Second World War veteran from Peebles writes memoirs about military life

John McOwan is piecing together his memories and stories for a book. Credit: Blind Veterans U.K.

A Second World War veteran from Peebles in Scotland has written memoirs of his time during the conflict.

John McOwan, who is 101, began to write down his memories of the war during the Covid-19 lockdown.

With his eyesight failing, the Blind Veterans UK charity is helping with the project.

John said: “In 2019 I joined a group of veterans on an organised trip to Normandy to mark 75 years since the D-Day landings. During the trip, a lot of memories which had laid dormant for many years were rekindled.

“A few months later the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of the lockdown restrictions led me to wonder how I’d pass my time.

"Blind Veterans UK along with other veteran charities came to my rescue. They encouraged me to stay in touch with other veterans by phone or over the internet.

"I was also encouraged to write a book which was the seed that germinated my decision to write of my experiences during World War Two.

"This kept me busy and took me right through the lockdown period. I was quite happy at home writing and found the days weren’t long enough."

Blind Veterans UK, a charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, is now helping him put together his memoirs, which he hopes to get published into a book.

They provided John with equipment to help him write his memoirs including wide lined paper, a magnifier and lighting.

Frances Nixon, a volunteer with Blind Veterans UK, spent over 120 hours typing up John’s handwritten notes after she responded to an email looking for a volunteer to help John with his project.

Frances said: “I was very lucky to have been chosen, it’s been wonderful. John’s story is so compelling, and he tells it in such a straightforward way.

 “As I typed, I was living his story, I felt like I was there. I sat at my computer and I laughed and I cried.

“It’s been a great privilege and honour to have been involved.”

John joined the Royal Artillery in 1939 at the age of 18 and was with them for nine months before the Second World War broke out. He was then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

During the war John was a Desert Rat and was stationed in the Middle East, Cairo, Italy and took part in the Normandy landings. In 1946 he was discharged from the British Army as a sergeant.

John said: “I thought to myself so many veterans have passed away leaving their families desperate to know what they did in the war and now I had the opportunity to write my story.

 “I hope my story will make others appreciate the horrors and grief war leaves behind.”

John lost his eyesight due to macular degeneration and he has a pseudophakia (false lens) in both eyes. John has no vision in his left eye and only some vision in his right eye.

 John said: “I can still see to get about but I can’t recognise faces. There is a mistiness that covers everything but I don’t let it get me down.

 “If it wasn’t for the encouragement and support I received from Blind Veterans UK and my close family, I doubt I ever would have completed my memoirs.

 “Everything the charity does to help veterans makes a huge difference to our quality of life.”

John wrote his story for his family and if published, plans to dedicate the book to his four great grandchildren.