Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Highland homecoming for drum hidden during Dunkirk retreat

The following story appeared in The Scotsman newspaper today:

A military drum belonging to one of Scotland's most famous regiments, hidden in the heat of battle during the retreat to Dunkirk in the Second World War, is to be returned to Scotland 70 years after being abandoned.

The homecoming of the lost drum of the Gordon Highlanders will mark the culmination of a remarkable story involving the family of a French policeman, a forgotten birthday present and a twin-town agreement between villages in France and England.
The story began when the regimental side drum, emblazoned with the battle honours of the Gordon Highlanders, was buried in a farmer's field by a soldier serving in the regiment's 4th Battalion as the Gordons were being forced to retreat to the Dunkirk beachhead along with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force.

But it has only now been revealed that, within hours of the Gordons leaving the village of Hem in northern France, the drum was found by a policeman who stumbled across its hiding place in the dark while taking a shortcut home.
He had planned to give the drum as a birthday present to his grandson, but was forced to hide it at his daughter's home where it lay forgotten for more than 50 years. And the drum is only now being returned to Scotland after members of the twinning committee of Mossley, near Manchester, stumbled across the amazing tale while visiting their twin town in France.

On 12 November, at a ceremony in Hem, descendents of the policeman will hand over the drum to representatives of the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen, who plan to make it a star item at an exhibition on the musical history of the regiment.
Museum curator Jesper Ericsson said: "This is an extraordinary story and the donation ceremony in France will be all the more poignant as armistice commemorations take place around the world. "We were absolutely staggered when we heard that someone in Hem had the drum and wanted to donate it to the museum." He explained that the drum had belonged to a soldier serving with the 4th (City of Aberdeen) Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, a territorial unit which had been to ordered to cover the general retreat to Dunkirk following the Nazi invasion of France. Mr Ericsson said: "The drum was buried in farmer's field in May, 1940. But shortly after it was concealed a French policeman, Seraphin Boulet, stumbled over the spot. "He scraped away some of the earth and found a tarpaulin covering this beautifully- decorated drum. The story goes that with his grandson's birthday coming up he thought it would make a fabulous present." Mr Boulet took it to the nearby home of his daughter, Raymonde Detrain Boulet.

Fearing discovery by German patrols, the family decided to hide the drum beneath a pile of old clothes in a second-floor bedroom. Remarkably, the drum lay hidden and forgotten in the room until 1995, when Ms Boulet died and her family were clearing out the house. Mr Ericsson said: "Jean Pierre, the grandson who should have got the drum in 1940 as a birthday present, found the drum when he was clearing out his mother's home. And it has remained with the family until now. "

Unfortunately Jean Pierre died in 2007. But his daughter's husband, Pierre Osson, has been the driving force in getting the drum donated to the museum." He added: "There has been a special exhibition at the museum this autumn about the impact that music has had during the 200 years of the regiment's history. And it will be a tremendous end to the exhibition when we can put the drum on display here in Aberdeen."

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