New book tells the tale of Hunstanton's Highlanders
Behind a small but significant moment in history, re-enacted in the film The Longest Day, is a story that has some of it's roots in Hunstanton.
It is a story of the Lovat Scouts that threads its way through the first half of the twentieth century, now faithfully recorded in a new book, Hunstanton's Highland Heroes, by Heacham author Mary Mackie.
It is a small labour of love about the area where she lives by a leading author who already has 72 books to her name, ranging from romances to non-fiction, and who has had her work published in many countries and many languages around the globe.
In the film of the D-Day landings on the 6 June 1944 Simon - known as Shimi to his friends - the fifteenth Lord Lovat, commander of the 2,500-strong 1st Special Services Brigade, directed his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe his commandoes ashore onto Sword Beach.
In doing so Lovat was disobeying a direct order. Afterwards he is supposed to have said: "Those are English orders, we are Scottish, they do not apply to us."
In the film Lovat is played by Peter Lawford and Millin by Leslie de Laspee, Piper to the late Queen Mother.
After suffering heavy losses they re-grouped and fought their way inland to take over control of Benouville Bridge across the Caen Canal - later re-named Pegasus Bridge - and the subject of yet another film of the same name.
Hunstanton's part in the Highland Heroes - the Lovat Scouts - is linked to the First World War but their formation came in 1899 when the fourteenth Lord Lovat, Chieftain of the Clan Frazer, took men from his estate to South Africa for the Second Boer War. These Highlanders from Inverness Shire, with their stalking and sharp shooting skills, greatly improved the ability of the British Army to gain intelligence and such was their success that two regiments of Lovat Scouts were later formed.
In the Great War, between April and September 1915, they came south to defend the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coastline. They camped in many places around Hunstanton including Heacham, Harpley, Houghton, Docking, Fakenham, Grimston and Massingham.
They were led by the same Lord Lovat of Boer War fame who billeted with his family, wife Laura, and their children, the future 15th Lord Lovat and his sister, Magdalen, in Silfield House, Homelands Road, Hunstanton.
The book is crammed with local stories of the Scouts and those who hosted them. Much of the research was done by local historians, John Smith and Tony Armstrong together with Nigel Day, owner of Dreamy Hollow, near Bircham Newton, where trenches used by the Lovats have been re-discovered.
Visits were also made to the Highlander's Museum at Fort George, the Imperial Museum and the French coastline around Sword beach where statues of Lord Lovat and Piper Bill Millin now stand.
Local people welcomed these strange men in 'skirts' and many concerts, sing-alongs, dances and whist drives were organised where they and Highlanders met. One such was an afternoon of entertainment at Ringstead Lodge where the Maypole was 'correctly plaited, rolled and webbed by sixteen little Ringstead girls in white'.
The Prince of Wales, later to become the abdicated Edward VIII, 'frequently inspired the troops by his charismatic presence' at these events.
There was also one slightly discordant event when Lovat solders helped Massingham farmer Richard Dring hoe his turnips, after hearing that his workforce had gone on strike when asked to do an hour extra a day.
"We heard some of Mr Dring's men had gone on strike. This is not the time to strike, is it?" said a Lovat NCO. A National Agricultural Labours' union official turned up to complain of 'black-legging' only to be told the work was voluntary and unpaid.
The Dreamy Hollow trenches on Docking Common were extensively used for training purposes before the Scouts embarked for Gallipoli in September 1915.
The book is published by Morningside Publishers, 19a Neville Road, Heacham. It can be obtained by emailing email@example.com or at local outlets, priced £4.50.