WAR veterans have told of their heroic and heartbreaking experiences of the Second World War to launch this year's Poppy Appeal.

One of them was former RAF man, Jack Chapman, of Stockton who told how left for North Africa and Italy just two weeks after getting engaged but didn't see his sweetheart again for four years.

Another was former soldier Fred Blackman, 94, also of the Stockton area, who saw comrades die in what was then Yugoslavia but still keeps the New Testament he kept wrapped up and protected throughout he war.

Both veterans attended a special ceremony at Thornaby Pavilion shopping centre on Saturday to launch the appeal and Mr Chapman attended a further two in Stockton and Yarm.

Mr Chapman said his own experiences of World War Two meant he left for North Africa just two weeks after he became engaged and he didn’t return for nearly four years,

He was finally able to marry his fiancée, Kathleen, in 1946 and they were together for 54 years until she passed away in 2001.

He recalled: "I ended up at ICI for 31 years working as a process operator. Kathleen and I had two daughters, Judith and Angela who are now 60 and 50. They still live around Stockton and between them gave us four grandchildren.

“One of my grandsons, Michael, is in the RAF. He’s a sergeant technician and was working on Tornadoes but has now trained to work on Typhoons.

“The war was a terrible time but fortunately for me, and I was one of the lucky ones."

Mr Blackwell, will celebrate his 95th birthday on Armistice Day, November 11.

Fred was in the Royal Artillery and served in North Africa before later seeing heavy fighting in what was then Yugoslavia.

He said: “The war was a terrible time and I lost a lot of good mates, even members of my own family. You never forget the incident when you lost a mate even though it’s 70 odd years ago. I always tried to get on with my life but you don’t forget.

“I put my trust in God and still have the New Testament I carried, wrapped up to protect it, throughout the war. I saw some terrible action and believe God looked after me."

Mr Blackman also worked at ICI as a process operator after the war and was married for 57 years to his wife, Kathleen.

He said: “I was a good soldier and was awarded eight campaign medals. But you don’t get medals for being brave you get them for doing as you are told, that’s the truth of it.”

Both men stressed the importance of the Poppy Appeal to help the Royal British Legion support veterans of all Britain's conflicts, including more modern wars.