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Pipers sign up for tribute to Scots soldiers caught up in ‘forgotten Dunkirk’

UK News | Published:

Three Scottish armed forces charities have joined together to organise the tribute.

Hundreds of pipers around the world will join in playing a tribute to thousands of Scots who were killed or captured during “the forgotten Dunkirk” 80 years ago.

More than 200 pipers from 16 countries have so far signed up to take to their doorsteps and play the pipers’ march Heroes of St Valery at 10am on June 12 in memory of those caught up in the conflict.

On that date in 1940, just days after the successful mass evacuations at Dunkirk, thousands of British troops remained in continental Europe under French command and were eventually surrounded at St-Valery-en-Caux.

A flotilla of ships sent to rescue the soldiers could not reach them due to fog and the proximity of German artillery above the town.

Those who were not killed in the fierce fighting or had fallen to their deaths from the cliffs trying to escape were captured and marched hundreds of miles to prisoner of war camps in eastern Europe.

Willie Armstrong, one of the founding members of Celtic rock band The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, is one of those who will be playing on June 12.

Mr Armstrong, who served in the Royal Navy for four years and is a retired fire service officer, said: “I’m delighted to be involved and it’s amazing to see the global piping community come together for such an important commemoration, especially alongside charities that are very close to my heart.

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“Heroes of St Valery is a tune I’ve been playing for decades. It is going to be incredibly moving to play Donald MacLean’s iconic march exactly 80 years on from when he was captured at the Battle of St Valery.

“More than 200 pipers have registered to take part in just over a week, and I’m really hopeful that more will sign up in the coming days.”

Lewis-born Pipe Major Donald MacLean enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders in 1940 and was subsequently attached to the 51st Highland Division.

After the division was forced to surrender on June 12 1940 following a final battle at St-Valery-en-Caux, a fishing port west of Dieppe, he survived a forced march from France to Poland and was held as a prisoner of war for the remainder of the conflict.

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He went on to compose Heroes of St Valery to commemorate those who fought and fell there.

Neil McLennan, University of Aberdeen director of leadership programmes and RCET director, has been convening the St Valery 80th Commemorations Committee.

Organisers are hoping it could end up being the biggest-ever pipe-playing event in history.

He said: “We have been overwhelmed by the response so far. There are pipers signed up from as far afield as Peru and Singapore, with scores more joining up every day.”

He added: “Due to the global pandemic this will be a virtual rather than physical event, but, given the level of interest we have received to date, our hope is that it will be the largest mass playing of the pipes ever.

“The events at St Valery in 1940 have never received the level of recognition we believe they should but we hope this year’s commemoration will put that right and ensure the ‘Forgotten 51st’ are forgotten no more.

“As we can see, people across the world are moved by the story and want to commemorate together.”

To register interest in taking part, and to access the sheet music, pipers are being asked to visit www.poppyscotland.org.uk/st-valery.

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