Portraits commemorate Scotland's World War II veterans ahead of VE Day

A series of striking portraits commemorating some of Scotland’s veterans of World War II have been unveiled ahead of VE Day.

Jimmy Sinclair, aged 107, fought against Rommel in the north African desert. Picture: Wattie Cheung/Poppyscotland
Jimmy Sinclair, aged 107, fought against Rommel in the north African desert. Picture: Wattie Cheung/Poppyscotland

The pictures of 15 veterans, taken by an award-winning photographer over the past two years, have been described as “breathtaking.”

The portraits, coupled with photographs of the veterans during their wartime service, capture their stories of this year’s commemorations of the end of the conflict.

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They include Jimmy Sinclair from Kirkcaldy, who is the oldest living Desert Rat, having fought against Rommel in the north African desert.

Mr Sinclair, now 107, served as a gunner with the elite Chestnut Troop, 1st Regiment Horse Artillery, of the 7th Armoured Division.

Reflecting on his wartime experiences, he said: “It’s a pity it all happened. We didn’t treat the Germans as enemies; they were combatants in battle. Most of them didn’t want to be there either.”

Other veterans captured by photographer Wattie Cheung include Sergeant William Fraser Glen, now 98.

Mr Fraser, from Carntyne, fought and was wounded after landing in Normandy two days after D-Day.

He said: “I landed in Normandy two days after D-Day. But I was wounded and was stretchered home. My most vivid memory was when I was wounded. A mortar bomb landed behind us and damaged my feet.

“One of my pals was killed. My boots were ripped right open and I had to crawl away. It was a traumatic experience. I will never, ever forget it.”

Plans had been in place for Mr Cheung’s photographs to form a key part of this week’s formal VE Day 75th anniversary events in Edinburgh.

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In a nod to the wartime era, all the veterans were photographed on a Graflex Super D large format film camera made in the USA in the 1940s.

Now, following the postponement of the events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the portraits and stories are being shared online as part of the revised programme of virtual VE Day activities.

Mr Cheung, 52, described it as a “pleasure and honour” to photograph the veterans, describing them as a “link to the past” and a “special breed of people.”

He said: “My job as a press photographer is to tell stories and I’ve always been impressed by the veterans I have photographed at the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies over the past 25 years.

“I have noticed in the past few years that there have been fewer veterans coming back to the ceremonies and always had in the back of mind that I should do something for a project.

“So when I got hold of the vintage Graflex camera with a view to do a project of portraits it seemed a perfect match to use a camera built in the 1940s to photograph the Second World War veterans.”

Dr Claire Armstrong, chief executive of Legion Scotland, said: “These images are nothing short of breathtaking – and are only matched by the stories of bravery that go alongside them. They will serve as a poignant reminder to the generations that follow, and we are grateful to have such a wonderful resource.

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“As the custodians of Remembrance in Scotland, our involvement in VE Day so important. They allow our communities to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, or who returned from battles in foreign lands with life-changing injuries. We will remember them and, even during this unprecedented pandemic, our enduring message of comradeship comes very much to the fore.

“And what better way to pay tribute to those still with us through this stunning collection of poignant images.”

She added: “I believe it is important for people to know that even in lockdown we are able to create an alternative way to mark this special occasion and to pay our respects as we bring people together virtually on 8 May to commemorate VE Day.

“Our virtual service and concert on Friday will provide us with a special way to thank those who gave so much in service of our country.”

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