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The 103-year-old veteran marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day

John McOwan veteran

4 June 2024

There are a dwindling number of veterans like John McOwan alive today who took part in the Normandy Landings. But this week the 103-year-old from Peeblesshire will be playing his role in commemorating the 80th anniversary of one of the most significant battles of World War Two.

John will be part of a D-Day parade in Peebles, organised by the SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, which is a part of Age Scotland’s Unforgotten Forces consortium of charities supporting older ex-armed forces men and women.

This year’s D-Day commemorative events will be especially poignant, given the age of those who survived the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France and the fact that, 80 years on, there are fewer people around to remember the courage of the tens of thousands of young men who risked their lives on an unknown journey into battle on June 6, 1944.

John has certainly done his bit to raise awareness of what it was like being one of the 156,115 Allied troops who took part in the Normandy Landings. He wrote a memoir, A Centenarian’s Memoirs of WWII, about his experience of landing on Gold Beach.

John, a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, told the Peeblesshire News: “I landed on Gold Beach in Normandy. I went to Bayeux for the 75th D-Day anniversary, it was a very emotional and wonderful day.

“We paid tribute to the lads who did not survive. I read the ages of some of the young lads in the cemeteries, 18,19, who did not survive to have a family life.

“I would like to pay tribute to them [this year].”

Calum Stewart, from SSAFA Borders, and a fellow former REME member, told the Peeblesshire News: “Having a bit of living history at the parade makes it more relevant to people.

“It is an honour to have John still be active and it is good to have a community of veterans supporting him and him supporting us.”

“Events like these are where we can get veterans together and recognise each other.

“If we [veterans] knew each other and worked together we would be a force for good in the community.”

With 80th anniversary D-Day events taking place around Scotland, as well as larger commemorative gatherings in the rest of the UK and France, Calum encouraged people of all ages to take time to mark such an important and historic day.

He told the Peeblesshire News: “We know it will be a working day but we are asking people to come out as it is an important day in history.

“There are people in our cemeteries, people with plaques in the Quadrangle [in Peebles] who were at D-Day, there is a man in this town who was at D-Day.

“If we do not mark it our children will not see it as something to remember.”

The parade in Peebles on Thursday will include two pupils from Peebles High School reading an excerpt from John McOwan’s book.

John told the Peeblesshire News: “I’m very pleased that the young people are taking note of the experiences of us lads during the war, to impress on people that wars are not what I call a triumph.

“War brings grief and life long misery to a lot of mothers, wives, and sweethearts.

“There is a story behind every one of the gravestones.”

You can read the entire story from the Peebleshire News here

Photograph of John McOwan by John Hislop