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Stranraer piper marks sacrifice of British troops in little-known battle

Harrison Gibb

ACROSS Scotland, pipers have been marking a near-forgotten battle that involved thousands of Scottish soldiers. While the astonishing evacuation of over 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk by the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and a flotilla of private small ships in 1940 is well known, a tragedy occurred just along the French coast just days later. Churchill had placed the 51st Highland Division under French command in a bid to shore up their resistance to German Blitzkrieg. It proved hopeless and the British and French fell back to the small coastal town of Saint-Valery-en-Caux. They hoped they too could be rescued from the beaches but the Germans were determined to prevent another 'Dunkirk miracle'. The 7th Panzer Division, under General Erwin Rommel, moved so fast it was later nicknamed the Ghost Division. With their tanks on the high ground shelling the harbour, the British and French hung on grimly, suffering terrible casualties. The 51st Highland's commander, General Victor Fortune, was desperately trying to contact the Royal Navy when the French surrendered. Fortune realised the situation was hopeless and he and an estimated 10,000 of his troops were forced to capitulate. They faced long forced marches into prisoner of war camps and years of miserable captivity. Poppy Scotland asked pipers across the country to mark the sacrifices of the men of the 51st Highland by playing the tune the Heroes of St Valery, composed by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE at 11am today. The Pipe Major was one of those captured in 1940. In Stranraer, Harrison Gibb performed in front of the Lewis Street war memorial to mark the 80th anniversary. You can download the tune and find out more about the 51st Highland Division's war at: https://www.poppyscotland.org.uk/…/heroes-of-st-valery-she…/ ONE of the heroes of Operation Dynamo, which did manage to save thousands of men from the shores of France was the TSS Princess Maud. The ferry, built in Denny on the Clyde, plied the Stranraer/Larne route before being requisitioned by the Admiralty. She made several trips to Dunkirk, suffering fatal casualties when a shell hit her engine room. She went on to take part in the D-Day landings.

<< back Published: 12 Jun 2020, 12:11

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