Down Memory Lane, January 29 2021

Neil MacLean and the men of the Campbeltown-based 201 Anti-Tank Battery, which served alongside the 51st Highland Division in France in 1940, photographed at a reunion in Campbeltown around 1960. 
Neil and the men of the Campbeltown-based 201 Anti-Tank Battery, which served alongside the 51st Highland Division in France in 1940, photographed at a reunion in Campbeltown around 1960.

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Gunner Neil MacLean’s POW poem

Last week saw the conclusion of the serialisation of Campbeltown soldier Gunner Neil MacLean’s previously unpublished prisoner of war diary.

Gunner MacLean was captured in June 1940 following the 51st Highland Division’s surrender at St Valéry-en-Caux during the Second World War.

A copy of his diary, several photographs and a poem, below, which was written during his time as a prisoner of war, were supplied to the Courier by Neil’s son Calum, who knew nothing of their existence until after his father died aged 94.

St Valéry poem by Gunner Neil MacLean

On the 12th day of June with old Blighty so gay,
With the thoughts of their sons coming home on that day,
But fate could not bring us the joys that could be,
For the nearest of Blighty we saw was the sea.
We fought there like brothers as down poured the rain,
With visions of Blighty and also sweet hame,
But our visions were shattered and gives memories to me,
Of the boys that went under at St Valéry.

We were then taken prisoners, I’m sure you all know,
But before we were captured we put up a show.
Yet it broke all our hearts to see our pals die,
For we got no support from the sea or the sky.
If our navy and air force had got there in time,
They would never have marched us back over the line.
But the facts were against us, the French all ran,
And the odds were too heavy for mere mortal man.

We all did our best, we all want you to know,
That we didn’t succeed is our greatest sorrow.
We trudged back through cities, shell shattered and torn,
And felt proud of the fellows that fell in the storm.
We’ll never forget them and neither will you,
For those sons of Scotland were valiant and true.
We that fought with them will honour their name,
And by subsequent action will add to their fame.

Neil MacLean and the men of the Campbeltown-based 201 Anti-Tank Battery, which served alongside the 51st Highland Division in France in 1940, photographed at a reunion in Campbeltown around 1960. 

The above photograph shows Neil and the men of the Campbeltown-based 201 Anti-Tank Battery, which served alongside the 51st Highland Division in France in 1940, at a reunion in Campbeltown around 1960.

Many of the battery members, all from the Territorial Army, were captured when the majority of the 51st Highland Division surrendered to the German forces, but some made it back to Britain and were later sent to the Far East.

This photo shows, back row, from left: Malcolm Campbell, Robbie McArthur, John McNaughton, Duncan McIntyre, Duncan McIntyre, John McKinlay.

Second back row: Jock McKay, John Shaw, John Robertson, Duncan McLaughlin, Alex McKinven, Alex Robertson, John Mathieson, James Morrans, Willie Cook, Hamish Lynn, Jacky McKinven, Dougie McDonald, Neil MacLean, Davie Finn, John McNaughton, Jimmy Finn, John McCallum, Andy Mathieson, Dan McKinven, Sergeant Major John McDougall, Willie McCormick.

Second from front row: Willie Anderson, John McMillan, James Shaw, Finlay Huie, Hamish Morrans, Captain George Lewis, Major Macalister-Hall.

Front row: Charlie Morrison, Neil Gillies, Duncan McCallum, Jimmy Cunningham, Berty Cook, Jimmy McIvor.