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Saturday, 2 June 2012

The 2012 Challenge, Day 8: Down Glen Errochty (7)

At 4.15 I arrived at the Bruar Visitor Centre, with its memorial to the 51st highland Division - which was part of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940, and suffered heavily in the retreat to Dunkirk. Known as the "Highway Decorators" to the rest of the BEF due to their habit of painting "HD" beside the roads wherever they were stationed, large numbers of them ended up spending five long, weary years in German captivity. Amongst the distractions they found to pass the time was Scottish country dancing, and one of their number devised a new dance which is known as the Reel of the 51st. He wrote down the moves and sent them home in a letter, which the Germans intercepted. They set their best code-breakers onto it to try to crack the code, and they spent the rest of the war trying ... but they never did manage to decipher it!

The Reel of the 51st is highly unusual in two respects. It is traditionally danced in all-male sets; and it is usually danced in boots rather than shoes! Both of these features reflect the conditions of the prisoner of war camps in which it was first danced.

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