Incredible bravery of the ‘Forgotten 51st’ Scots battalion

It was a Second World War battle that led to 10,000 mainly Scottish soldiers being captured. But the bravery of the 51st Highland Division, which remained on the Continent after the Dunkirk evacuations and were eventually captured at St Valéry-en-Caux, has largely been forgotten.

British prisoners-of-war in a kitchen at Camp Stalag XXI in Poland, during World War II, 1941. Picture: Getty
British prisoners-of-war in a kitchen at Camp Stalag XXI in Poland, during World War II, 1941. Picture: Getty

Now, thanks to three leading Scottish armed forces charities, all schoolchildren in Scotland will be able to learn about their extraordinary story.

Speaking at the launch of new learning resources created by Poppyscotland, Scottish Government minister for children and young people Maree Todd MSP said: “Barely a town, village or hamlet in the Highlands was unaffected by the events at St Valéry in June 1940, yet many today are unaware of its significance.

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“These new resources are an excellent addition to Poppyscotland’s already extensive learning programme. At a time when parents and carers are doing an incredible job to keep our young people learning at home, the St Valéry materials are an excellent additional resource, and offer fascinating insight into the events at St Valéry 80 years ago this week.

“My great-uncle fought there and spent five brutal years as a prisoner of war, so the forthcoming commemorations have added poignancy for me. While the 75th anniversary of VE Day was rightly at the forefront of national consciousness last month, it is equally important that we remember and learn about less triumphant periods in our history.” 
As well as daily lesson plans, other significant learning events include an interactive Facebook Live lesson on Friday and two special broadcasts of critically acclaimed play The Beaches of St Valéry.

Written and directed by Dr Stuart Hepburn and starring Ron Donachie, James Rottger and Ashley Smith, it was first performed as part of A Pie, A Pint and A Play at Glasgow’s Oran Mor in March. The play has been generously made free for young people and adults alike to enjoy as part of the 80th anniversary commemorations of St Valéry by all the artists involved.

Dr Hepburn, of the University of Stirling, said: “Learning about St Valéry has been a passion of mine since 1999. The play began life as a film script and I went on to do a PHD on St Valéry, so it’s wonderful to see the remarkable story of the 51st Highland Division getting the national recognition it deserves.”

Speaking ahead of the commemorations, Gordon Michie, the head of fundraising and learning at Poppyscotland, said: “St Valéry represents a hugely significant moment in our nation’s history, and it is vitally important that the bravery and sacrifice of the ‘Forgotten 51st’ is forgotten no more.”

Friday will mark the 80th anniversary of St Valéry, and at 10am pipers will take to their doorsteps to play Heroes of St Valéry in tribute.

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