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Highland war hero says British Empire Medal news came ‘out of the blue’

Highland war hero says British Empire Medal news came ‘out of the blue’

A 97-year-old war hero and historian is to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) for bringing the past back to life for school children across the north.

Donald Mason, from Thurso, said last night that his inclusion on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List had come “out of the blue”.

The former RAF pilot and engineer, who turns 98 next month, received the prestigious medal for his services to the community in Caithness, where he has lived since retiring in 1988.

The honour follows his involvement in an Imperial War Museum project in 2005 called “Their Past Your Future”, to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

While speaking in local classrooms about his wartime experiences, which included serving with the RAF’s Coastal Command and Bomber Command during the war, he realised many of the youngsters were not understanding what he was saying.

To bridge the generational gap, Mr Mason developed his own slide show which he continues to take along to talks at schools and other events across Caithness and the rest of the country to this day.

“What that (‘services to the community’) really means is that I started to engage in a project which the Imperial War Museum started in 2005,” he explained.

“It was specifically for ex-World War II servicemen to go to schools to talk to the children.

“When I first went to schools to talk to the pupils and teachers, they really had no means of understanding what I was speaking about.

“Subsequently, I made my own slide show and I would just go to schools and talk about my experience.”

Following his military service, Mr Mason worked as a senior lecturer and was then department head at an engineering college south of the border, before moving to Caithness to be near family members.

These included his youngest son Robert, who had worked at Dounreay.

The Birmingham-born veteran and historian was stunned to hear that he was to receive a BEM.

He said: “It’s a complete surprise to me. I have never done, and don’t do what I do, for medals or notoriety.

“I don’t like a lot of publicity. It came out of the blue. But I have to take it for what it is.”

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