Scottish Government
Printable version

Scottish D-Day heroes commemorated

The sacrifice of Scottish soldiers on the Normandy beaches is remembered in previously unseen documents.

‘D-Day + 70’ reveals contemporary documents for the first time in order to tell the stories of some of the Scottish troops who fought and fell as part of the spearhead of the greatest amphibious assault ever mounted.

One of the first British soldiers to land on Sword beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944, was Captain George McLennan, a young engineer officer from a Scottish military family, whose heroic conduct won him a posthumous Military Cross. Leading three specialist tanks of 77th Assault Squadron, which were designed to overcome the beach defences, he was killed while gallantly attacking German defenders who were pinning down British commandos.

The display highlights the important and dangerous task carried out by specialist soldiers fighting to gain a hold on French soil. Many of the 2,500 British and Canadian casualties on 6 June were sappers, commandos, tank crews, glider troops, paratroopers, signallers and gunners. The infantry also played a vital role, and were followed onto the beaches by drivers of support vehicles of all kinds.

Among the documents never shown before is the unpublished diary of Angus McMillan, who recorded his experiences of ‘devastation and hellish destruction’ as part of an artillery unit that landed after D-Day. The part played by many ordinary men are illustrated by the wills made by Captain McLennan and others, either at home in Scotland or in their English bases as they prepared to embark for France.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, said:

“Telling some of the stories of the young soldiers who took part in the D-Day invasion is a very fitting reminder of the extraordinary events that took place 70 years ago, and the remarkable bravery shown by ordinary Scots who sacrificed their lives.”

Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

“The National Records of Scotland are pleased to be able to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day by revealing documents that highlight the courageous contribution made by Scottish soldiers as part of the Allied invasion of occupied France.”

Notes To Editors

The historical records

Captain George Alastair McLennan came from a military family, the son of Lt Col K A T McLennan. On D-Day he was in an Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE), a converted Churchill tank armed with a 290mm ‘petard’ mortar and a machine gun, one of the so-called ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ operated by 77thAssault Squadron. Having fired his mortar at beach defences he moved towards Lion sur Mer, where 41 Royal Marine Commando was being held up in its assault on a German strongpoint. His tank silenced snipers and mortar positions, but was defenceless against a German anti-tank gun, which knocked out his and two other tanks. The citation for his Military Cross described his ‘outstanding bravery and devotion to duty knowing that he stood little chance against the anti-tank guns’. 

Angus McMillan was a gunner with an artillery unit that landed after D-Day. He was involved in the ‘break-out’ around Caen, but on 11 August he was wounded by 88mm shellfire, thus ending his war. His diary contains vivid impressions of the developing Allied ‘break-out’ from around Caen, and the appearance of the Normandy countryside, thick with destroyed enemy tanks and armoured cars, dead farm animals and bombed villages as the Allies attempted to catch the Germans in the ‘Falaise pocket’.

Some 4,750 wills of Scottish soldiers who died in the Second World War became available online on 27 May. They come from pay books retrieved on the battlefield or on Army forms written before the men were posted overseas. After the War Office had settled the estate of a soldier who died on active service, including entitlements to pay and pension, they sent the will to the civil authorities in Edinburgh. The wills are now preserved by the National Records of Scotland, part of a series of 31,000 covering the period 1857-1966, all available through ScotlandsPeople.

The National Records of Scotland & ScotlandsPeople

National Records of Scotland is a Non-Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government. It holds and gives access to the nation's archives, oversees the registration of births, marriages and deaths, produces statistics on Scotland's population and conducts the Scottish Census. It is a centre of expertise on data handling, record keeping and archives.

ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, the official genealogy website for Scottish ancestry, is a partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon, enabled by DC Thomson Family History. The Soldiers’ Wills can be searched on the ScotlandsPeople website (www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk), at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, and at local family history centres in Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Hawick and Inverness.

Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

Share this article

Latest News from
Scottish Government