St Valery

The Impossible Odds

Bill Innes

The rearguard action which led to the capture of the 51st Highland Division at St Valéry-en-Caux may have burned itself into the consciousness of an older generation of Scots, but has never been given the wider recognition it deserves. This new book re-examines that chain of events and reassesses some of the myths surround it.
Date Published :
January 2005
Publisher :
Birlinn
Illustration :
24 b/w plates
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781843410195
Pages : 256
Dimensions : 9.25 X 6.75 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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$22.95

Overview
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The gallant rearguard action which led to the capture of the 51st Highland Division at St Valéry-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. This new book 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. In the prisoner-of-war camps the lot of the ordinary soldier, subjected daily to arduous forced-labour, was completely different to that of his officers who could not be ordered to work. Two of the main contributors to this collection of soldiers’ 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 story-tellers 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. Many of the survivors were unable even to talk of their experiences till decades after the war. At the age of 89, Archie Macphee could still say of the surrender at St Valéry, ‘It was the saddest day of my life.’ 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.

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