Queen’s piper leads St Valéry commemorations

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Pipe Major Michael Laing of Aberdeen University OTC with Prince Charles yesterday at Birkhall, Deeside.

Thousands of pipers around the world joined in yesterday’s tribute to commemorate the 80th anniversary of St Valéry. On June 12, 1940, around 10,000 Allied soldiers were taken prisoner there. The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division suffered huge losses.

The event was organised by PoppyScotland. Those participating included former Armed Forces Pipe Majors, Bruce Hitchings BEM MBE, Alistair Duthie and the Sovereign’s Piper, Pipe Major Richard Grisdale. The video, below, shows Pipe Major Duthie (ex-1st Battalion, The Black Watch) playing his tribute at the Memorial to the 51st on the North Inch park in Perth, Scotland.

Just over 500 pipers had registered their particiaption. However, considerably more took part with pipers from as far afield as Peru and Kathmandu joining in a rendition of Pipe Major Donald MacLean’s Heroes of St Valéry, the tune he composed after his capture at St Valéry. MacLean He spent the next four years as a prisoner of war.

The Second World War battle led to 10,000 mainly Scottish soldiers from the 51st Highland Division being captured at St Valéry-en-Caux. They had continued the fight on the continent in support of the French after the Dunkirk evacuations had been completed.

Also taking part in the commemorations was the Prince of Wales, who took the salute from a piper at him home at Birkhall on Deeside. In a message of support for the commemorations, he said: “On June 12, 1940, after a gallant stand, the 51st Highland Division with supporting arms and services, including elements from English regiments, was forced to surrender to the German army at St Valéry-en-Caux on the Normandy coast of France.

“At 10:00 yesterday morning, on this year’s 80th anniversary, pipers throughout Scotland and further afield were on their doorsteps playing the celebrated march, the Heroes of St Valéry, in honour of the fallen and to remember a battle in which those of the Division displayed the greatest courage and tenacity. We remember all who served and who sacrificed so much.”

Yesterday’s tribute was instigated by three leading Scottish Armed Forces charities: Poppyscotland; Legion Scotland; and RCET: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity. 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 donate £5, please text PIPER to 70007. Standard network rates may apply but the charities will receive the full donation amount.

PoppyScotland produced this montage of pipers playing the Heroes of St Valéry yesterday: