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Death March


Durham University managed to garner a lot of publicity for its identification of remains taken from partially excavated mass graves in the grounds of Durham Cathedral as being those of 29 of the approximately 1,600 Scots prisoners who died there after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. What most, if not all, of the media coverage failed to pick up on was that the enamel on the teeth of three of the victims, of what would nowadays be considered a war crime, showed they had been raised in mainland Europe, most probably the Netherlands or Germany. The researchers speculated that the three may have been mercenaries. That might be, but there is another possibility. That is that they were the sons of Scots mercenaries who served in the Scotch Brigade of the Dutch army during the late-to-mid 1600s. They may have returned to Scotland with their parents in due course or even come back to what they looked on as their native land to help defend it in its hour of need. The researchers were able to examine the teeth of 13 individuals. For those who haven't read Scottish Military Disasters yet, it might be interesting to go over the fate of those involved in what might be called The Durham Death March. Though the numbers involved are very much open to debate the death toll was far higher than simply those who died at Durham.  English commander Oliver Cromwell claimed to have taken 10,000 Scots prisoners at Dunbar and released half of them almost immediately as of no further threat to him. It looks as though the remaining 5,000 were herded towards Newcastle upon Tyne. Countless stragglers were murdered and any who made unsuccessful escape attempts were executed. Around 500 men who were too weak to continue were imprisoned in St. Nicholas's Church in Newcastle. About 3,000 prisoners made it to Durham. Within less than a month, they were dying at a rate of 100 men a day. They died from disease, starvation, mistreatment or were murdered by their fellow prisoners desperate for food, warm clothing or valuables they could sell to their English guards for food. The English had to wait until an outbreak of dysentery had run its course before selling the surviving Scots into slavery. Around 100 were sold to mine owners in County Durham or Northumberland or forced into equally dangerous servitude, a further 500 were sold to the French Army and 900 were shipped across the Atlantic to Massachusetts, Virginia and Barbados as virtual slave labour. Very few of those herded south from Dunbar saw Scotland again. It has long been known that Scots who died at Durham had been thrown into mass graves, one was supposedly found in 1946 during work on a central heating system, so the publicists at Durham University are to be congratulated on generating so much coverage.

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