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Men of the Durham Light Infantry, 49th (West Riding) Division ‘advance’ past a knocked-out German Panther tank during Operation ‘Epsom’, 27 June 1944. We do not pre-moderate or monitor readers’ comments appearing on our websites, but we do post-moderate in response to complaints we receive or otherwise when a potential problem comes to our attention. In 1944, they marched into St … It is these three that I discuss here. Jock Morrison. The 51 st (Highland) Division under Major-General Victor Fortune formed part of the British Expeditionary Force's GHQ reserve. I have concentrated on fake history on social media, but much of the same mythologised past appears in newspaper articles, TV documentaries, and even popular and academic histories and school history texts. You can make a complaint by using the ‘report this post’ link . On 28th March they were deployed into the defensive line relieving the French 21st Division between Bailleul and Armentiéres. But this is only the beginning. In June 1940, he hoped the presence of the Highland Division would stiffen the military resistance of the French. Winston Churchill greets an officer of 51st Highland Division during his visit to Tripoli to thank the 8th Army for its success in the North African campaign, 4 February 1943. The division's insignia was a stylised 'HD' inside a red circle. Some 3,300 men were, however, lifted from a beach at the eastern end of the St. Valéry perimeter. The International Churchill Society expands with two new chapters in the US. Three days before the article was published, the devolved Scottish Government had announced that the referendum on Scottish independence would be held in September 2014. It's too late to award a St. Valery medal to the survivors. Gordon J. Barclay, If Hitler Comes: Preparing for Invasion, Scotland 1940 (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2013). In the atmosphere of increasingly heated debate, the “fact” that in Britain’s “finest hour” Field Marshal Ironside, Churchill, Westminster, and “the English” planned to abandon the Scots to the Nazis was seized upon as a splendid stick with which to beat those campaigning to preserve the Union. It included not only the headline, but the body of the Daily Express article from 25 March 2013. Here, they would be directly facing the German Army and could gain experience in front-line conditions, for example, undertaking offensive patrolling. edu/35272980/The_birth_and_development_of_a_factoid_2013_17_ the_invention_of_history_in_the_ Scottish_independence_debate. Those ads you do see are predominantly from local businesses promoting local services. The commonly employed narrative of grievance about the 51st is not, however, a subtle consideration of Churchill’s realpolitik, but a series of claims that the 51st was treated worse because they were Scots and therefore expendable. See Gordon J. Barclay, “‘Duties in Aid of the Civil Power’: The Deployment of the Army to Glasgow, 31 January to 17 February 1919,” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies (2018), 38.2, pp. Churchill and Scottish Mythologies of Grievance. Never forget the 51st Highland Division, and those brave soldiers who marched all night and fought all day until their eventual death or capture, dumped after Dunkirk by Churchill. The men from the 51st Highland Division, Black Watch and Argyll and Suther-land Highlanders, as well as the Seaforths had to engage the Germans as the rest of the British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940. I started challenging the mythology as soon as I discovered it, but it continues to appear frequently, even now. A desperate, last-minute plan to evacuate the Highlanders from St. Valery, a small fishing port, bound on either side by high cliffs, proved to be forlorn. The 51st was a firstline Territorial Army Division comprising nine Scottish infantry battalions and (usually ignored in the narrative of grievance) Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and other units, some of which were English. This perhaps indicates how much traction this mythologised version of the past is gaining: a Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament posted in the following month: “Churchill famously abandoned the Highlanders at St Valéry.”. At 10 p.m. on 25 March a scan of the Daily Express article was posted on the Facebook page for “Yes to an Independent Scotland” (see image above). The lucky ones who lived are still angry about how they were 'forgotten' to fulfil Churchill's political goals. Seaforths from the 51st Highland Division in northern France in 1940 Together they formed a unit of about 20,000 men. The Fighting 51st deserves better. 291–93, and Peter Scott, In the Eye of the Storm (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1966), pp. A request to name these “historians” went unanswered, and senior figures in the charity have since defended the decision to keep this post on the site, in the face of objections, as they “have no remit to examine the interpretation of military history” as expressed on their social media feed by their staff. By then, Le Havre had been cut off by Rommel and his Panzers. General Rommel accepted the surrender of the 51st Highland Division, at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux. L. F. Ellis, The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940 (London: HM Stationery Office, 1954), p. 366. The 51st Highland Division was a sector of the British Army which fought in the First world War from 1915 to 1918. It was said to have been the darkest day in the history of that famous regiment. Gott had been killed. It has also been alleged that during World War II, Churchill was ready to surrender Scotland to Nazi forces to defend the south of England. The real, complex, and historically important Churchill is increasingly disappearing behind crudely mythologised versions erected by those who wish to defend a political position or a series of values, and those who wish to attack them. As the British Expeditionary Force was withdrawing from France, the 51st Highland Division were tasked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to work with the French forces, with Churchill assuring France: “Britain would never abandon her ally in her hour of need.” … Not only was this not an “English invasion,” the majority of War Cabinet members present at the meeting at which it was agreed to provide troops to the Sheriff, if he needed them, were themselves Scots, and the discussion took place in a room where the majority of politicians and civil servants present also were Scots. All Rights Reserved. It was doing a tour of duty on the Maginot Line when the Germans invaded France in May 1940 and was cut off from the rest of the BEF. However, Churchill refused Fortune's request and ordered the Highlanders to continue to fight. Churchill made a calculated decision to keep the 51st in the line with the French, as part of his efforts to keep them in the fight. Some managed daring escapes. Fortune recommended an immediate retreat to Le Havre. The army was not “sent to Glasgow” by Churchill, nor even by the government, but was called in by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire as “military aid to the civil power”; he had previously checked that troops would be available. 4. https://www.academia. Over the winter, nine individual infantry brigades had gained this experience; at the end of the winter, it was decided that a whole division at a time would henceforth be posted to the French on rotation. 75–100. The next day, the Germans countered, with interest. A particular strand of Scottish nationalism seems to believe that the cause of Scottish independence will be furthered by promoting division and distrust between the Scots and the English. Historical grievances are being resurrected, exaggerated, or just invented. But … So far at least, Churchill has not been blamed. But the game was up. The shocking fragility of the French forces, the crass ineptness of its senior leadership, were only fully exposed after the disaster. Churchill, of course, had form as a would-be military strategist. The third of the myths is more complex. At that time, I was not active on social media, and it was some time before I became aware that my book had been misrepresented. A comment under an article in the nationalist newspaper the National during the controversies about Churchill’s reputation, early in 2019. The soldiers of the 51st (Highland) Division paid a heavy price with more than 10,000 taken prisoner at St. Valéry. “Another successful escapee was Corporal Malcolm Straughan who, by a twist of fate, was a member of the reformed 51st Highland Division, … One of the posts that set the lie off around the world. Was that a useless “sacrifice”? We may then apply our discretion under the user terms to amend or delete comments. Winston Churchill ordered the 20,000 men of the 51st Highland Division to stay in France and defend Britain’s ally against advancing German troops … Led by General Victor … The 51st was a firstline Territorial Army Division comprising nine Scottish infantry battalions and (usually ignored in the narrative of grievance) Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and other units, some of which were English. It could be argued that the Highland Division was just unlucky. After St Valery, the 51st Highland Division was reconstituted and fought at El Alamein in Africa and defeated Rommel and his troops. We use cookies to ensure that we are able to give you the best experience on our website. It was decided that British formations would be rotated to the French Army, into positions in advance of the Maginot Line, just east of the border with Luxembourg. The promotion of this fake history is an interesting study. Churchill thought it needed ‘strengthening’ with some regular units, so the 1st Battalion took the place of the 6th, which went to the 4th Division. In the end, one-third of the force did manage to escape through Le Havre. But logic and sense are not the currency of promoters of “alternative facts.”, The polarisation of politics and society is perhaps seen at its most extreme on social media. If you have a complaint about the editorial content which relates to inaccuracy or intrusion, then please contact the editor here. The division was raised in 1908, upon the creation of the Territorial Force, as the Highland Division and later 51st (Highland) Division from 1915. Its leader, General Fortune, knew that. In the freezing last winter of the war, as the Red Army advanced from the east, the POW camps were abandoned and the starving prisoners condemned to stagger hundreds of miles through the snow - the so-called Death Marches, another insufficiently recognised feat of courage and endurance. The most recent issues of Finest Hour are available online to members. At the beginning of World War II, Britain sent soldiers and equipment to France to support the country in case of a German invasion, which duly took place in mid-May, 1940. Mobilised at the start of the First World War, the 1st consisted of brigades drawn from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Seaforths, Gordons and Camerons. Naturalist Sir Peter Scott, then a naval lieutenant, evacuated injured men from the harbour.8 As in the other military myths, Churchill is assigned personal blame. Objections to the post on Facebook were answered, “it is a matter of record that a number of historians believe 51st Div. were abandoned in order to allow the evacuation of 300,000 combatants from Dunkirk.” This is demonstrably untrue: the Dunkirk evacuation, over 200 km away, ended eight days before the surrender at St. Valéry, and the evacuation at Dunkirk was not dependent in any way on the struggle of the 51st. Three years later, I was passing long days beside my wife’s hospital bed revising that article, and, while searching for recent occurrences of the first myth, I came upon many social media posts about two others.4 These were, first, that in 1919 “Churchill sent English troops and tanks to George Square, Glasgow to crush a strike,” and, second, that in June 1940, after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill “abandoned” or “sacrificed” the men of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valéry-en-Caux “because they were Scots and expendable.”, The first of these two is not as mythological as the “abandon Scotland” story, in that it is, to some extent, based on real events, but the “Battle of George Square” is perhaps the most mythologised event in twentieth-century Scottish history. The 51st (Highland) Division was the first whole division to be sent, late in April 1940. A typical Tweet about Churchill and George Square, with added “cannons” and firing. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. Three things strike me. The 51st Highland Division and the 1st Armoured Division, with Infantry Battalions were fighting a rear guard action. It's easy too to be wise after a war. Most of all, we should remember the valour of the Fighting 51st in France. The fourth, claiming that Scotland suffered disproportionately high casualties in the First World War—between 25% and 28% of enlisted men—has been discredited by Patrick Watt.1, On Sunday, 24 March 2013, in the Mail on Sunday a myth sprang fully formed from the imagination of a journalist, that in 1940 Scotland was to be sacrificed to the Nazis in the event of a German invasion, in order to protect England. Then again, perhaps Churchill should have heeded the professional advice of his commander in the field. It also enabled a morale-boosting, positive spin on what had been a military debacle. More than 10,000 members of the Division were driven into five years of captivity in prison camps. The only sensible military option for the Highland Division was evacuation back to Britain. Data returned from the Piano 'meterActive/meterExpired' callback event. We should remind ourselves that even this relatively mild statement is untrue and airbrushes from history the loss of non-Scottish troops. Much less known - and not at all celebrated - is the fact that on 4 June, 1940, the day after the evacuation from Dunkirk was completed, ten thousand Scots in Normandy launched an attack on the Germans. Either way, for military or political reasons, Churchill abandoned the Highlanders. Readers’ comments: You are personally liable for the content of any comments you upload to this website, so please act responsibly. It appears to have little connection to the real man in the context of the times he lived through. This was the Crocodile, a flamethrower version of the tank that was to prove to be the best such AFV fielded by any combatant during the war. The ancillary force sent with the 51st also contained three English infantry battalions.7. The strike continued for twelve days after the “Battle.”. Fortune surrendered and ten thousand Scotsmen ended up in German POW camps. The Highland Division was knocked for six. Churchill was accused in 1919 of ordering tanks into the “Battle of George Square” and in 1940 of leaving the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery because it was Scottish. Rank-and-file soldiers were forced into back-breaking labour in mines, quarries and factories. The observant reader will have noticed the flaw: how could sailors on, at the latest, 4 June 1940 threaten to mutiny about an event that would not happen until 11 June? The French were already starting to blame the British for the disaster befalling their country. For Churchill, the continued presence of the Highland Division in France countered such accusations. • The troops were sent to crush the strike. A century of myth making about the “Battle” means that the mythology is complex. On social media, their rhetoric can cross the line into something like hate speech. If you continue to use this website then you must agree to the terms set out in our Privacy Policy. He was held as a prisoner of war until he escaped the Nazis in 1945. • There were troops, tanks, and a howitzer in George Square on 31 January. An almost completely mythical version of the event, English troops, tanks in the square and all, continues to appear in Scottish school textbooks. The Highland Division was knocked for six. The Argyll and Sutherland battalions in particular suffered heavy casualties. Brigadier Charles S Grant said the 51st Highland Division was put under French command to bolster the country's defence against German forces. 8. Populist nationalist politics, at both national and devolved levels in the UK and elsewhere in the world, thrive in an atmosphere in which trust has been eroded in traditional sources of information and in which expertise and specialist knowledge are denigrated. In particular, there are what I have termed the four twentieth-century “military myths,” and it will perhaps come as no surprise to the reader that Churchill features in three of them. Whatever the reasons for the calamity at St. Valery, Fortune's Highland Division should be remembered with pride. Thus, if there were troops and tanks in Glasgow, logically it follows that they must have been “sent… to disperse protestors in George Square,” with “orders to shoot to kill,” resulting in “hundreds” dead. On June, 12, 1940, days after the successful mass evacuations at Dunkirk, thousands of British troops remained on continental Europe under French command, most of them from the 51st Highland Division. Patrick Watt, “Manpower, Myth and Memory: Analysing Scotland’s Military Contribution to the Great War,” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 39.1, pp. 261–92, and Barclay, “‘Churchill Rolled the Tanks into the Crowd’: Mythology and Reality in the Military Deployment to Glasgow in 1919,” Scottish Affairs (2019), 28.1, pp. But at least we can honour their memory. 5. It will be remembered that an earlier flamethrowing version of the Churchill had been deployed at Dieppe. Copyright © 2021 International Churchill Society. In fact, the War Cabinet had been reminded on the previous day, 30 January, by the commander of the army in the UK, that the government had no legal powers to send troops onto the streets of a British city, unless martial law was declared which in this case, it was not.5. The evacuation of ten thousand men from there, a major international port, would have been a relatively simple matter. More than 10,000 members of the Division were driven into … In Operation Plunder the British 2nd Army (The 51st Highland Division and the 15th Scottish Division) and the US Ninth Army (30th and 79th Division) crossed the River Rhine in an amphibious assault. On Friday, 31 January 1919, a demonstration, part of what was known as the “Forty Hours Strike,” descended into violence between demonstrators and Glasgow police. Post moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. The capitulation of Singapore was another wartime humiliation, redeemed in the popular mind, by the extraordinary courage and heroism of the POWs in the face of the brutality of their Japanese captors. After Dunkirk, Churchill abandoned the Highlanders at St. Valery, This article was originally published in June, 2015. They would probably have held out for even longer at St. Valery had the French around them not hoisted the white flag. 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