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Today, Friday June 12, marks the 80th anniversary of the 51st Highland Division’s surrender to overwhelming German forces at St Valéry-en-Caux, the site of a Second World War battle which involved almost 100 men from Kintyre.
Many soldiers were killed and wounded and thousands were taken as prisoners of war, something which had a huge effect for many years on towns including Campbeltown.
The occasion will be marked by pipers from around the world who will take to their doorsteps at 10am today (Friday) to play Heroes of St Valéry, a piping tune composed by a veteran of the battle.
The sacrifice of the soldiers has also been remembered by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament.
Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron, proposed a motion to the Scottish Parliament highlighting the commemoration, said St Valéry was, in some respects, the ‘forgotten Dunkirk’.
He said: ‘Unlike at Dunkirk a few days earlier, it proved impossible at St Valéry to evacuate the troops due to the weather and the proximity of German artillery.
‘As a result, thousands of soldiers, who had spent weeks fighting gallantly, went on to spend years as prisoners of war.
‘Winston Churchill called it a “most brutal disaster”, and the loss of so many of our young fighting men was felt keenly across the Highlands and Islands, with very few communities left untouched.
‘Five years later, the reformed Highland Division re-entered St Valéry as liberators, appropriately to the sound of the pipes.
‘It’s surely equally appropriate that we commemorate this anniversary with a tune composed by Donald MacLean, a piper with the 51st Highland Division, who was himself captured at St Valéry and spent years in captivity.’
Last week, the Courier reported on the experiences of some of the men from Campbeltown who fought and died or were captured at St Valéry.
Anne Howell got in touch to say that her uncle, Angus McIntyre Cook, of 1 Parliament Place, who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 51st Highland Division, was killed by machine-gun fire on June 5 1940, aged 22, as his company fought its way to the French coast.
Anne said: ‘Angus’s friend and fellow Campbeltonian, William Kelly, was with him at the time but was unharmed. Angus’s body was taken to St Valéry where he was buried in a make shift grave by his comrades.
‘A young St Valéry resident, Emma Carpentier, witnessed the burial and tended his grave for years. She was instrumental in ensuring Angus was eventually given a proper military burial in a cemetery in the St Valéry area.
‘The incarceration and death of so many local men must have had a devastating impact on our small town.’
Anne’s father, Donnie Cook, and her grandmother, Jeannie Cook, visited St Valéry in June 1950 by invitation of the British Army to witness the unveiling of the St Valéry Memorial Stone. While there, they stayed with the Carpentier family. The Cook family corresponded with Emma Carpentier until Donnie passed away in the early 1990s.
Angus’s younger brother Willie survived the battle of St Valéry and evaded capture. He went on to serve in Italy and North Africa.
Live broadcasts of the piping commemoration, which was arranged by Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland and the Royal Caledonian Education Trust: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity, can be viewed at the following sites: www.facebook.com/Poppyscotland; www.facebook.com/LegionScotland; www.facebook.com/RCETScot; and www.youtube.com/Poppyscotland