Join Scotland’s virtual VE Day celebrations today

Exactly 75 years ago today (Friday) the country joined forces to celebrate the end of the war, in Europe at least.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 8th May 2020, 8:58 am
Jack Patterson (95) has never regretted joining the Navy and has shared his memories of the Second World War for this very special anniversary of VE Day.
Jack Patterson (95) has never regretted joining the Navy and has shared his memories of the Second World War for this very special anniversary of VE Day.

This year, the spring bank holiday was changed to May 8 with plans to recreate some of the magic of that day.

As we’re now waging war with a new enemy in the form of Covid-19, planned street parties and national celebrations were shelved.

While we can’t come together to toast the special anniversary date, we felt it was still important to mark the occasion.

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On Ve Day in 1945, Jack, who was then a young sailor, remembers escorting a surrendered U-Boat to Loch Eriboll.

Thanks to David Findlay, public relations manager at Poppyscotland, we’re able to share the stories of two Scottish veterans who were still on active duty on VE Day back in 1945.

Prior to lockdown, David sat down with both men to find out what they could recall of that historic date.

Jack Patterson was born and brought up in Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, growing up in a family of eight living in one room.

Leaving school at 14, he ended up working in a food-producing factory and was exempt from joining up.

Frank Coyle (93) was with the invasion fleet at Singapore Harbour when VE Day was held in 1945.

However, a then teenage Jack decided to join the Navy.

The 95-year-old said: “I already had two brothers who were serving. Jim, the eldest, was in the RAF, and Bobby, two years older than me, was a stoker in the Navy.

“What I learned in the Navy was incredible. The places I got to travel to, it was an education in itself.

“I was a boy when I went in but I considered myself a man when I came out.”

Frank was still a teenager when this picture was taken of him at Pickett House in Singapore.

Jack was called up in March 1943 and was sent to a Butlin’s Camp in Skegness before moving to Ayr for six months to learn calligraphy.

He then joined HMS Mercury, near Portsmouth, to await drafting.

He said: “I was drafted to Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, to HMS Ferret, which was a Royal Navy base.

“From there, I joined HMS Kenilworth Castle, which was a new vessel.”

Virtual party...Poppyscotland hopes people across the country will host virtual parties today to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Jack’s first mission was to travel to Newfoundland, to an American Naval Base to escort supply convoys.

“America was sending a lot of supplies to Britain,” he said. “After two trips across the Atlantic, I returned to HMS Ferret before my next draft which was on board a Russian submarine chaser.

“It was a small ship with a crew of 12. I was as bit apprehensive as I didn’t know the Russian language but it’s amazing how you get by with hand signals! We sailed for Loch Ewe at night.

“We were supposed to be going with the convoy leaving in September 1944 but two of the boats were damaged at Loch Ewe and we had to go to Fort William for repairs.

“We were there for a month awaiting repairs.

“I got to meet and know a lot of crewmates from the other ships. We drank beer and whisky, while the Russians drank vodka!

“We got to know our shipmates which developed the trust needed when you’re all on the same boat.”

In October, they headed to Murmansk in Russia, and on to Polyarny, which had a British Royal Naval communications base.

Jack recalled: “I had to seek passage home and did so on HMS Walker. Polyarny had been bombed a lot and it was like something out of a Western film – wooden structures and dirt roads.”

Jack was seldom scared.

“The biggest danger to our convoys was from the air,” he said. “There were more ships sunk by air attacks than by submarines during the war.

“It was the bad weather we feared most. The sea was the biggest enemy.

“There was a terrible storm the second time we went to Newfoundland.

“We spotted an iceberg – we were near the area where the Titanic had gone down but we had radar, which the Titanic didn’t.”

On May 8, 1945, Jack was in the Pentland Firth.

He said: “A U-Boat surrendered to us. We took it to Loch Eriboll in the north of Scotland. It was the first time I had seen a U-Boat. It looked sinister because it was all enclosed and bigger than I thought. We knew the war was nearly over.”

In July 1945, Jack joined HMS Illustrious with passage to Colombo, before heading to Singapore.

He said: “That’s when the Americans dropped the atom bomb. We didn’t know until we reached Singapore that the war was finally over.”

Jack returned home in 1946 but took up a three-year commission with the Navy.

He said: “I was drafted onto HMS Marauder and we went up to Gibraltar to pick up Jewish immigrants going to Palestine.

“Many had been through the Holocaust and had suffered a lot.

“I was on the last vessel coming out of Haifa before the Independence Day of Israel in 1948.”

Jack then returned home, working as a postman until he retired in 1988.

He is humble about the recognition he received.

Referring to the Admiral Ushakov Medal he received in 1994, he added: “There were times I didn’t know if I was entitled to the medal because of what others went through. Now I feel I received it on behalf of those who did not come back.”

Frances ‘Frank’ Coyle’s introduction to the Second World War came late, in 1944. Aged just 18, he was the breadwinner of the family.

His dad had died at the age of 33 so Frank looked after his mum, brother and sister.

Frank (93), from Govan, said: “I was told to go to the Police Station and get registered. I just had to go.”

Frank travelled down to the barracks in Portsmouth to join the Navy. He was ready but his mum wasn’t so happy.

“She broke down at the prospect of me heading to war,” he said. “But I made sure she got eight shillings of my Army wage. My mum and siblings were relying on me.”

Frank spent six weeks on a boat sailing through the Suez Canal before heading to join the invasion fleet at Singapore Harbour.

He recalled: “We stayed until the signing of the surrender. It was VE Day.

“We then made our way to Cambodia and Bangkok.

“Because of our blue berets the Japanese thought we were French and they were sniping at us.

“All we could do was fire into the jungle to scare them off but I was hit in the back by Japanese renegades. It broke some ribs.

“The doctor said he would excuse me from duties but I ended up having to work on. The Japanese never gave up.”

Frank was struck down with malaria in 1946 and sent to a hospital in Thailand. Excused duty again, he decided to go back to work.

He recalled: “When the Japanese surrendered, things didn’t really change. I was still fighting. There were many renegades who just could not admit defeat.”

Frank was demobbed in 1947 and initially worked in a foundry. He also reunited with a lass he met at the dancing before heading to war, Elen, who became his wife of 58 years. “It broke my heart when I lost her...”

Frank summed up his service, saying: “It made a man of you. I changed a lot during the war but it taught me a lot about life.”

Virtual service and concert today

Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland have organised a series of virtual events to ensure that the historic moment in 1945, which saw an end to six years of war in Europe, will still receive due recognition.

A virtual Remembrance Service will be broadcast today by Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland on their Facebook pages at 10.40am.

The service will be conducted by National Padre Karen Campbell and will feature the reading of Binyon’s Lines by Legion Scotland National President Sir Alistair Irwin, as well the laying of a single wreath at the Stone of Remembrance in Edinburgh.

Martyn Hawthorn, the national chairman of Legion Scotland, will recite the Kohima Epitaph and Amy Hawthorn will sing a hymn along with the Choir of Marchmont at St Giles’.

There will then be an hour-long virtual tribute featuring performers who had been due to perform at the VE Day event in Princes Street Gardens, featuring 1945-themed musical performances.

Dr Claire Armstrong, the CEO at Legion Scotland, said: “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 May 8.

“We will remember them and, even during this pandemic, our message of comradeship comes very much to the fore.”

Poppyscotland is also encouraging the public to host their own virtual VE Day party at home on bank holiday Friday.

The charity has put together wartime recipes and playlists at www.poppyscotland.org.uk/VEDayParty.

Gordon Michie, head of fundraising and learning at Poppyscotland, said: “VE Day parties are an opportunity to bring together family and friends via popular video chat platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom and Houseparty.

“They are an ideal way to remain connected with loved ones and join in a collective tribute to the generation who gave so much.”

Her Majesty the Queen will address the nation at 9pm – the exact time her father, King George VI, made his radio address to the nation in 1945 to announce victory in Europe after what he called “nearly six years of suffering and peril”.

The message will be broadcast on BBC One, in addition to being aired on the radio. It will also be shown across the royal family’s official social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The BBC will also air a video message from Prince Charles who will read an extract from his grandfather’s diary from VE Day describing the day’s events.

The Queen’s message will form the centrepiece of a televised musical event VE Day 75: The People’s Celebration, which will begin at 8pm.

After the broadcast on BBC One, the public will be invited to take part in a country-wide singalong of Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime anthem We’ll Meet Again.

The song was released in 1939 by Decca Records as part of the wartime relief effort.

Vera, who turned 103 years old on March 20, said: “We are facing a very challenging time at the moment but I’m greatly encouraged that we have seen people joining together.”

Additional events throughout the day will include a two minute silence at 11am and a broadcast of the 1945 Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill’s victory speech in the afternoon.