Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Remember the 51st, remember St Valery

This Saturday I'll be joining the Reviewing Officer at the Tain 'Help for Heroes' ceremony (19th June) to honour present day soldiers wounded in action in today's wars.

Last Sunday (13th June) I supported calls for the history and heroic bravery of the 51st Highland Division to be better known.

The division, who were ordered by Churchill to fight (along with the French) a regard action against elite German Divisions to defend the retreat of the British Forces at Dunkirk 70 years ago, was marked at the weekend at ceremonies in the Normandy town of St Valery En Caux.

My Parliamentary colleague Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for the Western Isles, lodged a motion praising those of the 51st who deserve greater credit than they have been afforded, which I holeheartedly signed and support.

Their selfness at helping the French defend the retreat and slow up the German advance allowed 100,000 others to get back over the channel at Dunkirk.

The Scots and in particular the Highlanders have had a long and proud military history, but the story of St Valéry is one of the most heroic and heart breaking that there is. For many there was only capture and a death march across Europe or hiding in the nearby countryside.

In France, their heroism is well known but I fear that the story needs to be taught in schools to be remembered. I visited the poignant memorial on the cliffs above St Valery several years ago. The plaque in French, Gaelic and English is very moving. The Highland Division took in soldiers from Caithness to the Western Isles and beyond. Just like the under recognition for the brave seamen on the Arctic convoys, the men of the 51st should be honoured, never forgotten.

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