion.

While elsewhere, Liverpool Town Hall, Blackpool Tower and St Mary’s Lighthouse shone a light for those bereaved, alongside the Lincoln Cathedral.