Scottish D-Day veteran John McOwan awarded France's highest honour (Picture: Legion Scotland).
D-Day veteran John McOwan has been awarded France's highest honour (Picture: Legion Scotland).
D-Day

101-year-old veteran honoured with France's highest award for his role in D-Day

Scottish D-Day veteran John McOwan awarded France's highest honour (Picture: Legion Scotland).
D-Day veteran John McOwan has been awarded France's highest honour (Picture: Legion Scotland).

A veteran of the Second World War has been honoured with France's highest military award for his part in the D-Day landing 78 years ago.

John McOwan, 101, is a retired jewellery shop owner from Peebles in the Scottish Borders and was surprised and delighted to finally receive his Legion D'Honneur medal, describing it as "the best Christmas present ever".

The former Desert Rat found out that he was entitled to the medal in 2019 when he joined other veterans, former prime minister Theresa May, and the then Prince of Wales in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the operation.

After delays and a lengthy application process, John received the medal three years later.

He had been unable to attend a first ceremony at the French Embassy, before the pandemic, because of ill health.

Mr McOwan said: "When it came in the post it was a complete surprise. I'd been waiting for this for years. It was the best Christmas gift ever.

"I hope that this might encourage other veterans to come forward and apply if they have missed out.

"My family are all very proud, and my great-grandchildren were very interested and wanted to know more about my story."

The medal was finally awarded to him after some assistance from Sight Scotland and Legion Scotland, and representations from Edinburgh's Lord Provost, the Scottish Government and defence minister Baroness Goldie.

Mr McOwan joined the Royal Artillery in 1939, at the age of 18, shortly before the outbreak of war.

After serving on the artillery batteries defending the Forth rail bridge, he was then transferred to Egypt in 1940.

John McOwan served in Royal Artillery and later the 7th Armoured Division (Picture: Legion Scotland).
John McOwan served in the Royal Artillery and later the 7th Armoured Division (Picture: Legion Scotland).

He used his engineering skills to work on tanks, trucks, and other equipment with the 7th Armoured Division.

Known as the Desert Rats, they served for several years in North Africa, going on to take part in the Allied landings in the south of Italy.

He was involved in the Normandy landings, when tens of thousands of Allied troops landed on five beaches on D-Day, on 6 June 1944.

The veteran said: "The trip back to the Normandy beaches was a catalyst for me.

"I kept thinking back to my service days and wartime experience. Then, during lockdown, I started writing to pass the time.

"I was really proud of my service, and I wanted to dedicate the book to my great-grandchildren."

He added: "You often hear from people who knew nothing about their father's or grandfather's experience and wishing that they had asked them more about it."