A resident of Redwalls Nursing Home was welcomed as a guest of honour at the Remembrance Day Service in Sandiway, near Northwich.
Jim – “Jock” – Costigan, 95, who served in the RAF in Burma during the Second World War, was delighted to be able to attend the ceremony despite the restrictions brought about by Covid.
Wearing his Burma jacket, beret and medals, he expected just to watch the ceremony and to quietly lay a wreath he had brought from the home in Weaverham Road, Sandiway.
However, the Royal British Legion organisers insisted that he took a front row position with the other wreath layers; and after he had laid his wreath he was handed the Burma Star wreath to lay too.
Redwalls’ wellbeing coordinator Jodie Solaiman, who accompanied him to the socially distanced event, said: “I am so glad I managed to arrange it. It was a challenge, of course, due to Covid, but when I explained Jim’s RAF history, they really wanted him to attend.
“He hadn’t seen his beret and medals for a long time as a friend had been looking after them for him but when I gave the beret to him he sobbed, kissed the Burma star and told me ‘she’ had been all over the world with him.
“While we were there people approached us saying things like “you’re marvellous”. to which Jim replied “why?” That is an example of his great and humble character. Cars were even pulling over to thank him for his service and he saluted them proudly.”
She said there was a few police officers at the service and at the end they approached and asked if his name was Jock”.
“I told them that it was his nickname. The officer then told Jim that he used to work alongside his father in the war, who’s sadly not with us anymore. Jim knew who his father was straight away. It was a lovely moment.”
In 1943, Mr Costigan had been turned down at a medical interview for aircrew training, due to poor eyesight, but had marched across the road to the recruiting office and enlisted in the RAF – telling the recruiting sergeant he was 18 when he was only 17 and a half!
After training, he was sent to Blackpool to await transport to India alongside two sporting legends, Stanley Matthews, a corporal in charge, and fellow Blackpool and England footballer Stan Mortensen.
He was sent to Glasgow to board a troop ship which set sail for India via the Suez Canal, finally reaching Bombay.
After being trained in jungle survival, he embarked on a long rail journey to Calcutta; he recalled that as the youngest in the group he was sent to the engine, at every stop, to get water for the tea.
After two weeks, he travelled by road to Burma where his job was to go out and find downed aircraft and either repair them or salvage what could be recovered, using whatever type of vehicle was available.
During the next nine months in Burma, as the Army moved south towards the Arakan Road, Jim’s unit followed.
At one point, they were almost caught when the Japanese outflanked the British soldiers and came around behind them.
Author: Stephen Pullinger