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Scotland

Pipers To Pay Tribute To Scottish Soldiers Caught Up In 'Forgotten Dunkirk'

Organisers hope the tribute will become the biggest-ever pipe-playing event.

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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 signed up so far.

The musicians will take to their doorsteps and play the pipers’ march, Heroes of St Valery, at 10:00 on 12 June in memory of those caught up in the battle.

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, Normandy.

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.

The tribute is being organised by charities Legion Scotland, Poppyscotland and Royal Caledonian Education Trust: Scotland's Armed Forces Children's Charity (RCET). 

It is hoped it will become the biggest-ever pipe-playing event.

"We have been overwhelmed by the response so far," said Neil McLennan, RCET director.

"There are pipers signed up from as far afield as Peru and Singapore, with scores more joining up every day.

"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."

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Willie Armstrong from The Red Hot Chilli Pipers will take part in the event on 12 June (Picture: Poppyscotland).

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

Mr Armstrong, who served in the Royal Navy for four years, said: "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." 

The Heroes of St Valery was composed by Lewis-born Pipe Major Donald MacLean.

He enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders in 1940 and was subsequently attached to the 51st Highland Division.

After the division surrendered to the Germans, Pipe Major MacLean was forced to march to Poland where he remained as a prisoner of war for the rest of the conflict. 

The song commemorates those who fought and fell at St-Valery-en-Caux.

Cover image: A library picture of a piper playing in 2019 (Picture: MOD).