Pipers lead 81st St Valery Commemorations

June 11, 2021

On Saturday June 12, pipers from around the world paid a musical tribute to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Battle of St Valery.

The largely forgotten Second World War battle led to 10,000 mainly Scottish soldiers from the 51st Highland Division being captured as Prisoners of War at the French fishing port of St Valery-en-Caux. Days after the mass-evacuations at Dunkirk, the Division remained on mainland Europe, supporting their French allies. However, they were soon surrounded by German troops and forced to surrender.

At 10am, on the 81st anniversary, musicians near and far performed on their doorsteps and at war memorials. They played the evocative march, ‘Heroes of St Valery’, paying tribute to the valiant 51st Highland Division and remembering those that fell and were imprisoned. The piece was composed by Pipe Major Donald MacLean who himself was one of the 10,000 men captured that day and subsequently spent four years in a prisoner of war camp in Poland.

The tributes were developed by three leading Scottish Armed Forces charities: Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland, RCET: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity and the Army’s Edinburgh-based 51st Brigade. They joined forces to organise the tribute, which also included online learning resources for young people, virtual tributes and a fundraising campaign to support the vital work of these important military charities. 

Speaking of the proceedings, St Valery Committee Chair and Director of Leadership Programmes at the University of Aberdeen, Neil McLennan, said: “The sound of pipes will echo around the globe as pipers from the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, South Africa, Kingdom of Eswatini, Australia and the Middle East play ‘Heroes of St Valery’ on their doorsteps to honour the men of the 51st Highland Division.

“The events of 12 June 1940 had a profound impact on every town and village in the Highlands, with most families having one or more male relatives enlisted. Continuing to educate and remember the Battle ensures we, as a nation and wider military community, do right by those that fought that day.”

In addition to the global piper tributes, a socially distanced commemorative service was also held on Saturday at the St Valery Memorial Stone in the French village. Lt Col CD Close and Colonel HJP Wilkinson paid tribute and laid remembrance wreaths on behalf of the Army and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Dr Claire Armstrong, CEO at Legion Scotland added: “As the custodians of Remembrance in Scotland, we are committed to marking the sacrifices made by the 51st Highland Division annually as it’s an important chapter of Scottish war history that must not be forgotten. On behalf of all the charities and organisations involved in the events, I want to extend our sincere thanks to those that have paid tribute and for helping us continue to keep the memory and legacy of their sacrifice alive.”

Footage from the doorstep tributes can be viewed on the charities’ Facebook pages and the Poppyscotland YouTube channel. An expert panel discussion was also broadcasted where experts debated the events that occurred at St Valery. This was followed by a tribute concert featuring a host of contributors, including Runrig and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

For more information on the 51st (Highland) Division at St Valéry, click HERE