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"An emotional but dignified farewell"
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Prof. Michael Dockrill, historian
"Men who survived the most appalling experience"
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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
'Sacrificed' vets return to Dunkirk
Dunkirk veterans
These lucky veterans made it off Dunkirk's beach
British Army veterans left behind by the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation have begun their last pilgrimage to the scene of their tragedy.

Fifty from the thousands of members of the 51st Highland Division are heading for St Valery-en-Caux, where they were ordered to delay the advancing tank crews of General Rommel.

Despite odds of 10-to-one, Scotland's territorial soldiers were ordered to continue fighting the advancing Germans - the order was a political decision to save face with the French authorities despite a crushing defeat.

The myth of Dunkirk was created simply to rescue something out of disaster

Saul David
Glasgow historian
Leading the commemorative trip is General Sir Derek Lang, former general officer commanding Scottish forces, who escaped captivity in June 1940 and returned five years later to help recapture St Valery.

Glasgow historian Saul David said the Highland Division was sacrificed on the orders of Winston Churchill.

He said: "It [the division] could have been rescued, they could have been taken off by the Navy.

"Urgent signals asking to be withdrawn before it was too late were simply ignored."

He added: "The myth of Dunkirk was created simply to rescue something out of disaster."

An estimated 200,000 British troops were left behind in France after the Dunkirk evacuation and the Highlanders bore the brunt of the Germans' push to the coast.

Of the stranded men from that division, 1,000 were killed, 4,000 were wounded, and 8,000 who fought until being overrun were marched into captivity 1,000 miles to the east.

Dunkirk evacuees
Historian Saul David believes more could have been rescued
A few Highlanders did manage to escape by using a rope fashioned from their rifle slings to descend 300ft cliffs and board Royal Navy vessels.

Stuart Brown was one of the captured Highlanders and he recalled the drama of 1940 as he celebrated his 80th birthday this week at his Edinburgh home.

He was a journalist in the Borders and a Territorial Army soldier in the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was incorporated into the 51st Division.

He volunteered for action and recalled: "We had thought about being wounded, even killed. But we never thought of being captured.

"Our emotions? There was no sense of fear, just a sense of relief."

Deception rumbled

Transported by foot and truck to a PoW camp in the Danzig area of Poland, he initially claimed to be a bricklayer until the Germans realised he was lying.

They dubbed him a "faulkrank", a lazybones.

A local farmer used him as a labourer and he developed a relationship, ultimately concluding in marriage after the war, with that farmer's daughter, Dora.

The pair fled to freedom on a covered farm wagon in 1945, with Dora disguised as a youth.

"I had a fortunate war," he said.

"It was an experience that formed the character."

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See also:

04 Jun 00 | UK
The Longest Day
02 Jun 00 | UK
Dunkirk's heroes return
02 Jun 00 | UK
Little Ships in pictures
02 Jun 00 | Dunkirk
Dunkirk: The propaganda war
15 May 00 | UK
Dunkirk: Lest we forget
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