Veterans’ stories told in video series released to mark VE Day

The stories of Scottish veterans from every conflict since the Second World War until the present day are to be told in a digital project to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Mary Sim in her WAAF uniform.
Mary Sim in her WAAF uniform.

Veterans’ Voices, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Chancellor using LIBOR funds, has sought out veterans the length and breadth of Scotland in a bid to compile a definitive dossier of high-quality filmed interviews to cover each and every conflict over the past 80 years.

With the nation set to celebrate VE Day tomorrow, the first three Veterans’ Voices stories to be unveiled are those belonging to Second World War veterans Mary Sim, Charles Horne and Ian Forsyth.

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Speaking about VE Day itself in the Veterans’ Voices film, Ms Sim, from Kirkcaldy, who worked sewing damaged barrage balloons during the war, said:

Mary Sim worked repairing barrage balloons in the war.

“The night that War finished we never went to bed. We were out partying all night. The officers invited us into the Officers’ Mess. Now that was the holiest of holies and if you were non-commissioned you were never invited into the Officers’ Mess.

“But we were all invited, and I’ve got a photograph there showing me and some of my colleagues the night War ended.”

VE Day is the day on which Allied forces formally accepted the surrender of Germany in 1945. A bank holiday has been added to the calendar to allow people to celebrate, although major plans have had to be scrapped because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Gordon Michie, head of fundraising and learning at Poppyscotland, said: “Veterans’ Voices is a unique resource of high-quality film archive of interviews with veterans living in Scotland who have served in conflicts from 1939 to the present day. Over the next two years we will capture scores of personal recollections so that these stories can live on.

“This important project will see us interview at least one veteran from every conflict in which the British Armed Forces have been involved since 1939. Veterans’ Voices will feature a range of veterans of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. Interviews cover veterans’ experiences and their thoughts on remembrance.

He added: “We are delighted to unveil the first three Veteran’s Voices films, and it is fitting to do so on the eve of VE Day. Mary, Charles and Ian each have incredible stories to tell and we are grateful for their courage in recalling their wartime experiences, and their memories of VE Day itself.”

“It is vital that these stories are captured now before they can no longer be told, ensuring greater understanding for future generations. What’s more, our research has shown that the public are just as keen to understand more about the experiences of our veterans from recent conflicts as they are from stories of life during the Second World War.”

Ian Forsyth, who was born in Hamilton in 1923, recalls the day that war broke out.

He said: “I was at church on the Sunday morning, when the beadle came in and whispered to the minister and the minister announced that war had been declared. I couldn’t understand why some of the older ladies were crying. But when you are a boy you don’t think about these things. I mean this was going to be an adventure.”

However, the realities of war soon hit home.

He recalled: “We landed at Gold Beach and took part in the battle of Normandy. And it was only then that you began to realise that you weren’t the great guy you’d thought you were. You weren’t going to liberate Europe. You weren’t going to be a hero, which we all thought we were when we joined the army.

“Boys have a habit of romanticising quite a bit and just to be in uniform was your big aim but it wasn’t long before you realised this was a life or death struggle and it didn’t take long to change your character quite a bit, when you were facing somebody who was intent on killing you.”

Veterans’ Voices is a further addition to Poppyscotland’s learning resources for young people. The project will feature prominently on Bud, the charity’s mobile museum, which reaches more than 30,000 individuals through school visits and public events every year.

The films are also a core component of the VE Day 75th Anniversary digital resource, which has proved especially popular with those home schooling during the current Covid-19 lockdown. The videos will help the public to develop a better understanding and engage with veterans, and have greater appreciation of more recent and less well-known conflicts.

Plans had been made to mark VE Day on a large scale in Scotland, but have had to be scrapped as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. A series of portraits of 15 Scottish veterans taken by award-winning photographer Wattie Cheung were unveiled online earlier this week.

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