Pipers are being urged to join in playing a tribute to thousands of Scots who were killed or captured during “the forgotten Dunkirk” 80 years ago.
On June 12, 1940, just days after the successful mass evacuations at Dunkirk, thousands of British troops remained on continental Europe under French command.
Largely comprised of men from the 51st Highland Division, they fought almost continuously for ten days against overwhelming odds until they were eventually surrounded at St Valery.
A flotilla of ships sent to rescue them could not reach them due to fog and the proximity of German artillery above the town.
Those who were not killed in the fierce fighting, or fell to their deaths from the cliffs trying to escape, were captured and marched hundreds of miles to prisoner of war camps in eastern Europe, where they endured appalling conditions for five years.
At 10am on June 12, pipers up and down Scotland are being urged to stand on their doorsteps and play the pipers’ march, Heroes of St Valéry, in memory of the men who fought there.
Legion Scotland, Poppyscotland and Royal Caledonian Education Trust: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity have joined forces to organise the tribute, which will also include online learning resources for young people, virtual tributes and a fundraising campaign to support the work of these military charities.
Dr Claire Armstrong, chief executive of Legion Scotland, said: “It was incredibly moving to see the country join together to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day – particularly in such challenging circumstances.
“While this was a day to celebrate, it is vital that we also remember less triumphant periods of our history. The ‘Forgotten 51st’ should be forgotten no more.”
Pipers and other musicians of all ages and abilities are being invited to download the sheet music and learn the piece over the coming weeks.
Brigadier Charles Grant, a retired British Army officer and historian of the 51st Highland Division website, said: “While events such as Dunkirk, D-Day and VE Day are rightly commemorated, it is time that the memory of those who fought and fell at St Valery are remembered in a national tribute for the first time.”
The first piper to sign up was Pipe Major Ben J. Duncan, from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Pipes & Drums, who previewed the Heroes of St Valery from the doorstep of Edinburgh Castle at the weekend, which, like other public buildings across the country, is currently closed due to the lockdown.
Pipe Major Duncan, who is based at Leuchars, Fife, and lives in Edinburgh, said: “While the country may still be in lockdown, this is a great way for such a significant but little-remembered event in our history to be properly commemorated, while still staying safe at home.”
The public is being asked to support the St Valery tribute through a fundraising campaign which will support the work of the three charities.
To sign up, go to poppyscotland.org.uk.
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