James Robertson, 98, vividly remembers the day he was told that Germany had surrendered, effectively bringing an end to WWII in Europe. He had been called up in January 1942 to enlist in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), initially training with the Mountain Division in Grampian where he learned to ski, then moving to the 1st Airborne and eventually the 52nd Lowland Division.
In October 1944 he was deployed to the frontline, landing in Ostend and working his way up through Belgium and the Netherlands to Germany.
Eight months later on May 8 1945, James had just returned to his camp at 6 am after carrying out night patrols near the German town of Osterholtz-Scharnbeck, which was mostly populated by East German refugees.
He said: “The company commander, Major Hogg, informed me that the war was over. However, I was so exhausted that I went to bed, and it wasn’t until the next day that any kind of celebration took place.”
He remembered that the piano from the local hotel was brought out onto the pavement and his comrade, Private Finch, played tunes for them so they could have a singsong. Only ten men from 4th Battalion KOSB were stationed there at the time, but during the singing more than a dozen German soldiers appeared with white flags to surrender to them.
After VE Day, James remained in Germany until July 1946 where he was involved in maintaining military control. He also helped to liberate 20,000 people from the the Stalag X1B and Fallingbostel prison camps, including two of his fellow soldiers who had been captured in April 1945.
At the end of his military service, he returned to his home near Lochmaben and became an apprentice stonemason with Andrew Graham’s building firm.
He met his future wife Grace, who worked for the Navy, Army and Air Forces Institute and was a friend of his sister Betty, in 1946. They married two years later and went on to have three children – Hazel, Neil and Gilllian. The couple also welcomed seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren before Grace sadly passed away in 2014.
James now lives in Lockerbie and was an active member of Kettleholm St Mungo Bowling Club until last summer. During lockdown he is remaining optimistic and making full use of modern technology to stay in regular contact with his family.
And today he hopes to tune in to a live stream of a VE Day service and concert on the Royal British Legion Scotland Facebook page, with his whole family joining him online to commemorate.