NORTH-EAST veterans are preparing to visit the battlefields where they served during the Second World War.

The visits have been made possible through the Big Lottery Fund's Heroes Return scheme.

The fund today announced awards to almost 1,700 veterans, spouses, widows, widowers and carers, who will travel overseas to remember comrades who did not return from the battlefields of the 1939-1945 conflict.

Since the scheme was announced in January last year, more than £10m of National Lottery funding has been distributed through the scheme.

The scheme is now asking any veterans in the North-East who wish to apply for funding to get their applications in as soon as possible.

The deadline for veterans, widows and widowers to apply for grants is May 31.

Bernard Dane, 79, of Stockton, is going to the Netherlands to revisit the battlefields of Arnhem.

He has not been there since the war and is looking forward to paying his respects to the comrades who did not return.

He said: "The word comradeship is loosely used these days but, during the war, I experienced real comradeship.

"You would lay your life on the line for your comrades and they would do the same for you."

Mr Dane said that other veterans who have not already applied for a Heroes Return award should take up the opportunity.

He said: "I think it is an incredible idea, I have told all my friends about it."

Big Lottery Fund spokeswoman Emma Snowdon said: "The approach next month of the 60th anniversary of VE-Day helps to underline how much Britain today owes to those veterans who fought in the Second World War.

"The Heroes Return scheme has proved very successful in enabling veterans from the North-East to revisit places across the world that are of special importance to them."

Applications are available by calling the fund on 0845 410 2030.