The Reel of the 51st Division 

One of the most popular Scottish country dances, this reel was devised by Scots who were interned in Germany as prisoners of war during World War II in Laufen.  Prisoners of war camped in St. Valery relieved the tedium of their imprisonment with country dancing.

It was written by Lieutenant J.E.M. ‘Jimmy’ Atkinson of the 7th Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Since dancing was always a big part of Scottish military life, it comes as no surprise that the POWs started a dance class to pass the time.  At first the dancers were reduced to hand clapping and counts for music, but later on managed to obtain musical instruments such as practice chanters and even an accordion through the Red Cross. Their repertoire consisted of dances they remembered as well as newly-invented ones, the most famous of which is Reel of the 51st Division.

Lt. Col. Harris Hunter eventually managed to send a description of this dance to his wife in Perth, Scotland, which must have been quite an achievement as the German censors initially considered the dance notation a type of code and didn’t want to pass it along. It appears that a demonstration was done in order to convince authorities there was no secret message.. Mrs Harris Hunter tried the dance with her “little class” [Atkinson] in Perth and it became a runaway success. The Scottish Country Dance Society’s Perth branch printed the description and sold copies for the benefit of the Red Cross (Jean Milligan, the co-founder of the Society, is said to have raised more than £160 from sales of the leaflet). 

Due to the origin of the dance, people often do the highland high cuts as the soldiers would have done. Occasionally you will see a set of all men.

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