“I was born in the town of Newmilns in Ayrshire on 22 July 1924. I lived most of my life in nearby Galston, where I still live. I had started work in the lace trade in Newmilns in 1938, aged 14. From 1939, the lace factories where I worked turned to war work, producing sandfly netting and splinter netting, and in the evenings we joined the cadet forces. In my case it was the Air Cadets, learning aircraft recognition and Morse code. 

“At the age of 18 years, everyone waited to be called up; for me it was 17 December 1942, and I was off to the Army. First was basic training at the bitterly cold Bridge of Don barracks in Aberdeen, then aptitude tests, and I became Signalman John Mitchell in the Royal Signals. Intense training followed in Yorkshire, then training for landings back on the Ayrshire coast. Proper duties started at Weybridge in Surrey, working from signal wagons. The sets were manned 24 hours a day. Within a few days we were on our way to the south coast for the invasion build-up, packed in camps. 

“Then on to the cobbled slipway at Gosport and on to an LST which had space for about 20 tanks and some smaller trucks like the one I was on. These vessels had a speed of 13 knots and bobbed about like corks when at sea because of the shallow draught. Most of the troops on board were Canadians, out to make up for their treatment at Dieppe. When we were at sea, news came through about the landings and we knew for certain that this was not another exercise but the real thing. 

“We landed on the night of D-Day +1 on Juno Beach near Courseulles. There have been many articles written about what we were to see on the beach, with the noise of battle and all the bodies, and I am sure that anyone who was there will have strong memories of their own. I am just as sure that a lot of them will have tried to eradicate these memories from their minds. There was the beach master with his megaphone shouting to everyone to get off the beach, through a break in the wire marked with tape.  

“We went on as far as we could to try and find the rest of our unit, until we were told to stop unless we spoke fluent German. We were ordered to pull in off the road on to the edge of a field behind a Canadian truck. When we could move in the early morning, the Canadian driver drove forward a couple of yards and hit a mine and the truck was destroyed. There are some incidents that you do not forget. 

“We backed out and soon met up with our unit. To start with, I was put on to a half track and on the radio set working to the battleships Ramillies or Warspite, which were bombarding enemy strongpoints. 

“We spent a number of weeks in or near Douvres-la-Délivrande. Some weeks passed before we managed to break through and when we went into Caen it had been devastated by our bombers. I think this would have been at the end of July. On to Lisieux and then we saw Falaise and advanced fairly rapidly. 

“After Normandy, we came up to the River Seine at Duclair and witnessed the effect of bombs having been dropped on a concentration of Germans trying to cross the river. We went on to Yvetot, then Le Havre, making great advances up through France. 

“The unit then moved on to Belgium, through Brussels. We were given a great welcome, being showered with flowers and given grapes, peaches and pears. Some of the places we worked from were Lier, Cambrai, Turnhout, Keerbergen and Zandhoven. Turnhout became special, as I was invited into a house and made friends who seemed to accept me as part of their family. That friendship is still ongoing. Sixty years passed before my wife and I managed to return, when we were honoured guests. 

“We provided communications for an American division which was going into action for the first time under the control of 1 British Corps; this was the 104th Infantry Division, nicknamed the ‘Timberwolf Division’. At this time, we could hear V1s passing overhead. 

“Having returned to our own unit we spent time in Breda, Tilburg, Riel and Goirle in the Netherlands. I think that in about the middle of December, the Germans counterattacked in strength in the Ardennes and ran riot through the American lines. The Germans were eventually beaten back and before long, in April, we were going into Germany. Duties were of a different nature. The aftermath of the liberation of Belsen was working its way through and the trials commenced in September 1945. We manned and operated the main telephone switchboard in Munster and were on detachment in Cologne on a wireless truck, on the esplanade next to the Rhine. The city was devastated with extensive ruins and blocked roads. I was amazed that the cathedral was so intact. 

“We went right up to Luneburg Heath and a barracks in Iserlohn. We were issued with jungle kit and were ready to go to Burma when news came about the atom bombs and the surrender of Japan. Our elation was short-lived when we were paraded and the Army act was read out to us. We were then to form a line with our pay books in our hand and when we reached an officer, he turned the pages to where it said ‘engaged for the duration’ and added ‘OF EMERGENCY’. We were now to be sent to the Middle East. 

“I left Liverpool for Port Said, Egypt. We went to Quassasin near Ismailia and were under canvas. Then through Egypt across the Sinai Desert, El Kantara, and on up to Gaza. We spent a short time there and I remember our CO having us on parade and informing us of what we might encounter when we moved in to Sarafand garrison. We spent our time in Palestine between there and Allenby barracks in Jerusalem. We did not seem to have any military duties to perform and wondered why we were there at all. But it was a very dangerous place for British troops and my CO, for whom I acted as a driver on occasion, narrowly missed being blown up in the King David Hotel. I was sent all over Palestine with despatches, calling in at Ramallah, Nablus and Haifa, so I saw quite a bit of the country. Nazareth was not far away. 

“By the time I was eventually demobbed in 1947, all of the tradesmen, builders, joiners and so on had been out early, and the men who had missed the service in the Armed Forces were all back looking for work and homes. Rationing and austerity were still in force, and the promise of ‘a land fit for heroes’ seemed rather empty. Thankful to be home safe and sound, and back at work with my former employees in the lace trade, I resolved to work hard and learn as much as I could about my trade. I later became a tenter (foreman) then manager and director in the local lace trade. 

“I joined the Royal British Legion Scotland but did not play any active part. Later, I learned that there was a Glasgow and West of Scotland branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association and I became a member of this. I could not attend the monthly meetings in Glasgow and was very much a sleeping member. When I could go to the memorial days, I had to look for my medals. I found them still in the wee cardboard boxes with the ribbons, which had never been attached or mounted. I am today a member of the Kilmarnock branch of Legion Scotland. 

“I was privileged to go back with my wife for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, which was memorable and emotional. We were treated as honoured guests and I was struck by the respect shown by French children who gave us flowers and showed us through the village. We were often asked to write down our wartime stories for historical projects. I did not feel that I had much to write about and resisted until a few years ago. Then, I had to try and search my memories. 

“A surprise came in 2015, when I received word that as a Normandy veteran I was to receive the French Legion of Honour, which is the highest military and civil decoration in France. The National Order of the Legion of Honour was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. While membership is technically restricted to French nationals, foreign nationals who have served France may receive the honour.”