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St Valery – Last post for the 51st

TV doc about Scotland's greatest military disaster of WWII

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Made for Grampian Television, this film tells the story of Scotland's (and perhaps Britain's) greatest military disaster of WW2 when the 51st Highland Division was abandoned in Normandy after the main Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk and the French leadership surrendered. Illustrated with photographs and German war footage, this documentary features interviews with some of the soldiers who took part in this heroic, but ill-fated action. Those soldiers who were not killed would spend the next five years in German prisoner of war camps. As Eric Linklater puts it, "The news came like another Flodden, there was hardly a household in Scotland that had not a cousin in one of the Highlands Regiments".

Questions & Activities


  • What evidence is there in the film to suggest how great a disaster this was for Scotland?
  • Is the music appropriate to the subject and themes of the documentary?
  • What does the lack of British military archive footage tell us about this military disaster?
  • What happened to most of the men in the 51st Highland Division?


S2 History: Dunkirk was dressed up as miracle but 12,000 of the survivors of the 51st spent five years in captivity. Discuss the difficulties facing these prisoners of war on their return. How might their world and their world view have changed during the intervening years.

S2 History / Journalism / Creative Writing: Compare the way Dunkirk was reported and how St Valery was reported in Britain at the time. Write your own report from the time.

History / Media Studies / Citizenship: "€œWhen war arrives the first casualty is truth." Research into the censorship of news during world war two and compare this to reporting of the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. Discuss the possible effects on soldiers of having to live with these 'lies' and 'betrayals'.

History: Go to the the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website and research who died at St Valery and where they came from.

English / Creative Writing: Write a short story about imprisonment, or returning home, or a letter from either a prisoner in Germany home, or from a loved one to that prisoner.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-000-379-C
Resource Rights Holder Courtesy of Grampian Television
Project Ref N1063
Date 1980
Genre Documentary, Tv Doc
School Subject History, Media Studies, English
Subject Matter World War 2, Creative Writing
Who Christopher Kay (director)
Where France, St Valery-en-Caux
Event World War II
Attributes Colour, Sound
Clip Length 8:01
Film Length 27:20