Borders war veteran John recalls VE Day ahead of 75th anniversary
The 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day will be celebrated tomorrow, marking three-quarters of a century since the end of the Second World War.
The day had been due to be marked with celebrations, street parties and commemorations up and down the country, but the coronavirus lockdown has forced the postponement of those events, meaning people will be taking to social media instead to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the 1939-1945 conflict.
As part of those online commemorations, veterans’ charity PoppyScotland will be sharing specially commissioned photographs of veterans throughout the day, and among those featured will be one familiar Borders face.
Second World War veteran John McOwan, of Peebles, was photographed as part of the two-year project and had been due to take part in official commemorations in Edinburgh tomorrow.
But while the former Desert Rat, busy writing his autobiography at the age of 99, can recall the footage showing street celebrations on May 8, 1945, his own memories of the day are a little hazier.
“I’ve been trying to think back to exactly what I was doing on VE Day, but it’s such a long time ago that for the life of me I just can’t remember,” he said. “I was in Germany at the time. We were in the army of occupation, and I think we were near Hamburg.
“I remember we went into Hamburg one day with a leave pass so I think that must have been after peace was declared.
“It was a place they called the rathaus. It was a sort of town hall. I remember being in that place and we were taking in a bit of sightseeing.
“We went to see what was left of the U-boat pens.
“I suppose we were having a good time as well like those at home, but I just can’t remember exactly what happened.”
Mr McOwan served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to the 8th Army and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day. Last June, he returned to Normandy for the first time to take part in the 75th anniversary of those 1944 landings.
A widower since the death of wife Betty in 2000, Mr McOwan was meant to be taking part in a three-day visit to Edinburgh this weekend as a guest at the official celebrations, including a parade, concert and reception, there.
“I was due to take part in the big commemorations in Edinburgh, and it’s a shame that’s had to be called off,” he added. “It was going to include a big parade in George Street with tanks and troops, royal visits and a big dinner up at the castle.
“I was looking forward to it, but they say they’ve not cancelled it, rather postponed it, so I just hope it happens next year instead.”
Legion Scotland and PoppyScotland are instead holding a series of virtual events and activities to ensure that the historic moment still receives due recognition.
A virtual service of remembrance will take place, broadcast by Legion Scotland and PoppyScotland on their respective Facebook pages at 10.40am, and a two-minute silence is to be held nationwide at 11am.
Following that, there will be an hour-long virtual tribute featuring a range of performers previously lined up to perform at the VE Day event in Princes Street Gardens.
The charity is also encouraging people to host their own virtual VE Day parties at home, having shared wartime recipes and music playlists online.
Closer to home, Bonchester Bridge residents have their own celebrations planned with a vehicle playing period music touring the streets to encourage singalongs from doorsteps and windows.
In Denholm, children will decorate stones and place them at the war memorial when passing the village green as part of their daily exercise tomorrow.