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St Valery

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#1 Wild Craig

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 11:33 AM

Does anyone have any info on St Valery. My grandad fought there and was then captured by the Germans, I have some info on him like his battalion and rank but i don't know what it was really like. So if anyone can help please post a reply.


#2 Kiwiwriter


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Posted 02 September 2003 - 11:35 AM

Patrick Delaforce's "Monty's Highlanders," which is a history of the 51st Highland Division, which got bagged there, has the details.

Rommel also wrote about it in his diary, as he bagged the 51st.

#3 Wild Craig

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 12:29 PM

All i know about my grandad is that he was in the 51st Highland division and he was a corporal but was then ranked down to a lance-corporal at the end of the war because of medical problems he got from 5 years in a prisoner of war camp somewhere next to the north east side of Germany so he quit the army.
my Granny says he never talked about the war or the prisoner of war camps he was in. But he did say he did not want his medals so he gave them to my uncles when they were kids and they lost them. He said he thought the men who died with him should get the medals.

#4 ham and jam

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 01:45 PM

In May 1940 the the 51st Division fought on in France after the main part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been evacuated from Dunkirk. The Seaforth Highlanders, Cameron Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders and the 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. Other elements of the Division including the 7th and 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders made their way, as ordered, to Le Havre and made good their escape across the Channel but had also put up fierce resistance and took heavy casualties and many were taken prisoner.

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.

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
song written by Davy Steele

As the song alludes there was a limited rescue but too little and too late. As at Dunkirk Brighton fishermen were in the vanguard. Charlie said: "No one told us anything about where we were going but we all thought it was another Dunkirk. We were towed across to Le Havre in strings of ten by two tugs. We anchored there for a day and then we sailed to the beaches at St Valéry But it was nothing like Dunkirk.

"The Germans had taken the high cliffs and were expecting us. Twice we tried to go in and twice we failed. The fire was murderous. Then the naval officer in charge saw that the Germans were down on the beaches and we were told to scatter."

As the small boats steered desperately to get out of range, German planes came in to finish them off. They were saved by sudden, heavy fog.

Charlie, who recorded his experiences in 1965 aged 62, said: "We were like sitting ducks and there was nothing we could do. That fog was the nicest thing I ever saw."

Tom Markwick, of Oriental Place, Brighton, said the St Valéry operation was a disaster: "There's no other word for it. When we approached St Valéry we saw the beaches were practically overrun. Some Frenchmen rowed out in a dinghy under very heavy fire and were picked up. Five planes bombed us and I wore a cabbage strainer for a tin hat. Several boats were hit and one was sunk just a few feet away from us. I think it was an Eastbourne craft.

"One plane made several determined runs and strafed us with machine gun fire. We had a Lewis gun on the bows and the young naval rating held his fire until the last possible minute. Then he banged away and hit it."

St Valéry is perhaps most poignantly recalled in the Scottish Dance "The Reel of the 51st" in which the dancers recreate the Saltire, the badge of the 51st 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, the badge of the 51st Division. 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" (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.

In 1944 after the Allies landed in Normandy, the re-constituted 51st Highland Division was allowed the satisfaction of liberating St Valéry.

The following are articles from the press referring to the action of 51st Highland Division and its gallant soldiers.

Sunday Telegraph, 4th June 2000

AS hundreds of war veterans converge on Dunkirk today, 70 old soldiers will gather in another French seaside town 120 miles away, to remember the events of 60 years ago after the armada of small boats had departed.

They are the survivors of the entire infantry division that was sacrificed by Winston Churchill to persuade the French to fight on against Hitler - and who were then marooned and forgotten as the other British troops sailed home.

The officers and men of the 51st Highland Division were placed under French command after Churchill told his opposite number in Paris, Paul Reynaud, that Britain would "never abandon her ally in her hour of need".

At its heart were some of the proudest regiments in Scottish history: the Black Watch, the Seaforth Highlanders and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and their men stood and fought as the French army collapsed around them.

After fighting their way back to the Channel and the small town of St Valéry-en-Caux, they found the sea blanketed by thick fog, and no ships there to rescue them. In a last stand that claimed thousands of casualties, and in which the grandfather of the actor Hugh Grant played a pivotal role, the division fought almost to its last bullet.

When its commanding officer, Gen Victor Fortune, finally surrendered to Rommel, more than 10,000 men were taken prisoner and marched off to spend the rest of the war in captivity.

The loss of the division shocked the small Highland communities from which its members were drawn. Alan Carswell, the curator of the National War Museum of Scotland, said: "It was a huge blow throughout Britain, but particularly in the Highlands. The 51st had been regarded since the previous war as perhaps the most effective division in the British Army."

Moreover, many of the the survivors are still bitter at the way in which they were left to their fate while more than 300,000 other men were plucked off the beaches.

"We are still very angry about it," said Tommy Parton, then a 20-year-old private who had joined as a regular with the Seaforth Highlanders."We were sacrificed by Churchill because he was eager to keep the French fighting. We were placed under poor command, and expected to fight alongside men who didn't have the stomach for it." Mr Parton found himself taking part in a bayonet charge against German positions without any support "because the French tanks didn't turn up".

Some elements of the division managed to escape to Le Havre, and on to England by boat, but most of the 51st found itself in St Valéry, which was pounded by artillery and Stuka dive bombers, and surrounded by Rommel's tanks.

When Gen Fortune eventually ordered his officers to surrender on June 12, many broke down and wept. However, one of the battalions of the Seaforths continued to fight at its outpost in a village outside the town.

The men had been led by Major James Murray Grant, the grandfather of the actor Hugh Grant, after their commanding officer collapsed under the strain of weeks of continual fighting. Major Grant called his officers and pointed out that no battalion of the Seaforths had ever surrendered before.

Running out of ammunition, he sent out his wounded, carried by the men who wanted to surrender, and then organised the rest into small parties who made a break for freedom under cover of darkness. Many were killed, and others were captured, including Major Grant, who was later awarded the DSO.

Saul David, a military historian, believes that Churchill sacrificed the 51st because he was anxious that the French continue fighting from her colonies, or at least resist long enough for Britain to prepare her defences.

However, Capt Ian Campbell, Gen Fortune's intelligence officer and who later became the Duke of Argyll, said shortly before his death in 1973: "It has always been abundantly clear to me that no division has ever been more uselessly sacrificed. It could have been got away a week before but the powers that be - owing I think to very faulty information - had come to the conclusion that there was a capacity for resistance in France which was not actually there."

Next Wednesday the survivors of the 51st will gather at the granite memorial to their dead comrades, which was shipped from Scotland and now stands on a cliff overlooking St Valéry.

Mr Parton knows what he will remember most. "People who weren't there think of it like some black-and-white news reel, but film will never tell you about the smell of battle or the cries of your friends who are dying."

Daily Telegraph 11th September 1999

Lieutenant-Colonel John Chillingworth

Veteran of the Great War who in 1940 won a DSO in the fighting retreat of the 51st Highland Division

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN CHILLINGWORTH, who has died aged 100, was awarded a DSO and also mentioned in despatches in the fighting retreat of the 51st Highland Division to St Valéry in May 1940.

At the beginning of the German attack on May 10, the 51st had been deployed along the river Saar, but when the Germans drove deeply into northern France the 51st were ordered to make their way to Le Havre.

There they were to link up with 1st Armoured Division (of mere brigade strength), and, under French command, recapture the bridgeheads on the Somme.

This ambitious task was not made easier by conflicting orders from the War Office and the French High Command, but the 51st put up a stiff fight until finally reaching St Valéry, from which fog and other factors made their evacuation impossible.

They surrendered reluctantly under French orders, after the French had already done so.

Chillingworth became a prisoner of war, mostly in Germany, and although he made several attempts to escape, all were thwarted. After repatriation in 1945, he commanded the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry (TA) until his final retirement from the Army.

John Chillingworth was born on January 19 1899 and educated at Tonbridge and the RMA Woolwich. In 1918 he was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery and saw three months active service in France at the end of the First World War.

After the Armistice he was posted to India, where he spent four years, mostly in the Punjab, and where he found time for polo, racing and shooting.

He then returned to Britain, but in 1926 was sent at short notice to Shanghai to join the garrison during the Communist-led uprising.

When the Shanghai crisis had passed he returned to England and became Adjutant of the Norfolk Yeomanry (TA), which at that time was an artillery unit. Subsequently, he had three years at Bulford as Adjutant of 5th Light Brigade, RA, a mounted unit with pack guns carried on mules.

However, soon afterwards the Brigade was mechanised and the mules replaced by towing tractors and field guns. In 1938 Chillingworth was posted to 1st Royal Horse Artillery to command "O" Battery (the Rocket Troop). The regiment went to France in October 1939.

After retiring from the Army he lived in Dorset, where he was active in local community affairs, before moving to Norfolk. An accomplished horseman, he was an enthusiastic rider to hounds.

In addition to his other decorations he was recently awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French Republic, along with all other survivors of the First World War who had served in France.

In spite of his great age, he was able to live on his own without any medical problems until a few days before he died in his sleep.

He married, in 1926, Nummie Welch-Thornton, who died in 1986; they had a son and a daughter.

Info by Ian Laird

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#5 hwhap



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Posted 02 September 2003 - 03:48 PM

Great post Andy.

Craig, it sounds like your grandfather must have felt bitter if he gave away his medals. Reading Andy's post I could understand why.


#6 Wild Craig

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 10:06 AM

Thanks alot Andy that means alot that someone has taken a long time to type that up for me thanks. My mum just read it and she would like to say thank you.

See ya!

Be back in about an hour maybe a bit more. :D

#7 Kiwiwriter


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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:27 AM

Great post on the sad fate of the 51st Highland Division.

A lot of Scottish outfits got re-numbered from high values to lower ones to resurrect the division after St. Valery and it fought at Alamein, Sicily, and was in Normandy on D+1.

Great outfit. They have a fine memorial on The Somme and in The Netherlands, by the way.

#8 Guest_Max (UK)_*

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:30 AM

Aye - tremendous post Andy. That's an incredible account too....shall definately have to read up more on this. Thanks alot - and thanks for raising the topic, CRAIG !

Edited by Max (UK), 04 September 2003 - 10:34 AM.

#9 Wild Craig

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Posted 04 September 2003 - 10:05 AM

Craigy boy is what my mum and dad called me when i was a kid please don't say it again.


#10 Guest_Max (UK)_*

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Posted 04 September 2003 - 10:34 AM

Yah - ok.


Tell you what - I'll edit it out, specially for you, eh ?

#11 Wild Craig

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Posted 12 September 2003 - 06:51 AM

Thank you

#12 Guest_Max (UK)_*

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Posted 12 September 2003 - 06:56 AM

Didn't mean any offense, bud.

#13 Frenchie



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Posted 12 September 2003 - 02:58 PM

Saint Valéry en Caux is only a few miles North from my hometown.

Le Havre is a few miles South from my hometown , that's where I went to the university.

Craig, is there anything I can do to help? Do you need other information?


#14 Wild Craig

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Posted 13 September 2003 - 07:22 AM

Is there anything in St Valery to remember the battle with the Germans.

It would be good if you could tell m about St Valery as i don't know much about it.


Won't be back until monday around 4:00pm GMT

#15 ham and jam

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Posted 13 September 2003 - 08:37 AM

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Captured, 12th June with 8,000 other britsh troops, after running out of ammo and food, after the withdrawl from Dunkirk

The Scots back in St Valery Sept 1944
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Edited by ham and jam, 13 September 2003 - 08:46 AM.

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