Farewell to brave RAF veteran Bill

War veteran Bill Rafter
War veteran Bill Rafter

A FORMER Prisoner of War who was an eyewitness to the atomic bomb that wiped out Nagasaki has died at a care home in Pickering.

Bill Rafter, who was 93 years old, passed away peacefully at Whitby Road Home.

He served with the RAF during the Second World War, but was captured in 1942 after the fall of Java.

What followed was three years of gruelling hard labour, building underground tunnels and living off meagre rations of rice and soup.

But it was in 1945, after being moved to a POW camp eight miles away from the Japanese city of Nagasaki, that he witnessed the atomic blast that all but ended the war.

His proud daughter Sheila says her father would rarely talk to her or her sister Carole about the horrors he experienced during the war.

“He talked about the explosion as like being a ‘dozen cameramen letting off their flashes at once’.

“However, he rarely ever spoke about what happened. He sometimes told about walking past Japanese civilians whose skin was hanging off them like rags.

“He would often have nightmares about what happened.”

Originally from Warrington, Mr Rafter moved to Scarborough after the war, after he was stationed here to “put some meat back on his bones”.

It was during this recovery time that he fell in love with the town, and a woman called Jessie.

They met in 1946, and married the following year.

He worked for the Gas Board for the rest of his career as a fitter, but he still maintained close ties to his past.

He was the standard bearer for the Far East Prisoner of War Association, which he used to proudly carry at events and services until he was no longer able to on health grounds, which he largely attributed to the Nagasaki bomb.

However, Sheila says that despite the pride her father felt for his actions during the war, he was still left with psychological wounds that stayed with him until the end.

“After the war, I think he was unable to have any really close friends, simply because he was worried that if he did, somehow, they would be taken away from him like so many were during the war.”

The funeral takes place today at 2pm at Woodlands Crematorium, Scarborough. Family flowers only, but the family are welcoming donations to the Help For Heroes charity, and a plate for this will be provided at the service.