Robert G Shand (Bob)

27th May 2019 Poppyscotland

Memories of St Valery June 12 1940.

My Father Robert G Shand (Bob) from Forres was conscripted to the 4th Battalion Cameron Highlanders and trained at the Cameron barracks Inverness. In May 1940 he crossed the channel, with his comrades, to Le Harve in France and was then transported to the Segfried line, as part of the 51st Highland Division. During battle, the Division was used as a buffer between the escaping British troops in Dunkirk and the advancing German army.

The 51st division retreated under, shells, gunfire and battle for about 3 weeks and their destination was St Valery where they were going to be rescued by Navy vessels and taken safely back across the channel to Britain. However when they got to. St Valery, to escape, the town was a ruin, everything was on fire and all the boats in the harbour had been shelled and were burning. There was no escape apart from jumping over the cliff edge to your death.

My father’s quote from his memoirs was:

“Lillie did we know that at that time, that Churchill had denied us any aid and did not allow us to be picked up by the Navy. In other words we were expendable and were to be left to the mercies of the dreaded Germans’”

He continued:

“We were herded like cattle along the road, filling it from side to side, British, Dutch, Belgians and French, herded along by the trigger-happy young Germans. Anyone who attempted to escape was shot dead. Many men had dysentery and were shot when they dashed into a field to try to relieve themselves. After walking for 3 weeks, sleeping in fields, with hardly any food only stale bread, if we were lucky, we arrived in Holland, where we were marched into coal barges for the next stage of the journey to our fate. We were stuck deep down inside in the filthy coal dust.

After many days, we arrived in Trier in Germany where were cruelly paraded to the locals in a football field, where they spat on us, jeered at us and shouted abuse to try to humiliate us. Here, we were separated into our nationalities and then packed into goods wagons – there begins the worst journey of my life. No food, limited water, packed like sardines so we could not sit, so we had to lean on each other. A bucket for a toilet. We lost all sense of time and some men were sick and had dysentery.

Later on I understood the German plan; starve your enemy, treat them badly, do not allow them to wash and have any sort of comfort, only then will they then do ANYTHING for a drink of water and a bit of stale bread.

Eventually after several days of torturous travel with stenching, humid air, the packed train stopped and we were herded out once again, we were in Poland. Then we saw the prison camp , high fences, barbed wire and watchtowers. Stalag XXA near Torun, which was to be our home for the next 5 years. “

After nearly 5 years of hard labor, near starvation, disease and physical cruelty, my father finally escaped the camp, with another prisoner, but the arduous journey to Odessa, where a cargo ship awaited their rescue, took 4 months, much of it on foot in the bitter cold of European winter.

Bob Shand passed away in May 2015, at the age of 96.

Submitted by his daughter, Wendy Atkinson.