Monday, 21 February 2011

Major-General Douglas Neil Wimberley - Who's Who in Scottish Military History

There are some moments where a person is appointed to the ideal job for them. A perfect moment in time results in the right man in the right place at the right time. Such a moment was the moment Douglas Wimberley was appointed to command the 51st Highland Division.

Douglas Wimberley had been born in Inverness in 1896, and had been commissioned into the Cameron Highlandes in 1915, winning the Military Cross in 1917. After the war he saw service in a variety of places, including during the Irish War of Independence, where he served under Bernard Montgomery for the first time.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was commanding the 1st Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders and he went with the battalion to France. He was not to see action with the battalion in France as in December 1939 he was appointed Chief Instructer at the Senior Officers School at Sheerness. After a succession of positions, he was appointed to command the 51st Division in June 1941.

Wimberley was perhaps the ideal man for the job. The 51st Division was not the crack unit of the First World War. It was in fact in reality the untried 9th Division, which had been renamed after the surrender of the 51st Division at St Valery the previous year. In some way the Division was perhaps still suffering from the effects of that surrender.

What Wimberley did was to instill a sense of esprit de corps into the Division. He used the Division concert party to travel round the individual regiments conveying the tone and spirit of the Division as a whole. He encouraged the wearing of kilts and tartan. He would regularly "poach" Scottish troops from other units for his Division, and would, where possible, rejected "sassenach" troops.

In doing so he forged the Division into what it had been before, and was again - a tightly knit, crack Division. Little wonder that the 51st Division played a large part in the Battle of El Alamein. Throughout North Africa, the Highlanders were there - in many cases painting their famous HD logo wherever they could - not for nothing were the nicknamed the Highway Decorators.

By the end of the Sicily campaign Montgomery had decided that Wimberley was tired and needed a rest. He was appointed Commandant of the Staff College at Camberley, and then was Director of Infantry from 1944 until he left the army in 1946.

After the war he became principal of University College, Dundee. There he tried to instill the same kind of esprit de corps which had revitalised the 51st Division, working closely with the staff and pupils. He worked hard to improve conditions and facilities. He had to stand down in 1954 due to the rotation of principal seats. He is remembered by the annual Wimberley Award which is given to the student who has contributed most to university life.

In later life Wimberley wrote his memoirs - a five-volume work entitled Scottish Soldier. It remains unpublished but was deposited at the National Library of Scotland along with other papers and diaries.

Wimberley died in 1983, but the affection and pride that the 51st Division is still held in to this day is testament to the hard work and dedication of the man who was known as "Tartan Tam".

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