The gallant rearguard action which led to the capture of the 51st Highland Division at St. Valery-en-Caux (two weeks after the famous evacuation of the main British army from Dunkirk) may have burned itself into the consciousness of an older generation of Scots, but has never been given the wider recognition it deserves. The introduction to this collection of first-hand accounts re-examines that fateful chain of events in 1940 and reassesses some of the myths that have grown up in the intervening years.
Of the countless volumes about the Second World War, many of them dealing with the experiences of prisoners of war, relatively few were written by private soldiers, far less those who could take a poet’s perspective on the experience. Two of the main contributors to this collection of reminiscences, Angus Campbell from Lewis and Donald John MacDonald from South Uist, were both traditional Gaelic bards. Their work has been translated from their native language and reflects both the richness of the vocabulary they had acquired through the Gaelic oral tradition and their individual gifts as natural storytellers born out of that tradition.
These vivid accounts bring alive the chaos and horror of war and the grim deprivation of the camps and forced marches which so many endured. Yet these personal stories resound with the spirit, humour and sense of comradeship which enabled men to fight on in desperate situations and refuse to be cowed by their captors.