The Long Goodbye
by Tracey Shough (2007)
in consultation with Invergordon Off the Wall
The mural portrays the story of the Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Highland Division, and their time in St Valery-en-Caux during the Second World War.
The mural was inspired by a photograph of the Seaforth Highlanders leaving for war. The mural tells the stories of their capture at St Valery-en-Caux and their long march through Europe. The stories of individual local Seaforth Highlanders are depicted within the arches.
The trompe l’oeil style platform panels concentrate on their departure in 1939 showing fond farewells from parting loved ones alongside the everyday features of the old station.
Higher Arts students from Invergordon Academy designed and painted the railway posters along the platform.
You can see Tracey’s original sketches for the murals here.
Tracey Painting ‘The Long Goodbye’
“It had taken years to secure the tripartite agreement between the three governing rail bodies to paint murals at Invergordon Station – a tribute to the tenacity of Helen the project officer and Janet Wilson (project solicitor).”
Marion Rhind, Invergordon Off the Wall
The Seaforths in retreat – artist’s interpretation
In June 1940, the British Army retreats from France with an alternative evacuation plan for the 51st Division from St Valery-en-Caux because they could not reach Dunkirk.
The mural shows the soldiers under attack in a Brent Gun carrier with German Stuka bombers attacking from above.
The belladonna plant is depicted around the gun carrier as a symbol of impending death. Death himself accompanies the doomed soldiers.
The cedar trees symbolise strength and immortality. Winston Churchill is represented, symbolically turning his back on the Scottish regiment.
A soldier carries his injured friend the final steps towards what he hopes is rescue.
The Long Goodbye
The central arch depicts St Valery and the Seaforth’s emblem in flames, destroyed by German troops. The 51st Division surrender.
The Seaforths long march – artist’s interpretation
Following their surrender at St Valery-en-Caux, the soldiers are captured and begin the Long March.
A local peasant child offers the passing soldiers food and water.
Exhaustion causes a soldier to hallucinate: the trees are beckoning him to rest.
Starvation forces the soldiers to forage for nutrition; nettles and dandelion leaves keep some alive.
One cunning soldier manages to escape by hiding in a field of peas.
A sentry awaits them at a Polish concentration camp. The end of a long journey and the start of a long war.
‘Cuidigh ’N Righ’ – ’Save the King’ – the division’s motto tangled in the barbed wire of their imprisonment.
Tracey Shough’s research for the project at the Imperial War Museum
I was commissioned to paint the mural in the Spring of 2007. The news came as quite a shock as the subject matter was certainly nothing like anything I had ever tackled along my artistic path up to that point. My first mural for Invergordon ‘Our Legacy’ the natural history of the firth was created around a subject I am passionate about, representing war is a far more complicated and sensitive matter, and I felt it was necessary to fully understand the facts before embarking on my artistic interpretation.
I read what little literature there was about the event itself. Research the Dunkirk rescue mission and you will find plenty of material to trawl through, but ‘Surrender at St Valery-en-Caux’ is not such a well documented event.
My memory is a little hazy of what I did read; mostly personal accounts from soldiers, recounting the arduous days before capture, fighting on, still with a glimmer of hope to be rescued, and other stories included detailed accounts of eventually escaping through France.
I admit that I was looking for an angle, and the overall enduring feeling that I got from the actual history was the idea that Churchill sacrificed the Scottish regiments as a gesture of solidarity to the French army.
Next I needed some visual information. If I was given the same commission now, I doubt I would interpret the brief so literally, but at the time, the brief, the walls to paint, the location and the local connections meant to me that the whole story needed to be told for the mural to be understood.
So, I set about gathering visual information, which was not easy. Again, when you research images for these dates, Dunkirk comes up. These images were of very little help to me.
I decided to visit the archives of the Imperial war museum. Anybody can make an appointment.
On entering, the attendant asks you what dates you are researching and points to the cabinets containing the images for those dates. It is reminiscent of an old fashioned library, with rows upon rows of old wooden filing drawers, I felt scholarly just being there!
But alas, rifling through the photos, apart from a couple of tank images that were useful, all I saw were reams of photos of Dunkirk; happy soldiers on boats, happy soldiers on train platforms, then the date jumps ahead to July and photos of the Syria/Lebanon campaign. The entire archive, I was told, is in chronological order so I began to get rather frustrated that I might have had a wasted journey. Another attendant, sensing my frustration asked me exactly what I was looking for.
‘Oh, you need Rommel’s personal photograph albums for that’ she said, ‘you’ll need to put these on’ she said, handing me a pair of gloves.
It all made sense. Why would the British press want to record such a catastrophic event, so soon after the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ had been so firmly established in the sentiments of our nation?
She brought me two photograph albums. Rommel, it seems, was a keen photographer; amidst the photos of obliterated towns, burned out trucks and exhausted soldiers, were photos of the Normandy coast, which would not have seemed out of place amongst anybody’s old holiday snaps.
Here I found pictures of St Valery-en-Caux itself, soldiers surrendering and soldiers walking in long lines along the cliff tops. People have since said to me that kilts were not worn in battle, which may be so , but there were a few soldiers in the photos wearing kilts.
I was allowed to take photocopies of the useful photos, the representation of St Valery burning in the mural leant very heavily on Rommel’s photo of the town, as do certain representations of soldiers marching.
Once I started sketching for the mural, I realised that although I had a good visual idea of how things looked, I was still missing a lot of details. However good a photographer Rommel was, trying to make out what boots someone has on or where the pockets are on his coat, in a tiny black and white photograph was impossible. These few final details were resolved by a visit to Fort George, near Inverness, which houses The Highlanders Museum, where the museum attendant was really pleased to help.
It is possible that in the transformation from storyboard to mural, certain details were omitted or changed, and the odd mistake was made, but I hope that all in all, the mural can be interpreted as a realistic and sensitive account of the capture of the 51st Highland Division at St Valery-en-Caux.
Tracey Shough, 2020
Local Seaforths stories from these events
BACKGROUND TO THE CAPTURE OF THE FOURTH SEAFORTHS
In 1992 Park School produced the book “Invergordon – A Town at War”. This gave the children the opportunity to participate in a research project, and also collect information for use by future classes. At that time a number of the veterans were still able to be interviewed, so much of the information in the book from which the article below is taken is from first-hand sources. Further information was obtained from the notes of interviews with other veterans some years previously for a Community Association display. The book is available from Invergordon Museum where the chapters on St Valery-en-Caux, Reid Ross and John Cross tell the story of many of the men in detail. The following account mentions some of the men, especially those whose pictures and stories were used by the artist.
SOME OF THE SOLDIERS REPRESENTED ON THE STATION MURAL
REID ROSS AND JOHN CROSS
Reid escaped from the march into a field of peas but was recaptured and taken to Stalag 172 in Germany, from where he escaped. He made his way back to Wingles in northern France where the Fourth Seaforth Highlanders had previously been billeted and lived and worked there for a year with papers supplied by the French Underground. He eventually made his way on foot and by bicycle to the south of France but was recaptured and escaped twice more. After six weeks imprisonment in Spain he reached Gibraltar.
John Cross was also taken prisoner at St Valery-en-Caux and actually escaped several times from different prisons, each time further south until eventually reaching unoccupied France. He met up with Reid Ross at an internment camp near Nimes from which they both independently escaped. He too made his way to Gibraltar where he met up with Reid Ross again. They were repatriated on HMS Kenya, which was involved in action in the Azores, sinking a German ship.
While on leave he married his girlfriend Vida. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field and was accompanied to Buckingham Palace by his mother and sisters. After being commissioned he fought in Africa but was sadly killed in 1944 at Anzio, the beachhead for Rome.
Meanwhile Reid Ross was also commissioned and sent to Burma, receiving the MC for conspicuous service, leading several raids and 80 patrols into enemy country.
After the war Reid married Vida, the widow of his friend John Cross. They retired to Invergordon where Reid worked with Park School children on information for the book – Invergordon: a Town at War. He visited the Primary 7 class of 1992 along with John Cross’s brother, Fred, and it was a very moving experience for the children. Reid told us he had never told his story before although he had been asked to write about it many times. He really wanted the children to know.
On the courtyard mural Reid is depicted in the field of peas and John seated on the platform mural to the left of the entrance reading a newspaper, his name on his kitbag.
Before the war Kenny worked as a blacksmith at Achnagarron.
In the station mural he is represented on the platform mural waving goodbye. He was the sergeant of the Invergordon Seaforth Highlanders. He was involved in heavy fighting on the retreat to St Valery-en-Caux, particularly on the Somme around Abbeville where he was wounded several times, but continued fighting. The French government wanted the line on the River Bresle to be held at all costs, but finally the decision was taken to withdraw to St Valery-en-Caux. Kenny Ross and Arthur Riach, who had been a booking clerk at the station, accompanied an officer, Major Baird, on a reconnaissance. They came under heavy mortar fire. Arthur Riach was killed, the officer and Kenny Ross wounded, the latter very severely. A Black Isle soldier contributed the information that he and another soldier had been clinging to the back of the Bren gun carrier and that the other soldier had very bravely carried Kenny on his shoulders for two miles to a dressing station “like a dead stag”. This incident is graphically represented in the courtyard mural. He was probably evacuated from Dieppe but wounded even more seriously when the ship came under Stuka fire in the English Channel. He died in Gosport and was buried in Kilmuir Easter churchyard with full military honours, posthumously awarded the Military Medal for bravery, on the recommendation of the Earl of Cromartie on his return from prison camp. His widow Annie received the medal from George VI at Buckingham Palace.
JACK RHIND AND JAMES SHIVAS – edited after talking to Sonny Rhind
Jack was on a Bren gun carrier during the Seaforths time in St Valery. He described the situation as “chaotic” as can clearly be seen on the mural. At one point James Shivas’ Bren gun carrier became stuck on a tree stump and Jack used the carrier he was driving to shunt him forwards. The carrier moved forward a bit but remained stuck on the stump so Jack reversed to have another go. At that point a shell hit the back of Shivas’s carrier and ripped the back of the carrier.
Although Jack was only able to push James’s carrier so far forwards, it meant they all survived. James attended a reunion meeting some 35 years later on a visit home from Canada, and learned it was Jack Rhind that had saved them.
DAVY ROSS AND WILLIE “DECKO” ROSS
These two young soldiers can be seen seated on the platform mural to the right of the entrance. Davy Ross was the main source of first-hand information for the Park School project and also clarified written interviews from the earlier Community Council project. He was one of the youngest Seaforths.
He recalled very bad conditions on the march -no food until the third day, and then only a raw herring. Davy, Dryden Ross, Jack Rhind and Colin Urquhart were put in cattle trucks and transported to Lammsdorf, Stalag 8B, where there were thirty thousand men. They were always hungry and cold and had to steal slats from their bunks for fuel. The men went out on various working parties, on farms, coal mine etc. At a stone quarry where Davy worked, work started at 6.30 am with no breakfast, only stopping at noon for a bowl of soup – hot water with a lump of carrot. On return to camp at 6pm they were given 240 grams of black bread. Hearing that a soldier with appendicitis had been operated on in the new Red Cross hospital and had been treated very well, Davy went on sick parade, also claiming appendicitis, thinking he would go to the same hospital and be moved to easier work. However, he was taken to the local hospital where his healthy appendix was removed and, ten days later, he was back at the quarry with only slightly lighter work. Those lucky enough to work on farms had a better experience.
THE LAST MARCH
In January 1945 the Seaforths, among other POWs, were moved south. It was believed that Hitler intended to use them as hostages. They had to march in snow from Sosnovitch in Poland through Czechoslovakia to Landshut in Bavaria where they were kept on an island in the river until the Americans liberated them on 2nd May 1945. Colin Urquhart told us that this march was much worse than the first as the men were exhausted and suffering from malnutrition. He was lucky as he could actually cook the unharvested rotten potatoes they had to eat from the fields. Jack Rhind recalled stealing a German map of the UK showing targets – one of which was Invergordon! They were flown home in Dakotas.
Stories collected and recorded by Catherine Mackay, former teacher at Park Primary School, Invergordon
The Invergordon Station platform murals
The platform panels show fond farewells with departing loved ones.
Look closely and you’ll see the trompe l’oeil painted effect of the wood panelling, mirroring the existing wood in the station at the time of painting.
The Hooded Crow and Station Cat and the Station Mistress
The hooded crow depicted above the station cat encapsulates the feeling of impending doom.
The wartime style posters along the station platform
The wartime style posters highlight themes of thriftiness from the wartime era. “Recycle, Re-use, Repair,” “Take A Ride, Enjoy the countryside” (by train), “You Can Help Save A Life, Support the Red Cross,” and “Give Up Smoking, You must be choking.”
They were designed and painted by higher art students from Invergordon Academy during workshops with Tracey. Their messages are as relevant in today’s environmentally aware climate as in the thrifty wartime days.
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