War Diary of Captain R.A.A.S. Macrae
11/12th June 1940, St. Valery
The extract below is taken from the War Diary of Capt. R.A.A.S. Macrae (later Colonel Sir Robert Macrae KCVO, KStOO, MBE, JP, DL, d 15/11/1999). The section reproduced here is a record of the 11/12th June 1940, while Capt. Macraethe was then Adjutant of the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. It describes the events experienced by the Bn. leading up to their eventual capture at St. Valé ry-en-Caux, together with the rest of the 51st Highland Division.
Please note - the period of the War Diary detailing events between the 27th May - 10th June 1940 can be viewed from within The B.E.F. section of the site.
On the main road back there was an enormous column of vehicles. 4/Seaforths were following 5/Gordons and the dawn was beginning to appear. The column was moving very slowly and we had a good distance to travel to our destination. A D.R arrived just as it was getting light with a message to say that the route had been changed and that the Bn. would continue to VEULE-LES-ROSES which was on the coast.
A message with the change of route was sent to all Coy. Comds. and the M.O. and new route cards were given to every driver in the column.
Unfortunately these instructions never reached C Coy. Comd's 8 cwt. and the Ambulance which proceeded to the old destination. Finding it already occupied by the enemy they returned to the coast route and rejoined the Bn. at BLOSSEVILLE at 1100 hrs. after having had a very unpleasant ten minutes at our original destination.
It was broad daylight before we reached VEULE-LES-ROSES and it was very lucky for us that no enemy aircraft came over that dawn.
In VEULE we met the Divisional Comd. who gave the C.O. the situation and led the column to BLOSSEVILLE. Here the Bn. was put into hides and given a meal while the C.O. with Adj. made a recce. of the Bn. Sector which was the High Ground to the EAST of YELON. This ridge continued to the sea and formed high cliffs on the EAST of VEULE-LES-ROSES.
On our left the D.W.R. held the ridge to the sea and on the Right. 1 Gordons held from the X-rds. at YELON southwards. Bn. HQ. was situated in an orchard beside the church in YELON.
After resting 2 hours in Blosseville, Coys. moved into position in the YELON area. A & B Coys. were on the ridge above the main YELON-VEULE road. C & D Coys. occupied the orchards round the X-rds. area on the Main Road.
Bde. HQ. was established in a small farm house in YELON to the rear of Bn. HQ. Enemy were very active in the air all afternoon but did not attack our positions.
Bn. was transferred from 152 Bde. to 153 Bde. and 152 Bde. HQ. left for the western side of the circle of defensives which had been formed round St Valerie.
The 2/Seaforths and 4/Camerons were on this side.
The Bn. was very distressed at having to leave its old Bde.
The C.O and Adj. attended a conference at 153 Bde. HQ. at Blosseville and it was hinted that the Navy would take the Division off either on the night 11/12 June or 12/13 June and the Embarkation beaches were allotted. Those for British troops being the VEULE - St Valerie beaches.
Heavy German tank attack was launched against the D.W.R.'s on our left and the Germans captured the ridge between our left flank and the sea. No offensive action was directed against our front or that of the 1/Gordons.
Message was received from 153 Bde. HQ. that Embarkation had commenced at St.Valerie at 2330 hrs. 11th June and 4/Seaforths should proceed to St Valerie station as soon as possible. All Coy. Comds. were called in and given the route to St Valerie and the Order of March.
Everyone was very cheered at the thought of going home and the Bn. set off with their hopes high.
It was pouring with rain during the march to St Valerie which was covered in record time.
The Bn. arrived in St Valerie at about 0430 hrs. and found it very much smashed up from bombing and Arty. H.E.
The Adj. met the Divisional Comd. in St Valerie and reported to him.
No boats had yet come in and the General ordered the Bn. into cover from Arty. fire in the woods on the edge of town.
Capt. Tailour 2/Seaforths who was badly wounded arrived in St Valerie and asked us to go up and help the 2/Seaforths who were in grave difficulties on the west side of St Valerie owing to heavy enemy tank attack.
These tanks had taken possession of the heights on the west side and commanded the beaches and sea and made it impossible for anything to come in or get away. The French Corps, under whom we had been, now surrendered and left the 51 Div. to carry on.
The 4/Seaforths was organised to attack the western heights of St Valerie to try and dislodge the enemy tanks which were holding the ground.
There was no more Arty. Amm'n. left now and we were relying on our own Bn. weapons and the Amm'n. we had carried for this attack.
However we never got further than the start line as the Bde. Major came up and said that it was "all over" and the 51 Div. had capitulated.
The men were ordered to lay down their arms and collect what food and kit they could.
All officers remained with their men until they were marched off by the Germans into captivity.
R.S. Macrae, Capt.
Adj. 4/Seaforth Highlanders