Want to read more?
We value our content and access to our full site is only available on subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device In addition your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards
The summer’s smash hit war movie Dunkirk ignores the fact the 51st Highland Division left to fight on in France.
Campbeltown newsagent George McMillan, 85, clearly remembers hearing in 1940, aged eight, that his dad, Lance Sergeant John McMillan had been captured by the Germans at St Valery.
Some 10,000 Scots soldiers of the 51st, under Major-General Fortune, launched attacks on the Germans in Normandy as 300,000 other men of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated from Dunkirk’s beach.
Mr McMillan said: ‘These men which included nearly 80 from Campbeltown were sacrificed to hold the Germans while the evacuation took place.
‘Up till war was declared my dad was a territorial army sergeant in the artillery. He went off to Aldershot but came home for Christmas 1939.
‘He went away on New Year’s day 1940 and that was the last we saw of him till May 1945.’
In May 1940 the 51st formed Saar force and was attached to the Colonial Army Corps of the French 3rd Army on the Maginot Line.
The line was a group of concrete fortifications and obstacles on the border with Germany and Switzerland which the Germans simply out flanked through Belgium.
After the aerial bombardment of the Blitzkreig the 51st retreated. The French army was shattered and many of its soldiers fleeing. Fortune recommended retreat to Le Harve but Winston Churchill ordered the 51st to continue the fight.
The Highlanders were abandoned and it was only after a further week of fighting and retreat that Fortune was allowed to evacute.
General Erwin Rommel’s Panzers had cut the way to Le Havre and the 51st made for the small fishing port of St Valery. It was unsuccesful and the men were captured.
Mr McMillan added: ‘My dad and most of the men were marched across France and Germany to Poland where he spent the war in a prisoner of war camp, Stalag 21B.
‘Sometimes he was put to work on farms. One time my mother said he’d been asking us to send cigarettes, but he did not smoke, it turned out dad was bartering them for bread.’
In April 1943 L/Sgt McMillan wrote a card home to his 11-year-old son which the former coal miner has carefully saved.
The men of the 51st, emaciated from five years in prison camps, had one more terrible trip to make. A march west towards the liberating Americans, in the snow of 1945’s winter, with the Russian Red army at the their back. It was known as the Death Marches.