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He never spoke about it…

Military Cemetery at St Valéry-en-Caux Photo courtesy Stewart Mitchell

THERE’S usually a trigger for iScot stories, though it’s not always obvious at the time. Back in November last year, I read something that made me search online for a Channel 4 documentary, Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes, that tells the story of the 51st (Highland) Division who were left behind in France after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. Never having heard of this before, it left a great impression on me. I was shocked. A few weeks later I happened to mention it to a friend who said he was aware of some of the story as his father, after never having talked about his wartime experiences, belatedly related some tales that he had kept private for more than 50 years. Around the same time an email arrived at iScot from reader Les Wilson asking if we’d be interested in his father’s wartime experiences as part of that 51st (Highland) Division left behind… Coincidence, or a perfect example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? (Sometimes known as the Frequency Illusion, this is a situation where something which has only recently revealed itself continues to appear with improbable frequency shortly thereafter.) Either way, this chain of events has led to us uncovering the extraordinary story of Les’s father, Lance Corporal Leslie Wilson of the Gordon Highlanders, and the futile rearguard action fought by the 51st (Highland) Division at St Valéry-en-Caux.

Like many Scots, young Leslie (Les) Wilson wanted to ‘do his bit’ and managed to blag his way into the Gordon Highlanders when he was only 15 years old, despite the minimum age for signing up being 18. This was not uncommon, and many recruiters were not particularly scrupulous about evidencing their keen young recruits’ ages, as they just needed ‘men’! His son Les explains, “He lied about his age and, as he was a fairly hefty guy, a big laddie for his age, there wasn’t any doubt they’d want to have him because he looked big enough to fight. After basic training he was sent off to Northern France and joined the Highland Division at St Valéry just prior to Dunkirk. So, he was in amongst them when Churchill’s so-called ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ took place, and the Scots troops were left stranded.”

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About iScot Magazine

An independent publication celebrating the innovation, successes and achievements of Scots while promoting the nation’s interests, culture and influence to a world-wide audience