A NORTH Berwick resident has written and published his father’s war diary while being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer.

Peter Fleming, 72, of Dirleton Court, had kept the Second World War diary and notebook of memories since his father, Arthur, passed away in 1997, aged 84.

He had begun typing up the diary when another former cancer patient he met at East Lothian Cancer Support Group offered to produce the book and upload it to self-publishing site Amazon.

Peter said: “I would ask dad to see his original, tiny little notebook when I was quite young, maybe 10 or 12. Then he lent it to somebody in the church and it got lost.

“Fortunately, before he lent the original notebook, I’d asked him to transcribe it into an old-fashioned hardback notebook, 40 years after the events, in 1984.

“I had been thinking I should turn the diary into a book for years.

“I got a computer about 10 years ago and started to write it out. But my computing skills weren’t very good so I asked my daughter if she would type it up.”

Peter’s daughter Rachel, 45, was working as a human rights advocate and consultant in Indonesia but helped Peter when she visited him at his home in Scotland.

Peter said: “Rachel typed it all up and put it on a disc.

“I did investigate different Scottish publishers I thought might be interested in it but I never got any further than that until I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April, 2019.

“At that stage, I didn’t know what the eventual outcome would be of my treatment and I decided, well, I need to get this done.”

Peter, who moved to North Berwick from the Highlands in 2018, had his first consultation at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital and then underwent an MRI scan, CT scan and biopsy.

He was receiving monthly hormone injection treatment when he joined East Lothian Cancer Support Group, based at North Berwick Library.

“I bought a book by one of the other support group members, which she had self-published, and thought what a brilliant job it was. When she offered to help me publish dad’s diary, it just developed from there,” he recalled.

Peter was also motivated to publish the diary for his sister Maureen, 77, who lives in Australia.

“That was my main motivation,” he said, “to do this as a sort of gift to Maureen because she’d always wanted to get it published as a book.

“She thought that she would be able to do it but I sent her the disc and she found it very difficult to read.

“I told her that I had cancer but I didn’t tell her that I was getting on with writing the book.

“About a month ago I sent it to her and it was a complete surprise. She was absolutely thrilled.”

In an email sent to Peter, Maureen said: “I am reduced to tears. What a brilliant job you did.

“It has brought back so many memories of who dad was – a complex, creative man with a difficult childhood and yet it says so much for the grandparents that the whole family were always much involved in life outside their tiny dwelling. I shall treasure this.”

A former primary school teacher in Dingwall, Peter said that reading and transcribing the diary brought his dad back to him.

“It was a mixture of sad memories and fond memories because towards the end of his life dad was in a lot of pain,” he said.

“He’d had a leg amputated because of diabetes. But just to show you what kind of spirit he had, when he was in hospital, having his first amputation, I got a phone call from my mum saying that there was a huge parcel that had arrived; and he had ordered a mountain bike because he thought, ‘I might not be able to walk but I can still go on bike’. With one leg!”

Before and after the war, Arthur Fleming was a baker and confectioner.

Peter explained: “He started off at the age of 14 as an apprentice baker, and his job at that age was to look after the horses in the stables that delivered all the bread and so on, round about Inverness.

“So he spent this first year looking after the horses, and also going to the college to learn the theory of baking and so on. He ended up as a master confectioner. ”

Inverness resident Arthur served from 1942 to 1945 in northern France, Netherlands and Germany with the 25th Battery, 53rd Heavy Regiment, Royal Field Artillery.

His diary not only records the horrors of war – “Suddenly there was the sound of a huge shell going over... I dropped to the ground as another exploded closer to me; I was blown into some fencing, my rifle and steel helmet gone” – but also the comedies – “We were making our way along the road to our command post... when Jerry opened up on us with mortars. As we gingerly peered from the edge of the ditch, we saw coming cycling along the road, quite sedately, an elderly man dressed in top hat and tails!”

Arthur returned to baking after the war.

“He got demobbed when he arrived home on the Friday night and he went back to work on Monday morning,” said Peter.

“That’s what people did in those days. There was no debriefing counselling or anything. And this is why a lot of my dad’s generation never really talked about their experiences.

“I think it helped him to deal with some of the sadness by writing up the diary of friends that he’d lost during the war.”

His dad’s war diary, called Pas de Deux with the RSM, is out now, and Peter is delighted with the results.

“It’s probably one of the best achievements in my life really,” he said proudly. “It’s dad’s words but I’ve turned it into a book. It’s a lovely feeling.”

Peter says he was supported through both his writing and his illness by the North Berwick community.

“I had radiotherapy for eight weeks, and the side effects were actually pretty dire,” he said.

“I was feeling quite ill and I had to struggle to motivate myself to finish the book.

“I’ve got a lot of people in North Berwick to thank for helping me when I was ill.

“One of the things which kept me going when writing the book and still quite ill during radiotherapy was all the people being so kind and supportive.

“I was born and brought up and worked in the Highlands but it was so easy to make friends when I moved here because people are so friendly.”

Peter was given the all clear in March this year.

“On March 4, almost exactly a year after first being diagnosed, I was given the amazing news that a recent PSA blood test had shown a result of less than 0.1, which is ‘normal’, with no signs of cancer,” he said.

“I will be tested from time to time, and still undergo hormonal injections for the foreseeable future – a very small price to pay for being given one of my nine lives back!”

Pas de Deux with the RSM is available as both paperback and ebook via amzn.to/3cBkskD