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Blind Peebles veteran aged 101 wrote memoirs in lockdown

A blind World War Two veteran aged 101 has described how writing his memoirs helped to keep him busy during Covid lockdown restrictions.

John McOwan, from Peebles in the Borders, said he had initially worried about how he would pass his time.

However, with support from the charity Blind Veterans UK, he found the days flew by while he was writing.

He is turning the memoirs into a book dedicated to his great-grandchildren which he hopes might get published.

“In 2019, I joined a group of veterans on an organised trip to Normandy to mark 75 years since the D-Day landings,” he explained.

“During the trip, a lot of memories which had lain 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.”

He said Blind Veterans UK and other charities had come to the rescue by encouraging him to stay in touch with other veterans and to start writing a book.

They also provided him with equipment including wide-lined paper, a magnifier and lighting.

“This kept me busy and took me right through the lockdown period,” he said.

“I was quite happy at home writing and found the days weren’t long enough.”

The 101-year-old was inspired to write by a trip to Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings

Mr McOwan joined the Royal Artillery in 1939 at the age of 18 and was with them for nine months before World War Two broke out.

He was then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

During the war, he 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.

“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,” he said.

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

Mr McOwan lost his eyesight due to macular degeneration and he has a pseudophakia (false lens) in both eyes.

He has no vision in his left eye and only some vision in his right eye.

“I can still see to get about but I can’t recognise faces,” he said.

“There is a mistiness that covers everything but I don’t let it get me down.”

Frances Nixon, a volunteer with Blind Veterans UK, spent over 120 hours typing up Mr McOwan’s notes.

She said she felt “very lucky” to have been chosen to work on his “compelling” story.

“As I typed, I was living his story, I felt like I was there,” she said.

“I sat at my computer and I laughed and I cried.

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

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