Angus MacNeil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar have both laid motions, respectively, to the House of Commons and Scottish Parliament this week to remember the 80th anniversary on June 12th 1940 of the capture of 10,000 men of the 51st Highland Division taken prisoner near St Valery en Caux, 6 days after the Dunkirk evacuations. The 51st Highland Division were attached to French defence forces, facing the onslaught of the invading Germans.
Commenting Angus MacNeil said:
“It is important that we remember those who tragically lost their lives when they were forced to surrender, after they had been left behind following Dunkirk, as they were fighting with the French at the time in defending the retreat from the Somme. Later, in 1941, 134 of the 219 returned escapees to Britain were from the 51st Highland Division, of this three men were Ballachullish who used Gaelic to confuse the Germans to convince them that they were from a part of the Soviet Union.
“The bravery and heroism of the soldiers is most notably captured in the memorial in St Valery en Caux “La a bhlair is math na cairdean” – “On the day of battle it is good to have friends/relations”.
“A gripping account of events at St Valery, capture and captivity is given in the book by Donald John MacDonald of South Uist “Fo Sgail a Swastika” (Under the Shadow of the Swastika) and I would recommend it for anyone interested in further reading about the 51st Highland Division.”
Commenting Alasdair Allan said:
“While the anniversary of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk draws significant national attention, what happened to members of the British Expeditionary Force who were left behind in France is less well known.
“The soldiers of the 51st Highland Division, made up of men from the Western Isles, North and West Coast of Scotland, were charged with the task of recapturing a strategic position on the Somme after the rest of the Allied Forces had been evacuated. Under heavy bombardment, outflanked and greatly outnumbered by Rommel’s 7th Panzers, the 51st fought a retreat to the coastal town of St Valery where, when all hopes of evacuation faded, they were forced to surrender.
“Their story deserves much greater prominence. On the 80th anniversary of their capture, it is important that we remember the courage of 51st Highland Division, the sacrifice of the fallen, and the suffering endured by captured soldiers who would spend the next five years as prisoners of war.”
The full text of the motion in the House of Commons can be found here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57083/80th-anniversary-of-51st-highland-division-at-st-valery
The full text of the motion in the Scottish Parliament can be found here: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-22025&ResultsPerPage=10