This article was originally published in June, 2015

Much is being made of the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk 'Miracle'. And rightly so. The evacuation rescued 300,000 fighting men. It also enabled a morale-boosting, positive spin on what had been a military debacle.

Much less known - and not at all celebrated - is the fact that on 4 June, 1940, the day after the evacuation from Dunkirk was completed, ten thousand Scots in Normandy launched an attack on the Germans.

The offensive by the 51st Highland Division on the Somme was only partially successful. The next day, the Germans countered, with interest. The Highland Division was knocked for six. The Argyll and Sutherland battalions in particular suffered heavy casualties. It was said to have been the darkest day in the history of that famous regiment.

The Highland Division retreated over the River Bresle and re-grouped. But the game was up. Its leader, General Fortune, knew that. His Division was outnumbered and outgunned in every aspect, particularly tanks. There was no support from the RAF. The Luftwaffe had total command of the skies.

Worse still, the French army was in complete disarray, its fragile morale shattered by the German advance, many units simply abandoning the fight and fleeing along with civilian refugees.

The only sensible military option for the Highland Division was evacuation back to Britain. Fortune recommended an immediate retreat to Le Havre. The evacuation of ten thousand men from there, a major international port, would have been a relatively simple matter.

However, Churchill refused Fortune's request and ordered the Highlanders to continue to fight. Churchill, of course, had form as a would-be military strategist. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915. In June 1940, he hoped the presence of the Highland Division would stiffen the military resistance of the French.

Perhaps his political objectives were even more important. The French were already starting to blame the British for the disaster befalling their country. The British Expeditionary Force, they argued, was a half-hearted effort and, at the first opportunity, it had packed up and run off home. For Churchill, the continued presence of the Highland Division in France countered such accusations.

Either way, for military or political reasons, Churchill abandoned the Highlanders. It's hard not to recall General Wolfe's assessment of the worth of Scottish soldiers: "No great mischief if they fall."

After a week of further retreat, with the French close to surrender and the collapse of its armies evident to all, Fortune was finally given permission to evacuate his Division. By then, Le Havre had been cut off by Rommel and his Panzers. A desperate, last-minute plan to evacuate the Highlanders from St. Valery, a small fishing port, bound on either side by high cliffs, proved to be forlorn. Fortune surrendered and ten thousand Scotsmen ended up in German POW camps.

It could be argued that the Highland Division was just unlucky. It was doing a tour of duty on the Maginot Line when the Germans invaded France in May 1940 and was cut off from the rest of the BEF. It's easy too to be wise after a war. The shocking fragility of the French forces, the crass ineptness of its senior leadership, were only fully exposed after the disaster. Then again, perhaps Churchill should have heeded the professional advice of his commander in the field.

Whatever the reasons for the calamity at St. Valery, Fortune's Highland Division should be remembered with pride. But after a victorious war, the British people weren't interested in defeats and surrenders. St. Valery was forgotten about, an embarrassment.

The capitulation of Singapore was another wartime humiliation, redeemed in the popular mind, by the extraordinary courage and heroism of the POWs in the face of the brutality of their Japanese captors.

Those who surrendered at St. Valery endured forced marches, with little sustenance, across France and Belgium, then transport in coal barges and cattle wagons to POW camps in Eastern Germany and Poland. Rank-and-file soldiers were forced into back-breaking labour in mines, quarries and factories. Some managed daring escapes. In the freezing last winter of the war, as the Red Army advanced from the east, the POW camps were abandoned and the starving prisoners condemned to stagger hundreds of miles through the snow - the so-called Death Marches, another insufficiently recognised feat of courage and endurance.

Most of all, we should remember the valour of the Fighting 51st in France. Ill-equipped and out-gunned, they fought with outstanding discipline and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. They would probably have held out for even longer at St. Valery had the French around them not hoisted the white flag.

It's too late to award a St. Valery medal to the survivors. But at least we can honour their memory. There have been some fine memoirs from survivors, a book or two, a poignant song from the Battlefield Band.

But St. Valery remains a minor footnote in Scottish history. The Fighting 51st deserves better.