Scottish World War Two veteran awarded France's highest military award after nearly 80 years

​A Second World War veteran has been awarded France's highest military award – nearly 80 years after his part in the D-Day landings.

Great-grandfather John McOwan, aged 101, was delighted to finally receive his Legion D'Honneur medal.

The former Desert Rat only realised he was entitled to the medal after joining other veterans in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary in 2019.

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But due to delays with the application process, Mr McOwan, from Peebles in the Scottish Borders, had almost given up hope of receiving his medal.

D-Day veteran John McOwan. Picture: Legion Scotland/Poppyscotland

He had been unable to attend a first ceremony at the French Embassy, before the pandemic, because of ill health.

But after 78 years and with assistance from Sight Scotland and Legion Scotland, the medal has now been awarded.

Mr McOwan, a retired jewellery shop owner, said: "When it came in the post, it was a complete surprise. I'd been waiting for this for years. It was the best Christmas gift ever.

"I hope that this might encourage other veterans to come forward and apply if they have missed out.

"My family are all very proud, and my great-grandchildren were very interested and wanted to know more about my story."

The father-of-one had planned to train as an optometrist after leaving school, but joined the Royal Artillery aged 18 in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of war.

After serving on the artillery batteries defending the Forth Rail Bridge, he was then transferred to Egypt in 1940.

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He used his engineering skills to work on tanks, trucks and other equipment with the 7th Armoured Division.

Known as the Desert Rats, they served for several years in North Africa, going on to take part in the Allied landings in the south of Italy.

He was then involved in the Normandy landings, when tens of thousands of Allied troops landed on five beaches on June 6, 1944.

His division continued on to victory in Berlin, and he finally left the Army in 1946 as a Sergeant.

Mr McOwan returned to Peebles and took over the family jewellery business with his brother, retiring in 1990.

He and late wife Betty had one daughter, three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Mr McOwan has already written a memoir with the help of Blind Veterans UK, which he published last year.

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He said: "The trip back to the Normandy beaches was a catalyst for me. I kept thinking back to my service days and wartime experience.

"Then during lockdown, I started writing to pass the time. I was really proud of my service, and I wanted to dedicate the book to my great-grandchildren.”

Dr Claire Armstrong, chief executive of Legion Scotland, said: "We are delighted to hear Mr McOwan has recently received the Legion D'Honneur ... it is very well deserved and everyone at Legion Scotland congratulates him and sends their best regards."



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