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Veterans in pictures ahead of VE Day celebrations

With VE Day edging closer, leading Armed Forces charities Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland have commissioned a series of stunning portraits of Second World War veterans as part of the national celebration of this important milestone.

The exhibition helps to tell the stories of 15 incredible Second World War veterans, and include images from their wartime service together with a series of stunning photographs taken over the past two years. Plans had been in place for these to form a key part of this week’s formal VE Day 75th anniversary events in Edinburgh.

Now, following their postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the portraits and stories are being provided to media outlets and shared online as part of the revised programme of “virtual” VE Day activities. The Second World War veterans were photographed on a Graflex Super D large format film camera made in the USA in the 1940s – and all have their own personal story to tell about that history day on 8 May 1945.

Dr Claire Armstrong, the CEO at 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.

“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. 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.”

More than 15 veterans have been captured, both male and female and across the services. All have an important story to tell. Among them, is the oldest-living Desert Rat, Jimmy Sinclair, who is 107 years old. Jimmy, from Kirkcaldy, fought against Rommel in the north African desert. He served as a gunner with the elite Chestnut Troop, 1st Regiment Horse Artillery, of the 7th Armoured Division. On this wartime experiences, he says:

“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.”

The photographer responsible for the images is Wattie Cheung, 52, from Glasgow. Mr Cheung, who has been photographing the Second World War generation for almost two years, 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.

“It has been a pleasure and honour to photograph these amazing people. I always think photography is like a time machine – it captures a moment forever that you can go back to, to relive and observe another time. The veterans are a link to the past and they won’t be around forever to tell their stories. Listening to their recollections of the war has been enlightening, humorous and educational. They are a special breed of people that I doubt we will ever see again and I hope the portraits do them justice.”

The exhibition is also available to view at the Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland Facebook pages at www.facebook.com/LegionScotland and www.facebook.com/Poppyscotland respectively. A virtual Service of Remembrance and virtual Tribute concert will be broadcast at 1100 and 1200 on Friday 8 May from these Facebook pages also.

Notes to Editors

  • For further information and all media enquiries, please contact David A. Findlay, PR Manager at Poppyscotland and Legion Scotland, on 079797 35611, or email at d.findlay@poppyscotland.org.uk.
  • On 7 May 1945, Nazi Germany formally and unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces, bringing to an end six years of War. The following day was declared VE (Victory in Europe) Day and millions of people celebrated, marking the victory with street parties, dancing and singing. The Scottish Government has moved the May Bank holiday to 8th May to coincide with the VE Day anniversary.
  • Poppyscotland provides life-changing support to the Armed Forces community. Money raised from the Scottish Poppy Appeal and Poppyscotland’s year-round fundraising enables them to deliver support to members of the Armed Forces community in Scotland by providing tailored funding and assistance. The charity also funds services in advice, employment, housing, mental health, mobility and respite. Please note that we are known as “Poppyscotland”, and not “PoppyScotland” or “Poppy Scotland”. For more information, please visit us at: www.poppyscotland.org.uk.
  • The Royal British Legion Scotland (Legion Scotland), is the largest ex-Service membership charity in Scotland working at the heart of the community, supporting veterans of all ages and from all conflicts. With more than 140 branches, 61 clubs and 23,000 members, Legion Scotland, working in partnership with other organisations, provides veterans in the community with three key services covering remembrance, comradeship and befriending whilst supporting the welfare services and fundraising initiatives of Poppyscotland. Contact Legion Scotland at New Haig House, Logie Green Road, Edinburgh, EH7 4HQ, or telephone 0131 322 1076. For more information on Legion Scotland’s work, please visit: www.legionscotland.org.uk
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