51st (Highland) Division

Highland Division
51st (Highland) Division
51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Insignia of the 51st (Highland) Division, First World War.
Active August 1908 – March 1919
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Part of XVII Corps and later XVIII Corps
Nickname(s) "Harper's Duds"
"Ladies from Hell"
Engagements Battle of the Somme (1916)
Battle of Arras (1917)
Battle of Cambrai (1917)
Major-General George Montague Harper

The 51st (Highland) Division was an infantry division of the British Army that fought on the Western Front in France during the First World War from 1915 to 1918. The division was raised in 1908, upon the creation of the Territorial Force, as the Highland Division and later 51st (Highland) Division from 1915. The division's insignia was a stylised 'HD' inside a red circle. Early doubts about the division's performance earned it the nickname of "Harper's Duds" after the name of its commander, Major-General George Harper. The division was renamed the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division and fought during the Second World War as part of the Territorial Army after the Territorial Force was disbanded in 1920. The division was nicknamed the "Highway Decorators" in reference to the 'HD' insignia that adorned road signs along their axis of advance.

A related formation, the 51st (Scottish) Division, was reformed in the Territorial Army after the Second World War. Beckett 2008 says that Territorial Army units that were in suspended animation were formally reactivated on 1 January 1947, though no personnel were assigned until commanding officers and permanent staff had been appointed in March and April 1947.[1] By December 1947, the formation amalgamated with 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division had become 51st/52nd Scottish Division,[2] but, by March 1950, 52nd Division had been recreated as an independent formation.[3] From December 1955, the division was placed on a lower establishment, for home defence purposes only.[4] On 1 May 1961, the division was merged with Highland District to become 51st Highland Division/District.[5]

First World War

The First World War doubts were the result of the way in which the division was initially plundered in late 1914 to early 1915, during a period of great strain on the Regular Army troops of the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF), serving on the Western Front. In August 1914, upon mobilization, the division's infantry element had comprised 12 battalions in 3 regimentally-named brigades: the Seaforth and Cameron Brigade, the Gordon Highlanders Brigade and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Brigade. A crisis on the Western Front in late 1914 saw increasing numbers of individual TF battalions being seconded to Regular Army formations on the Western Front. The first TF formation to be plundered in this way was the 1st London Division.

By early 1915, the Highland Division had lost six of its 12 pre-war Highland infantry battalions to Regular divisions. When TF divisions were finally ordered overseas as complete formations in their own right in early 1915, the Highland Division was only at half-strength and in no shape to be sent abroad at that time. Only by the last-minute addition of two Lowland battalions and the North Lancashire Brigade from the West Lancashire Division was the division, now numbered as the 51st (Highland) Division, considered numerically complete and was rushed to the Western Front in May 1915 to help stem the latest German onslaught during the Second Battle of Ypres. Obviously, the lack of familiarity amongst these newly introduced disparate units hampered division efficiency and the division could only fare moderately in the further actions at Festubert and Givenchy. Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Haig, then commanding the British First Army, and later to command the entire BEF, commented that the 51st was, at the time of Festubert, "practically untrained and very green in all field duties". Moved to the quiet Somme front in the late summer of 1915, the division, now under the command of Major General George Harper, had yet to satisfy the expectations of those expecting the familiar Highland flair– this was the period of Harper's Duds.

The situation was only resolved when, in January 1916, the Lancashire Brigade (by then renumbered the 154th (3rd Highland) Brigade and later became the 164th (North Lancashire) Brigade) left the division and their place was filled by original Highland battalions released by the regular divisions and by battalions of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) not originally in the division. Given the chance to show their mettle in July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, they assaulted High Wood, which they attacked forcefully in the midst of a murderous field of fire without shelter. Though they failed to take the position, they had shown the fighting spirit expected of Highlanders. The division's reputation grew and they were chosen to capture the notorious fortress village of Beaumont-Hamel in November 1916, towards the end of the Somme offensive. The 51st were "Harper's Duds" no longer, now they were, according to the German nickname, "The Ladies From Hell".

By 1917, the 51st was considered a leading assault division and was handed more and more difficult tasks, throughout the year, from Arras in April/May to the combined tank-infantry assault at Cambrai in November.

By early 1918, the division, as with numerous others in the BEF at the time, was below-strength due to losses in 1917 and the tired survivors were given a quiet part of the front line to hold. Unfortunately, the Germans had by chance chosen that location as one of the focal points for their Kaiserschlacht, the last great German assault on the West in March 1918, intended to win the war before the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) could arrive in great numbers. The neighbouring Portuguese troops bore the brunt of the initial German assault and when they started to retire from their positions and ran across the 51st's positions, they were mistaken for Germans in the poor visual conditions and the 51st opened fire on them, causing casualties. The under-strength 51st was also pushed back, but eventually held as the German offensive ebbed and flowed. The remains of the division survived the Spring battles and received replacements in time for Haig's Allied offensives of August 1918 onward, which saw the war coming to an end on 11 November 1918.

During 1918, members of the division were painted by the war artist Frederick Farrell, in France.[6]

First World War battles

Battles the division participated in the First World War included:[7]

Order of battle

The composition of the 51st Division during the First World War was as follows:[7][8]

152nd (1st Highland) Brigade 
153rd (2nd Highland) Brigade 
  • 1/6th Battalion, Black Watch
  • 1/7th (Fife) Battalion, Black Watch
  • Shetland Companies, Gordon Highlanders
  • 1/4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (until February 1915)
  • 1/5th (Buchan and Formartine) Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (until February 1918)
  • 1/7th (Deeside Highland) Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (until October 1918)
154th (3rd Highland) Brigade 

The original brigade comprised the following battalions until April 1915 when some of the battalions moved to the 152nd Brigade:

  • 1/6th (Renfrewshire) Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • 1/7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • 1/8th (Argyllshire) Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • 1/9th (Dunbartonshire) Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Between 18 April 1915 and January 1916, the brigade was replaced by the Territorial Force battalions of the 164th (North Lancashire) Brigade from the 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

After early 1916, the brigade contained the following battalions:

  • 1/4th (Ross Highland) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders
  • 1/4th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
  • 1/9th (Highlanders) Battalion, Royal Scots
  • 1/7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders


  • I Highland Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (numbered CCLV (I Highland) Brigade on 15 May 1916)
    • 1st Aberdeen Battery
    • 2nd Aberdeen Battery
    • 3rd Aberdeen Battery
    • I Highland Brigade Ammunition Column
  • II Highland Brigade, RFA (numbered CCLVI (II Highland) Brigade on 19 May 1916)
    • Forfarshire Battery
    • Fifeshire Battery
    • Dundee Battery
    • II Highland Brigade Ammunition Column
  • III Highland (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA (numbered CCLVIII (III Highland) Brigade on 17 May 1915)
    • 1st Renfrew (Howitzer) Battery
    • 2nd Renfrew (Howitzer) Battery
    • III Highland (Howitzer) Brigade Ammunition Column
  • Highland (Fifeshire) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (until 5 May 1915)
  • I Lowland Brigade RFA (joined 10 November 1915 from Forth Defences; renumbered CCLVII on 15 May 1916, changed to CCLX on 3 June 1916)[9]
    • 1st Edinburgh Battery
    • 2nd Edinburgh Battery
    • Midlothian Battery
    • I Lowland Brigade Ammunition Column

After reorganisation in August 1916:

  • CCLV Brigade, RFA
    • A, B, C, D (H) Batteries
  • CCLVI Brigade, RFA
    • A, B, C, D (H) Batteries


  • 1st Highland Field Company, Royal Engineers (renumbered 400th (1st Highland) Field Company 3 February 1917)
  • 2/2nd Highland Field Company, RE (raised after outbreak of war; renumbered 404th (2/2nd Highland) Field Company 3 February 1917)
  • 3rd Durham Field Company, RE (joined 19 September 1915; transferred to 7th Division 30 January 1916)
  • 2nd Highland Field Company, RE (transferred from 7th Division 31 January 1916; renumbered 401st (2nd Highland) Field Company 3 February 1917)


  • 1/8th Battalion Royal Scots (transferred from 7th Division 19 August 1915)

Second World War

51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Formation patch as worn after 1940.
Active 1939–1946
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Nickname(s) "Highway Decorators"
Engagements Battle of France
Second Battle of El Alamein
Sicily landings
Normandy Campaign
Battle of the Bulge
Operation Veritable
Operation Plunder
Victor Fortune
Alan Cunningham
Neil Ritchie
Douglas Wimberley
Tom Rennie

The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was initially commanded by Major-General Victor Fortune and formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in France during the first few months of the Second World War. With the capture of two of its brigades in France the division effectively ceased to exist. The 9th (Highland) Infantry Division, the 2nd Line duplicate of the 51st, was renumbered as the 51st and subsequently served in the North African Campaign. From there it went to Sicily before returning to France as part of the invasion of Northern Europe.

France 1940

Major-General Fortune took command of the division in 1937. In common with the rest of the British Army at the time, training and equipment had been insufficient in the years after World War 1. In 1938, after Chamberlain's visit to Munich, the decision had been taken to double the size of the Territorial Army, and the Highland Division had made good progress with this recruitment by the spring of 1939. The issue of equipment and the associated training remained a problem. For example: 2 years of regular army infantry training was compressed into 3 months; some mortar units had no experience with live ammunition until they got to the firing ranges in France; Bren gun carrier crews only received their equipment in the summer of 1939, leaving little time for training in operating and tactics.[11]

With the situation regarding Nazi Germany deteriorating and the threat of war on the rise, the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was mobilised on 24 August 1939. In preparation for joining the BEF in France, the division traveled from Scotland to Aldershot, where it received final equipping and training. All units had arrived at Aldershot by 16 September 1939. The men were required to wear the standard British Army battledress of the day. The War Office had decided that kilts were not suited to modern mechanised warfare and did not provide protection in the event of a gas attack. Thus, the men were required to hand in their kilts before embarking for France.[11]

In mid-January 1940 the Division departed from Southampton and disembarked at the French port of Le Havre.[12] On 28 January it came under command of II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), under Lieutenant-General Michael Barker. His command also included the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, both Regular Army formations.

In February and March the 51st Division underwent a major reorganisation as per policies of the BEF. Some of the division's units were replaced by Regular Army formations. This was done with the intention of strengthening inexperienced Territorial divisions. The 23rd Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, a Regular Army unit, replaced by the 76th (Highland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery is one example of the changes made. The 76th (Highland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery was transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division.[13] On 22 April 1940 the 51st Division was detached from the rest of the BEF to come under command of the French Third Army. The division was stationed in front of the Ouvrage Hackenberg fortress of the Maginot Line.

With the German invasion of France and the low countries on 10 May 1940 the BEF advanced into Belgium to meet the advancing German forces. Stationed to the south in front of the Maginot Line, the 51st Division was not a part of the force involved in Belgium, and was thus not involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. In response to the German advance it was pulled back to form a defensive line along the Somme, where it was attached to the French Tenth Army. With the withdrawal of Allied forces at Dunkirk, the Germans turned their attention to the south. On 5 June they began their second offensive. The 51st was tasked with holding a line four times longer than that which would normally be expected of a division. Sustained attacks over 5–6 June caused heavy losses, particularly among the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, where the main weight of the German attack fell. The Argylls' losses were the worst they had suffered in their history. The other battalions of the 154th Brigade were enveloped. The remnant of the 154th Brigade was forced to retire to the west. Meanwhile, the 152nd and 153rd Brigades, along with the French 9th Corps, under Lieutenant General Marcel Ihler, were cut off from the main Allied forces, and had to withdraw toward Le Havre for a possible evacuation by sea. The 154th Brigade was detached to form "Arkforce" and tasked with maintaining an open line of communication with Le Havre. As the force moved back toward the coast German forces reached the coast area near Saint-Valery-en-Caux first, cutting off the line of retreat to Le Havre. The French and British force pulled back into Saint Valery-en-Caux. With steep cliffs over looking the small harbor, the Germans had a ready line of fire to use against any attempts to withdraw. General Fortune could not hold out much longer, and realized their last chance was to be pulled off in the dark on the night of 11/12 June, but no ships came. On the morning of 12 June the French forces surrendered, followed 30 minutes later by the British. Major-General Fortune was one of the most senior British officers to be taken prisoner in the war.[14] After the war was over he was knighted by King George VI.[15] From the British point of view, the defeat of the 51st (Highland) Division was the end of the Allied resistance during the battle of France.[15]

More than 10,000 members of the 51st (Highland) Division were taken prisoner at St Valery.[11] They were marched to Germany, via Belgium, following the route over which the Germans had advanced against them. Their destination was Stalag XX-A at Toruń, about 120 miles (190 km) north-west of Warsaw. Some were loaded into canal barges for part of their journey, but all eventually travelled by train in cattle wagons. There were some notable escapes, mostly in the early stages of the march. Of the 290 British Army POW escapers who had returned to Britain by the end of June 1941, 134 were members of the 51st (Highland) Division.[11]

As other camps were brought into operation, a large proportion of the POWs were transferred – most to Stalag XX-B at Malbork and Stalag 344 at Lambinowice, but with small numbers in many other camps.[lower-alpha 1][16] Early in 1945, the Russian Army had advanced close to these camps, so the POWs were involved in the Long March. Some groups from Stalag XX-A marched around 450 miles (720 km) in the depths of winter to Stalag XIB/357 at Bad Fallingbostel on the Lüneburg Heath, north of Hanover. Others had similar journeys in severe winter conditions, affected by shortages of food and shelter, with many suffering from dysentery and frostbite.[17]

In 1942 French General Charles de Gaulle, in a speech, claimed "I can tell you that the comradeship in arms experienced on the battlefield of Abbeville in May and June 1940 between the French armoured division which I had the honour to command and the valiant 51st Highland Division under General Fortune played its part in the decision which I took to continue fighting on the side of the Allies unto the end, no matter what the course of events."[18]

On 12 June 2010, veterans of the 51st (Highland) Division attended a commemorative ceremony for the 70th Anniversary of the battle at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux.[19]


In August 1940, the 9th (Highland) Infantry Division, the 2nd Line TA duplicate of the old 51st Division, formed just before the war began, was converted into the new 51st Division, with the 26th and 27th Infantry Brigades redesignated as 152nd and 153rd Infantry Brigade, and the 28th Infantry Brigade being merged with the severely understrength 154th Infantry Brigade.[20]

The new 51st Division's first general officer commanding (GOC) was Major-General Alan Cunningham, who, in October 1940, was sent to the Middle East. He was replaced by Major-General Neil Ritchie. Almost two years of home defence and training duties followed on the south coast of England and north-east coast of Scotland against a potential German invasion, which never arrived.[21][22] In June 1941 Major-General Ritchie was sent to the Middle East and Major-General Douglas Wimberley, who had served with the original 51st Division in the First World War and more recently commanded the 152nd Brigade, assumed command.[23] With the arrival of Wimberley as GOC, strenuous training for future operations overseas began. By June 1942, the 51st Division was ordered to prepare for service overseas.

The Mediterranean and Middle-East

Arriving in North Africa in August 1942, the new 51st (Highland) Division experienced its first fighting at the Second Battle of El Alamein (October–November), sustaining some 2,000 casualties. It then played a major part in Operation Lightfoot, where it was in the centre of the Northern Push, between the 9th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division. It faced the German 21st Panzer Division and some Italian units. Initially unsuccessful during Lightfoot, the minefields it cleared were key in achieving a breakout during Operation Supercharge.

Subsequently, the 51st Division was involved in many battles of the Tunisian Campaign, including the battle of Wadi Akarit, in early April 1943, and took part in the frontal assault on strongpoints guarded by deep minefields, where it was on the far right of the line. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Lieutenant Colonel Lorne MacLaine Campbell, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership during the battle. The war in North Africa ended on 13 May 1943 with the surrender of almost 250,000 Axis soldiers as prisoners of war (POWs). Throughout the fighting in North Africa the division served under the command of the British Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery.

Later the 51st Division had a rest to absorb replacements for the heavy losses, in both manpower and materiel, suffered in North Africa and began training in amphibious warfare. In July, the division took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, suffering comparatively light casualties in the short campaign, which lasted for 38 days. Towards the end of the campaign in early August, the division was withdrawn from combat and held in reserve for the Allied invasion of Italy. Although the 51st Division as a whole did not take part in the invasion, some of the division's artillery helped support Operation Baytown, the Eighth Army's crossing of the Strait of Messina in Sicily to the Italian "toe" at Reggio Calabria.

The division was then recalled from the Eighth Army and returned to the United Kingdom, on the wishes of the Army's old commander, General Montgomery, together with the veteran 7th Armoured and 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Divisions, to prepare for the opening of the Second Front in June 1944. Montgomery later commented on the 51st "Of the many fine divisions that served under me in the Second World War, none were finer than the Highland Division. It was the only infantry division in the armies of the British Empire that accompanied me during the whole of the long march from Alamein to Berlin."

When a group of recuperating wounded soldiers of the 51st returned from their North African hospital to rejoin the division in Sicily, they were instead split up and ordered to various units and formations, mainly the British 46th Infantry Division which had suffered heavy casualties during the Salerno landings, totally unrelated to the 51st Division or its component regiments. Some soldiers of the division regarded this as administrative high-handedness and refused to follow these orders, and the result was the Salerno Mutiny. The mutineers were distributed to various units regardless, while ringleaders were sentenced to death (the sentences were later commuted and finally quashed).

Battle of Normandy

Most of the 51st landed in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord on 7 June 1944, a day after D-Day, as part of British I Corps, under Lieutenant-General John Crocker. After spending a brief period supporting the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, it was sent across the River Orne, and spent two months supporting the 6th Airborne Division in its bridgehead. During this period it fought many difficult actions at places such as Breville (11–12 June) and Colombelles (11 July). The 51st (Highland) Division's performance in Normandy was, overall, considered disappointing, particularly by General Montgomery, now the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Allied land forces in Normandy, who stated in a telegram to Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS, the professional head of the British Army), that the division "had failed every mission it was given".[24] This led to the replacement of its GOC, Major-General Charles Bullen-Smith, with Major-General Tom Rennie, who had served with the division in France, North Africa and Sicily before being elevated to command of the British 3rd Infantry Division for the Normandy invasion.[25]

On 1 August 1944 the division, along with the rest of British I Corps, became part of the newly activated Canadian First Army. The division fought alongside this army in Operation Totalize, before advancing to Lisieux. It then continued east over the River Seine and headed, on General Montgomery's orders[26] for Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, the scene of the division's surrender in June 1940. The division's massed pipes and drums played in the streets of the town, and a parade included veterans of the 1940 campaign in France who were with the 51st Division in 1944. A similar event occurred at Dieppe when it was liberated by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. Leaving Saint Valéry, the 51st Division was engaged in Operation Astonia, the battle for the French port of Le Havre, in September 1944.

After Normandy

After the successful capture of the town of Le Havre, the division went on to take part in the Battle of the Scheldt in October 1944, finally passing into reserve and garrisoning the Meuse River during the Battle of the Bulge, now as part of XXX Corps, under Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks. It was not involved in heavy fighting during the early stages of the battle and was deployed as a stopgap in case the Germans broke through.

In January 1945, the division, along with the rest of XXX Corps, helped to cut off the northern tip of the German salient, linking up with the U.S. 84th Infantry Division at Nisramont on 14 January.[27] Following this, the division was involved in Operation Veritable, the clearing of the Rhineland. In late March the 51st took part in Operation Plunder, the crossing of the River Rhine, where the GOC, Major General Tom Rennie, was killed by enemy mortar fire. He was replaced by Major General Gordon MacMillan, a very highly experienced and competent commander who had previously been the GOC of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division. The division advanced through Germany and ended the war in the Bremerhaven area of Northern Germany. During the North-West Europe campaign the 51st (Highland) Division had suffered a total of 19,524 battle casualties.[28]

Order of battle 1939–1940

The original 51st Infantry Division was constituted as follows until captured 12 June 1940:[29][30]

152nd Infantry Brigade (captured 12 June 1940)[31]

  • 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders
  • 6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (left 3 March 1940)
  • 4th Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
  • 152nd Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 28 January 1940)
  • 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (from 30 March 1940)

153rd Infantry Brigade (captured 12 June 1940)[32]

  • 4th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
  • 5th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
  • 6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (left 7 March 1940)
  • 153rd Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 18 November 1939)
  • 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (from 7 March 1940)
  • 1st Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (from 5 June 1940)

154th Infantry Brigade (escaped 15 June 1940)[33]

  • 6th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (left 4 March 1940)
  • 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • 154th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 18 November 1939)
  • 1st Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (from 4 March, left 5 June 1940)

Divisional Troops

  • 1st Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (Reconnaissance regiment, left 29 March 1940)
  • 1st Lothians and Border Horse (Divisional cavalry regiment from 29 March, captured 12 June 1940)
  • 75th (Highland) Regiment, Royal Artillery (captured 12 June 1940)
  • 76th (Highland) Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 5 March 1940)
  • 77th (Highland) Regiment, Royal Artillery (left 19 February 1940)
  • 17th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 19 February, captured 12 June 1940)
  • 23rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 5 March 1940, captured 12 June 1940)
  • 51st (West Highland) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (captured 12 June 1940)
  • 236th (City of Aberdeen) Field Company, Royal Engineers (captured 12 June 1940)
  • 237th (City of Dundee) Field Company, Royal Engineers (captured 12 June 1940)
  • 238th (County of Renfrewshire) Field Company, Royal Engineers (left 29 February 1940)
  • 26th Field Company, Royal Engineers (from 28 February, captured 12 June 1940)
  • 239th (City of Aberdeen) Field Park Company, Royal Engineers
  • 51st (Highland) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals

Also attached were the following:

Order of battle 1940–1945

The reformed 51st Infantry Division was constituted as follows:[34]

152nd Infantry Brigade (formerly 26th Infantry Brigade)[31]

  • 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders
  • 4th/5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (left 4 April 1941)
  • 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (left 23 August 1940)
  • 5th Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
  • 152nd Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 September 1940, disbanded 14 December 1941)
  • 5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (from 5 April 1941)

153rd Infantry Brigade (formerly 27th Infantry Brigade)[35]

  • 5th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
  • 7th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (left 7 November 1939)
  • 9th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (left 2 September 1940)
  • 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
  • 153rd Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 September 1940, disbanded 1 January 1941)
  • 5th/7th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders (from 21 October 1940)

154th Infantry Brigade (formerly 28th Infantry Brigade)[36]

  • 7th Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (left 21 August 1945)
  • 7th/10th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (became 7th Battalion 30 September 1942)
  • 11th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (left 22 September 1941)
  • 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders (left 4 September 1940)
  • 154th Infantry Brigade Anti-Tank Company (formed 1 September 1940, disbanded 2 January 1941)
  • 1st Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) (from 24 October 1940)

Divisional Troops

  • 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry (Reconnaissance regiment, from 20 January 1944)
  • 1/7th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (from 20 November 1941, joined as Machine Gun Battalion, became Support Battalion 10 December 1943, reverted to MG Battalion 28 February 1944)
  • 51st Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps (formed 8 January 1941, became 51st Regiment 6 June 1942, left 26 November 1942)
  • 126th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 127th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 128th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 61st Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery
  • 40th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (from 1 May 1942)
  • 274th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 275th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 276th Field Company, Royal Engineers
  • 239th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers
  • 16th Bridging Platoon, Royal Engineers (formed 19 December 1943)
  • 51st (Highland) Divisional Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals


A specific memorial to the division exists at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site on the Somme, by the sculptor George Henry Paulin. A further memorial in the form of a sculpture by Alan Herroit was unveiled in May 1995 on the North Inch in Perth, Scotland. As well as commemorating 50 years of peace in Europe, the sculpture depicts a Highlander being greeted by a young Dutch girl during the liberation of Holland by the 51st. A twin casting was unveiled in The Netherlands in 1994.


  • "The 51st (Highland) Division's Farewell to Sicily", a folk song written by Hamish Henderson, a former officer who served in the 51st Division during the Sicilian campaign. It has been recorded by a number of folk singers, including Dick Gaughan.
  • "The Beaches of St. Valery", performed by the Battlefield Band. Written by Davy Steele, it tells the story of the 51st Division's struggle to reach Saint-Valéry-en-Caux in 1940 only to find that no ships had been sent to evacuate them.
  • "The Old Boys", performed by the Scottish group Runrig, who sing in both English and Gaelic. The song which first appeared on the album Recovery (1981) and was reprised on Protera (2003) speaks of the declining numbers of Gaelic speaking members of the 51st who fought at St Valery.
  • "Farewell, 51st, farewell!", a folk song written by Andy Stewart, about scrapping of the 51st Division, but indicates that they will never be forgotten, as the lyrics say "On the glory road of fame, there is honour tae your name. Farewell 51st, Farewell."
  • "The 51st Highland Division", a 4/4 march composed by Pipe Major Donald Mac leod.[37]
  • "The 51st Highland Division Farewell", a 2/4 march composed by Dr. Charles Bannatyne.[38]
  • "The 51st Highland Division at Wadi Akarit", a 2/4 march composed by W. Mac Donald.[39]


  • "The Reel of the 51st Division" was written in the Laufen PoW camp by soldiers captured at St Valery. It was the very first modern Scottish Country Dance published by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. The original tune written in Laufen has been superseded by the traditional reel "The Drunken Piper" and the dance was re-cast from its original form involving a longwise set of ten men to the more usual four couple set. The original ten-man version is still danced in some parts.

The dance was published in the first post-Second World War edition (Book Thirteen) of "The Scottish Country Dance Book".

In the media

On 15 July 2018, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called 'Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes'[40] In a review, in the Telegraph, the program was given four stars out of five and called "a terrific documentary that told the sad story of the men left behind".[41]

Victoria Cross recipients

First World War

Second World War


  • Major-General Richard Bannatine-Allason: August 1914-September 1915
  • Major-General George M. Harper: 25. September 1915-10. March 1918
  • Major-General George T.C. Carter-Campbell: 11. March 1918- June 1919
  • Major-General Ewen G. Sinclair-Maclagan: June 1919-June 1923
  • Major-General Sir Archibald B. Ritchie: June 1923-June 1927
  • Major-General Sir William M. Thomson: June 1927-June 1931
  • Major-General Sir James L.G. Burnett of Leys, Bt.: June 1931-June 1935
  • Major-General W. Douglas S. Brownrigg: June 1935-January 1938
  • Major-General Victor Fortune: January 1938 –12 June 1940 (captured)
  • Major-General Sir Alan Cunningham: 7 August 1940 – 7 October 1940
  • Major-General Sir Neil M. Ritchie: 7 October 1940 – 11 June 1941
  • Major-General. Douglas N. Wimberley: 11 June 1941 – 8 August 1943
  • Major-General Charles D. Bullen-Smith: 8 August 1943 – 26 July 1944
  • Major-General Thomas G. Rennie: 26 July 1944 – 23 March 1945 (killed in action)
  • Major-General Gordon H. MacMillan: 23 March 1945 – 28 May 1945
  • Major-General James Cassels: 28 May 1945 – March 1946 [42]
  • Major-General Colin M. Barber: 1946-May 1949
  • Major-General Robert K. Arbuthnott: May 1949-November 1952
  • Major-General James Scott-Elliot: November 1952-March 1956
  • Major-General Edward C. Colville: March 1956-March 1959
  • Major-General Frederick C.C. Graham: March 1959-March 1962

See also


  1. A search of the British Prisoners of War database for East Surrey Regiment POWs (2nd/6th attached to the 51st in the closing days of the campaign) gives 133 in Stalag 344, 98 in Stalag XX-B, 52 in Stalag VII-A, 52 in Stalag VIII-B, 50 in Stalag XX-A and smaller numbers in other camps. The same process can be carried out with the unit name of any other unit captured at St Valery with broadly similar results. The search cannot precisely identify those captured at St Valery, but is broadly indicative of the position.


  1. Beckett 2008, 169.
  2. Graham Watson, The Territorial Army, 1947 Archived 5 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine., v1.0, 10 March 2002, www.orbat.com
  3. Beckett 2008, 178.
  4. Beckett 2008, 180.
  5. Beckett 2008, 183, 185, and regiments.org (archive), Highland, 1905–1995.
  6. Munro, Neil (1920). "The 51st (Highland) division; war sketches". Internet Archive. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  7. 1 2 Becke, pp. 101–7.
  8. 51 Division at Long, Long Trail
  9. Becke, p. 111.
  10. Richard A. Rinaldi, Royal Engineers, World War I at Orbat.com Archived 24 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Saul David, Churchill's Sacrifice of the Highland Division, France 1940, ISBN 1-85753-378-X
  12. Delaforce, p.10
  13. "51 Infantry Division 1939" (PDF). British Military History. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  14. "British forces south of the river Somme". British Military History. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  15. 1 2 Heroes of St. Valery
  16. "UK, British Prisoners of War, 1939-1945". Ancestry UK. Retrieved 5 February 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  17. Nicholl, John; Rennell, Tony (2003). The Last Escape The Untold Story of Allied Prisoners of War in Germany 1944–45 (Kindle ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 9780141003887.
  18. Delaforce, p. 21
  19. Council supports Saint Valery en Caux Battle commemorations The Highland Council, 11 June 2010
  20. Delaforce, p. 21-23
  21. Salmond, pp. 19–25
  22. Gorle, pp. 10–16
  23. Delaforce, p. 22-23
  24. Doherty, p.167
  25. Delaforce, p.145
  26. Doherty, p.184
  27. Delaforce, pp. 196–7
  28. Salmond, p.273
  29. Joslen, p. 83.
  30. Doherty, pp. 277–78
  31. 1 2 Joslen, p. 337.
  32. Joslen, p. 339.
  33. Joslen, p. 340.
  34. Joslen, p.83.
  35. Joslen, p. 274.
  36. Joslen, pp. 275, 340.
  37. Queen's Own Highlanders Caber Feidh collection of bagpipe music (Book 2), Patterson's Publications, London
  38. Logan's Complete Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music, Tutor Number Eight
  39. Queen's Own Highlanders standard settings of bagpipe music, Patterson's Publications, London
  40. "Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes". Channel 4. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  41. O'Donovan, Gerard (15 July 2018). "Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes, review: a terrific documentary that told the sad story of the men left behind". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  42. See Salmond, The Story of the 51st Highland Division


  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-39-8.
  • Ian F.W. Beckett, 'Territorials: A Century of Service,' First Published April 2008 by DRA Printing of 14 Mary Seacole Road, The Millfields, Plymouth PL1 3JY on behalf of TA 100, ISBN 978-0-9557813-1-5,
  • Bewsher, F. W. (1921). The History of the 51st (Highland) Division 1914–1918 (N & M Press 2001 ed.). London: Blackwood. ISBN 1-84342-108-9. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  • Delaforce, Patrick, Monty's Highlanders: The Story of the 51st Highland Division Pen & Sword, 2007. ISBN 1-84415-512-9
  • Doherty, Richard, None Bolder: The History of the 51st Highland Division in the Second World War Spellmount, 2006. ISBN 1-86227-317-0
  • Gorle, Richmond "The Quiet Gunner" Alamein to the Rhine with the Scottish Divisions, Pen and Sword 2011 ISBN 978-1-84884-540-4
  • Linklater, Eric The Highland Division. HMSO, 1942. No ISBN.
  • Salmond, J.B. The Story of the 51st Highland Division. Wm Blackwood & Sons, 1953. No ISBN.
  • Joslen, Lt-Col H.F. (2003) [1st pub. HMSO:1960]. Orders of Battle: Second World War, 1939–1945. Uckfield: Naval and Military Press. ISBN 978-1-84342-474-1.
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