Our Remembrance Stories: Sheila Kimber & Sandie Ginks
Our ‘Meet the Singers’ series is in full swing and we move on to a story from our very own sister act, Sheila Kimber and Sandie Ginks. Here is their special family connection with the theme of our show, ‘Lest We Forget’. We’re performing on Sunday 10th November, which is Remembrance Sunday, at the Whitley Bay Playhouse.
“We thought you may be interested in a story about our father, Alexander Branch. It is particularly relevant in relation to our concert on Remembrance Day.
Dad enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders in 1931, age 20. He travelled to Palestine, Egypt and Hong Kong and left the army in 1938. Unfortunately, as war was declared the following year, he was among the first to be called up. He was sent, with the British Expeditionary Force, to France in October 1939.
Dunkirk to St Valery…
As we all know the following year, amid scenes of devastation and defeat on the beaches of Dunkirk, thousands of the retreating armies were rescued by ships and small craft. Less well known is the story of many thousands of men left behind fighting alongside their French Allies. Among them was the 51st Highland Division, of which our father’s Regiment was a part. They eventually were captured at St Valery and spent the rest of the war as prisoners.
Our father was in Stalag in Poland. Although he had a very tough time, which he wouldn’t talk about, one of the saving graces was being allowed to act in shows to entertain the men. He often played female roles because he had blonde curly hair! As you can see from the picture below, they managed to make costumes and dress up. Although we don’t know if he sang, maybe that’s where we get our love of performance.
“Dad survived the war, came home and married our mother. They had 5 children and we were the first two. Interestingly, we found a song written by a relative of one of the men captured. It’s called The Beaches Of St Valery by David Steele. One of the verses goes like this…
When I returned at the end of the war
From the Stalag where I’d been confined
I read of the battles the allies had fought
Stalingrad, Alamein and the Rhine
W’i pride in their hearts people spoke of Dunkirk
Where defeat had become victory
But nobody mentioned the Highland Division
They’d never heard of St Valery
It goes on to describe the resentment felt of being abandoned and no recognition for fighting on.”