‘Make do like did’ says Scottish VE Day veteran

She is among a dwindling band of veterans who faced down the greatest risk to Britain’s way of life.

Veteran Catherine Drummond

Now, two years short of her 100th birthday, one of Scotland’s last surviving Second World War veterans has told of how wartime experience has stood her in good stead during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catherine Drummond said her memories of food shortages and rationing had been rekindled, as she urged people to try and “make do” during the outbreak.

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Mrs Drummond was due to be a special guest at next week’s VE Day commemorations in Edinburgh, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender and the end of the war in Europe.

Veteran Catherine Drummond

However, the event in the capital – which was to have included a parade and a tribute concert – has been cancelled due to the outbreak.

She said: “I’m terribly disappointed the event has been cancelled, I was so looking forward to going to it, but then again, no-one can go anywhere or do anything.”

Instead, like many others she will mark the occasion at her home thanks to a series of virtual events being organised by Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland.

These will include a virtual service of remembrance and an online concert featuring performances by singer Amy Hawthorn and the actor and comic, Elaine C Smith. Poppyscotland is also encouraging the public to host their own virtual VE Day parties at home. Mrs Drummond plans to raise a glass of Scotch while tuning in to the service and concert.

She said she was “keeping well” but has succumbed to boredom while confined at her Dunfermline home.

She added: “During the war we were bombed and running to airtime shelters, but in between the raids, we at least had our freedom. Now, with coronavirus, we don’t have any freedom.

“We went through rationing, and had to queue up at the shops, and that’s strange at a time like now when usually you can go out and buy anything you want. But people have to make do now like we did.”

VE Day has long been tinged with sadness for the 98-year-old, given the way the war ripped apart her own family.

She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1940 aged 19 after seeing an advert in her local newspaper. It was a calling which she relished, as she played her part in the wartime effort “sending out the morse code to the boys in the planes”.

She added: ”Everybody nowadays thinks we were so clever, but we didn’t think anything of it back then.”

Her role as a radio operator saw Mrs Drummond stationed across the country, including a spell in Oban, where she met and married her husband, Sergeant John Boyd. Tragically, he did not live to see the end of the war as his plane crashed off the coast of Italy while taking part in test flights.

“I didn’t even know he was in Italy. There were people on a beach below who heard a noise which made them think the plane engine wasn’t right. It came down into the sea, my husband and the New Zealand pilot were never found.”

When the telegram arrived notifying her of her husband’s death, she was eight months’ pregnant with their daughter, also Catherine.

“I never gave up hope that he could have been a prisoner of war, but it was a very difficult time,” she said. “We had only been married ten months, and my daughter was born a month later. It was a terrific blow. It’s important we remember everything that happened back then, even if we have to do it from home.”

Poppyscotland has put together resources, including wartime recipes and music playlists, for those looking to mark VE Day at home.

The charity also said it expects to miss out on tens of thousands of pounds in expected donations due to Covid-19, and has appealed for people to help raise funds.

Gordon Michie, its head of fundraising and learning, said: “VE Day parties are an opportunity to bring together family and friends via popular video chat platforms.

“They are an ideal way to remain connected with loved ones and join in a collective tribute to the generation who gave so much.”