Scotland’s new Church of Scotland Moderator urged a ‘troubled and divided’ nation to remember those who paid the ultimate price as the nation commemorated the heroes of St Valery.
In a prayer to mark the 80th anniversary of the surrender of the 51st Highland Division in Normandy, The Rev. Dr Martin Fair of St Andrew’s in Arbroath said remembrance could sometimes be “half-hearted and poorly informed.”
“In a world so troubled and so divided as is now the case, forgive us that we’ve forgotten so much of what so many fought and died for,” he added.
“And not least as today we remember those who perished or were taken prisoner at Saint Valéry, eighty years ago, on this day. These men of the 51st Highland Division paid the ultimate price.”
The Moderator – installed last month in a service broadcast online following the cancellation of the kirk’s General Assembly for the first time in more than 300 years – said it was an “honour and a privilege” to play a part in Poppy Scotland’s virtual commemoration of the largely forgotten Second World War episode known as the “other Dunkirk”.
It came as the Queen’s piper led commemorations across the UK involving more than 500 players in a tribute to those killed or captured in France 80 years ago.
In Carnoustie, Arbroath Pipe Band Pipe Major Ryan Kennedy played the tune Heroes of St Valery at the town’s war memorial as standards were lowered in the 10am ceremony to coincide with the time of the surrender.
The local Royal British Legion Scotland branch organised the short ceremony at the request of Angus Provost and retired Black Watch Major Ronnie Proctor.
It was a particularly poignant moment for Ryan as he lost his father in the early days of the pandemic. Black Watch veteran and Legion member Barrie Smith laid the wreath.
Carnoustie Legion branch chairman Davie Paton said: “As well as paying tribute the heroes of St Valery, Ryan played a lament in memory of all the Legionnaires from Carnoustie who had died since the Covid-19 pandemic had begun.
“With their families’ permission, we have been laying a poppy cross at the memorial for each Legionnaire who has died. It is our way of demonstrating Legion solidarity at this particularly difficult time.”
Dundee Lord Provost Ian Borthwick led city tributes, with piper’s playing at locations including the City Square and Grove Academy.
Mr Borthwick said: “The anniversary comes at a time when, here and around the globe, we are facing our biggest challenge since World War Two.
“Then, we were a world divided by conflict. Now we are a world united in the fight against this deadly virus.
“Now, as then, we must pull together as a community.”
The commemorations marked the capture on June 12 1940 of 10,000 soldiers from the 51st Highland Division, mostly Scots, at St Valéry-en-Caux in Normandy, France.
They had continued the fight on the continent in support of the French after the Dunkirk evacuations had been completed and became trapped in the coastal town by General Erwin Rommel’s 5th Panzer Division.
Heavy rain and thick fog kept the Royal Navy far out in the English Channel and General Victor Fortune, commander of the 51st Highland Division, was unable to contact the rescuers and took the decision to surrender.