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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 November 2007, 01:16 GMT
Desert Fox photos aided war mural
Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland News website, Highlands and Islands reporter

An artist turned to a famous World War II German commander's photographic collection in her research for a mural recalling a former Scots regiment.

Tracey Shough's work commemorating the Seaforth Highlanders covers the walls of Invergordon Railway Station.

She had struggled to find evidence of how Seaforth Highlanders were attired at St Valery-en-Caux in France in 1940.

However, images once belonging to Field Marshal General Erwin Rommel - the Desert Fox - provided the detail.

Artist Tracey Shough works on the mural at Invergordon station
Artist Tracey Shough works on the mural at Invergordon station

The Seaforth Highlanders merged with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders to form the Queen's Own Highlanders in 1961.

Elements of both, along with Gordon Highlanders and the Black Watch, made up the 51st Highland Division left behind by the evacuation of Dunkirk.

They were ordered to delay the advancing tank crews of Rommel at St Valery.

Despite odds of 10-to-1, 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.

Rommel took the surrender of the 51st and other Allied troops.

Photographs of the event from his collection, now held at the Imperial War Museum in London, proved valuable to Ms Shough's research.

An artist involved with Invergordon Off the Wall community project, she said: "I went to the Imperial War Museum mostly for visual material.

"It was interesting to find that there was not that much about St Valery at all.

"However, Rommel's personal photographic collection contained quite a few pictures of St Valery, the surrounding area and of the soldiers as they surrendered."

One key piece of information contained in the photographs was that they showed the Scots wearing kilts.

A scene from BBC Two's 2004 programme What happened at Dunkirk
An estimated 200,000 British troops were left behind in France after the Dunkirk evacuation
Of the stranded men from the 51st Division, 1,000 were killed, 4,000 were wounded, and 8,000 who fought until being overrun were marched into captivity 1,000 miles (1,609km) to the east
Some did escape by using a rope fashioned from their rifle slings to descend 91 metre (300ft) cliffs and board Royal Navy vessels

Ms Shough had previously found details of an order from top brass that kilts were not be worn in combat, and that some soldiers in one regiment refused to abide by it.

She said: "I'd heard the Cameron Highlanders still wore their kilts because they defied the order.

"When I saw Rommel's photographs I saw kilts - the Cameron Highlanders had refused point blank to remove their kilts."

The mural also illustrates stories gathered from local veterans.

They include grim accounts of the march from St Valery to a prisoner of war camp.

One soldier lost an ear to frost bite, while another exhausted and hungry Seaforth hallucinated that trees were calling to him and telling him to lie down.

He struggled on knowing that if he did lay down to rest he would never get up again.

As an artist with a passion for the environment and conservation, the military and war was unknown territory for Ms Shough.

She said what stood starkly in her research of local veterans was the lack of bitterness among them.

"From the books I read I thought there would by a feeling of betrayal at the sacrifice of the 51st division at St Valery - bitterness against the British Army and powers that be, but there was none of that," she said.



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