Henry Owens, After Liberation
“My Dear Sister Rene,
…Well! Rene, everything seems topsy-turvy in this mad old world, and yet life is sweet. Oh! What lessons we can learn from this trouble if we try, but do we try? Is selfishness, conceit and greed to dominate our future. I hope with all my heart not. Let us try at least to build a new world, a world of happiness instead of horror. It can be done if we have the courage, and can anyone doubt the courage of the present generation?“ - Henry Owens
For many years I would contemplate the question of why the 51st Highland Division had been left to its fate, with no attempt at evacuating it.
Historian Saul David suggests one possible answer in his book “Churchill's Sacrifice of the Highland Division”. In it, he suggests that, in the days leading up to the capture of the division in Normandy on June 12th 1940 (eight days after Dunkirk), the British government was told repeatedly by senior officers that the Highlanders' presence in France could have no military value. The senior military liaison officer in France, Marshall Cornwall, warned again and again that the Highland Division was in grave danger.
Saul David suggests these warnings appear to have been ignored because Churchill was desperately trying to keep France (his one remaining ally) in the war. This gamble failed.
The soldiers of the 51st (Highland) Division paid a heavy price with more than 10,000 taken prisoner at St. Valéry. With the further 1,000 or so taken on the Somme and in the Saar, a total of over 11,000 soldiers of the Division were marched into 5 long years of captivity.
Fatal casualties among the Highland Infantry alone were over 1,000 with more than four times that number wounded. (ref. Saul David: “Churchill's Sacrifice of the Highland Division”. )
To add insult to injury, Churchill's deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee, said, when questioned in the House of Commons about the Death Marches, that they were “largely illusory”.
The Long March of 1945 was one of extreme cold, starvation, dysentery, gangrene, lice and frostbite. The memories of those marches, together with the conditions we endured as prisoners of war will remain with me to the end of my days.
These accounts are the words of Gunner Henry Owens,
Compiled by his son, Robert Owens, in November 2001