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         Remember 51st (Highland Division)
at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux

Campaign for the Real Reel of the 51st

This page is dedicated to the Officers and Men of 51st (Highland Division) who bravely and determinedly fought on after the evacuation of the main British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk in May 1940.  Their sacrifice has been overlooked too long and deserves its place in history and our memories.

The Battle Dress Insignia of the Highland Division in 1940 was the Saltire

"The 51st seems to have been the only BEF formation to display a systematic scheme of 'battle insignia' in varying brigade colours. Veterans believe that the St Andrew's cross divisional sign was worn in purple and green by Div HQ, red by 152nd Bde and brown by 154th, the colour of 153rd is uncertain. Beneath the Saltire battalions with brigades wore differing numbers and arrangements of bars in matching colours; 7 A&SH wore a single brown horizontal bar and 8 A&SH a vertical bar. In 152nd Bde the junior battalion, 4th Cameron Highlanders, wore three thin horizontal bars below the Saltire, all in red." p 3 The British Army 1939-45 (1) North West Europe published in 2001 by Osprey Publishing

The Re-constituted Division wore the new badge below.


The Highland Division Surrenders

The High cliffs of St Valéry 2 views of The Highland Division Memorial at St Valéry-en-Caux, showing the Saltire Base from John Clinch's excellent website Escape and Evasion Belgium WW2 www.belgiumww2.info

In May 1940 The 51st Division formed Saar Force, attached to the Colonial Army Corps of the French 3rd Army, deployed on the Maginot Line on the Saar River.

Initial deployment 1940 and after German attack

In 1940 the regular 51st (Highland Division), with cross-posted Territorial Units from the 9th Division, and reinforced with units from the Royal Artillery, Cavalry,  Machine Gun Units, Infantry Sappers and Royal Engineers was deployed as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France as the Saar Force on the Saar River, under French command.  After the German Blitzkrieg on 10th May they withdrew to Abbeville, as part of the French 9th Army.  The intention was to evacuate the Division from Le Havre, and the 154th Brigade (re-named Ark Force) consisting of the 1st Black Watch and 7th and 8th Argylls, were sent there, but came under pressure from the encircling Germany forces and after putting up fierce resistance with some captured, eventually evacuated safely from Le Havre* and
Cherbourg.  The remainder of the Division concentrated at St Valéry.

And so The 51st Division fought on in France after the main part of the  BEF had been evacuated from Dunkirk on 4th June.  A fierce battle developed and The 2nd and 4th Seaforth Highlanders, 4th Cameron Highlanders, 1st and 5th Gordon Highlanders and the 4th Black Watch fought determinedly at St Valéry-en-Caux until completely surrounded, out of ammunition and supplies, and were overwhelmed by Rommel and ordered to surrender on 12th  June 1940.  Some 10,000 were taken prisoner.  These Regiments have St Valéry-en-Caux as a Battle Honour.

Individuals who took part are remembered in the Heroes of St Valéry.

St Valéry Memorial 1950

I am very grateful to Jimmy Chisolm for the above. His father Sgt Jim Chisolm of the 4th Battalion, The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, was captured at St Valéry and imprisoned in Oflag IIIC, where he became Drum Major of the Camp Pipe Band.  He took part in the inauguration of the St Valéry Memorial in 1950, a block of granite quarried near Balmoral.  Sgt Chisolm is 6th from the right in the photograph.

Photographs from Oflag IIIC from Jimmy Chisolm

The 51st Division Camp Pipe Band. Drum Major is Sgt. Jim Chisholm of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. There were four Pipe Majors in the Band with Pipe Major Bob Hill the senior of the four. The second picture is from the Camp Highland Games, unknown year.

The 51st Division PW on arrival. Seated front row centre is Sgt. Jim Chisholm,
4th Bn Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders.

Additional source: Scottish Units in the World Wars by Mike Chappell ISBN: 9781855324695

*Julian Roger is trying to trace any surviving members of the 7th and 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who, separated from the rest of the Division, escaped from Le Havre in the boat 'Margot II' 1940.  His Great Grandfather had the boat built for him and it still exists  as part on the 'Dunkirk Little Ships Association' to reunite the people who travelled on her.

Contemporary Press Cuttings


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Musical Tribute

From the Mairie at St Valéry 2010 © Dave Tierney

The valour of the Highland Division is recalled in the pipe tune "The Heroes of St Valéry" composed by Pipe Major Donald MacLean of Lewis.   He is said to have based it on a folk song he heard at St Valéry.  The tune was first played at the Highland Brigade gathering in Edinburgh in 1947.

To STOP click on the II symbol
To RESTART click on the ARROW

The Battlefield Band also perform a song written by their late member, Davy Steele, based on his uncle's experience at St Valéry:

The Beaches Of St Valéry

It was in 1940 the last days of Spring
We were sent to the Maginot line
A fortress in France built to halt the advance of an army from a different time
For we were soon overrun out-fought and outgunned
Pushed further back every day
But we never believed high command would leave us
So we fought every inch of the way
Till the 51st Highlanders found themselves on the banks of the Somme one more time
It still bore the scars of that war to end wars
The old soldiers scars deep in their minds
But we couldn't stay long for the Panzers rolled on
And the battle raged west towards the sea
Then on June the 10th when sapped of all strength
I entered St Valéry


And all I recall was the last boat leavin!
My brother on board waving and calling to me
And the Jocks stranded there wi' their hands in the air
On the beaches of St Valéry
So I huddled all night in a hammered old house
As the shells and the bullets rained down
Next morning at dawn my hope was still strong
For we moved to the beach from the town
But the boat that had left on the day we arrived
Was the only one we'd ever see
And with no ammo or food we had done all we could
So we surrendered at St Valéry


When I returned at the end of the war
From the stalag where I'd been confined
I read of the battles the allies had fought
Stalingrad, Alamein, and the Rhine
Wi' pride in their hearts people spoke of Dunkirk where defeat had become victory
But nobody mentioned the Highland Division
They'd never heard of St Valéry


No stories no statues for those that were killed
No honours for those that were caught
Just a deep sense of shame as though we were to blame
Though I knew in my heart we were not.
So I've moved to a country I've come to call home
But my homeland is far o'er the sea
I will never return while my memories still burn
On the beaches of St Valéry

St Valéry is perhaps most poignantly  recalled in the Scottish Dance "The Reel of the 51st" in which the dancers recreate the Saltire, Scotland's Flag and the Battle Dress Badge of the Division.  The dance was created by the officers of 51st Highland in their prison camp at Laufen during the long dark days of captivity following 1940.  During the reel the couples balance in line twice forming the branches of the Saltire, their Badge.  The variation of the reel that some use today breaking the balance in-line  and opting to turn their partners twice in a wild manner recklessly eschews the memory of its creators.

 As at Athelstaneford in 832 AD, and Roslin in 1303 the Saltire was an inspiration against apparently overwhelming odds.

The Seaforth Highlanders, now part of the "Highlanders" Battalion of the new Royal Regiment of  Scotland (Seaforths, Camerons and Gordons) were the local regiment of Caithness, and the natural choice for all Sinclairs.   Their particular achievement at St Valéry in June 1940 is,  therefore, all the more important for us to remember.

After the regular division was captured the Territorial 9th (Highland) Division was re-named the 51st (Highland) Division, and those who had escaped integrated to the re-constituted 51st (Highland Division), with its new badge,  distinguished itself again in in North Africa as part of the 8th Army, then in Italy and in 1944 at the
Orne Bridgehead, after the Allies landed in Normandy, and was allowed the satisfaction of liberating St Valéry.

French Commemorative Site: Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, The First Battle of Normandy

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www.51hd.co.uk - the Official 51 Highland Division Website and Online Museum - Read our detailed History and browse photographs, maps and personal accounts from those who fought with the 51HD

Make a donation to the Army Benevolent Fund in Scotland

Picture of Monument at Falaise d'Amont

See also "Scots at War"

Books on the 51st (Highland) Division in 1939 and 1940