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Seaforth Highlander in Forres interviewed on Channel 4 documentary about Dunkirk 1940

By Garry McCartney

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Donald in 1940.
Donald in 1940.

A FORMER soldier from Forres features in a documentary being screened on TV this weekend.

Donald Smith of the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders is interviewed on 'Dunkirk: The Forgotten Heroes', to be repeated on Channel 4 at 8.20pm on Saturday, May 23 as part of the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation between May 26 and June 4, 1940.

Documentary producer Craig McAlpine interviewed Donald in January, 2018.

He said: "Don is remarkable and when we filmed with him in France he worked incredibly hard. He wanted to make sure the story was told well and that he was doing his best for his pals that never came back. That's always been his motivation as he does not want any personal accolade."

Craig's interest in the events of 1940 stem from the involvement of his grandfather Bill Smith and great uncle Eoghan 'Hugh' McAlpine, both of whom were in the 51st Highland Division. Bill was captured at St Valery-en-Caux and Hugh was killed.

Craig said: "Back in 2017, I self-financed and started working on the development of the documentary, visiting all the regimental museums and the National Archives to fully research the events of 1940 and the 51st Highland Division. I then worked with NorthOne Television to produce the film for Channel 4 which was originally broadcast in 2018."

The 'last stand' of the 51st at St Valery remains controversial to this day with some historians maintaining that the Highlanders were 'sacrificed' by Winston Churchill to ensure that the rest of the British Expeditionary Force escaped. The Division conducted a fighting retreat against the Germans until, running low on ammunition and supplies, they were forced to surrender at St Valery, some eight days after the last soldier was evacuated from Dunkirk.

Around 11,000 of the 51st spent the next five years in prisoner of war camps and more than 1000 never came home.

Don's photograph of friends at Fort George. Bernard Finn and Edward Clark are the on the left with their arms behind their back.
Don's photograph of friends at Fort George. Bernard Finn and Edward Clark are the on the left with their arms behind their back.

Donald trained at Fort George and while there, took a picture of his comrades next to a German gun captured in the First World War. Of those pictured, he was the only one who came back from WWII.

"Don was on a Bren gun holding the line at a town outside St Valery called Veules-les-Roses," said Craig. "A Panzer division attacked and a shell exploded over him. His friends either side, Bernard Finn and Edward Clark, were killed outright. Don managed to make it to St Valery where he passed out from blood loss. He was captured and after some time in hospital he ended up in Poland at Stalag 8B, Lamsdorf."

During his research for the documentary, Craig managed to find six veterans of the 51st Highland Division through various means.

He said: "I went to the pub that the Highlanders go to near the Cenotaph in London but, unfortunately, because of an injury, Don wasn't there. However, someone in attendance knew him so passed on his details.

"I flew up to Inverness a couple of weeks later and we filmed an interview with Don at his house in Forres. His recall of events was incredible and I asked if he would be up for going back to France to re-trace what went on in 1940. He agreed as long as he could bring along his wife Helen, so we went to St Valery-en-Caux and filmed Don there too. He will be turning 100 in October - we regularly stay in touch with one another, usually over a pint."

Craig added: "After the documentary was broadcast some people in Australia got in touch to say their grandfather was Bernard Finn. It turns out he had a son born on the day he was reported missing. Don was able to give his son a call and spoke to Bernard Finn Jnr to tell him about a father he never met and about whose death he knew nothing !"

Donald Smith now, proudly bearing his war medals.
Donald Smith now, proudly bearing his war medals.

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