Shinty pipers to commemorate the heroes of St Valery

Shinty players at Stalag IXC, 1942

A call has gone out for pipers in the shinty community to mark the 80th anniversary of the 51st Highland Division’s desperate last stand during the battle at St Valery en Caux on 12th June.

They did not know it at the time but for the 51st (Highland) Division, 12th June 1940, was to become one of the most important dates in the history of their regiments.

It was to become, arguably the equivalent of the battle of Festubert in World War I which had a colossal and catastrophic impact of shinty playing communities.

Both battles are seared in the memory of many families still involved with the game.

The contribution through piping towards the special commemoration which has been organised for next Tuesday is being organised by Shinty Memories Scotland, the project which uses archive material to help people with dementia or suffering from isolation and loneliness.

The carving on the memorial at St Valery

Shinty Memories will also be telling some of the stories involving the period after the battle.

Shinty Memories ambassador John MacKenzie said: “The name St Valery is right up there with all he battles which have had tragic consequences for many families who were, and still are, involved with shinty.

“Some of our greatest players and individuals were involved at St Valery.  Many lost their lives, sadly, but some also made their way home by various means.

“There are tales of shinty in the Stalags which bear re-telling, but behind it all will be our thoughts and feelings about the grave events which impacted so cruelly on our communities.

“Piping is also an integral part of our sport and community, and we know how important that was in the war.  This is a very appropriate way to recognise the events of 1942.”

There are two ways shinty’s pipers can take part of the commemoration of St Valery which is scheduled for next Tuesday (June 12) at 10am.

There is the formal commemoration at that point, but before then, however, it is hoped that as many shinty’s pipers will play the tune “Heroes of St Valery” and record it as a short video for use on the Shinty Memories Facebook page.

In the interim various stories relating to events before and after St Valery on will be posted on the Shinty Memories Scotland Facebook page.

The tune “Heroes of St Valéry was composed by Lewis-born Pipe Major Donald MacLean who enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders in 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded France.

He was subsequently attached to the 51st Highland Division.

A week after the mass-evacuations from Dunkirk, the 51st remained on the continent under French command.

They put up a fierce final defence against the Nazi onslaught, but, after more than ten days of intense fighting, exhausted and depleted of ammunition, plans for a Dunkirk-style evacuation were put in place.

A combination of poor weather and the proximity of German artillery made escape impossible and the Division was forced to surrender on 12th June 1940, following a final battle at St-Valéry-en-Caux, a fishing port west of Dieppe.

Donald survived a harrowing forced march from France to Poland with little food or shelter and was held as a POW for the remainder of the war.

He went on to compose Heroes of St Valéry to commemorate those who fought and fell there, including the pipers and drummers who rest in the well cared for military cemetery above the town.

Legion Scotland, Poppyscotland and RCET: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity have joined forces to organise the tribute, which will also include online learning resources for young people, virtual tributes and a fundraising campaign to support the vital work of these important military charities.

At 10am on 12th June 2020, pipers throughout Scotland and all over the world will take the opportunity to play Heroes of St Valéry.

Shinty players and the wider community are encouraged to play their own part. 

The public is being asked to support the St Valéry tribute through a fundraising campaign which will support the work of the three charities.

To register interest in taking part in the formal commemoration, and to download the pipe tune visit