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End of Year Reflections

Norman Drummond CBE FRSE – Chair, Scottish Commemorations Panel

As the opening commemorative year of the centenary of World War One draws to a close, one cannot but reflect with humility and gratitude at the number and quality of commemorative occasions and events which have taken place here in Scotland and across the United Kingdom and internationally as well.

The WW100 Scotland Drumhead Service on Sunday 10 August 2014 successfully included all communities across Scotland and reflected the various moods and emotions felt 100 years ago.  It is very pleasing to report that over 6,000 people attended the Drumhead Service on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and made the procession down the Royal Mile, where the route was lined by a further 10,000 to 15,000 and an unbelievable 5,000 and more stayed on, braving a torrential downpour in order to pay their respects at the Memorial in Holyrood Park.

The young Pipe Major of Cockenzie and Port Seton Pipes & Drums who on being encouraged to ‘stand down’ on account of the weather, robustly and resolutely said “We’re playing on whatever because this is nothing compared to that which those whom we remember went through”.

Sunday 10 August 2014 was a memorable and significantly touching day and was widely reported as ‘a huge success’ as our opening national commemorative event.

It has also been good to know that Poppy Scotland, amongst other service related charities, have had significantly successful years and few will ever forget the impact of 880,000 porcelain poppies placed by a whole host of worldwide volunteers in the moat surrounding the Tower of London.

Great thought and energy and commitment have been invested in both individual and collective terms towards making sure that the appropriate opening tone has been set for the commemorative period, which in Scotland’s case extends to the centenary commemoration of the tragic loss of HMY Iolaire within sight of Stornoway Harbour on 1 January 1919.

Amongst several other significant events around Remembrance Sunday I was privileged to be invited to represent Scotland at “For the Fallen” within London’s King’s Cross Station – the early morning arrival of a specially commissioned Engine remembering the work of the East Coast Line, when so many troop trains made their faithful way between Edinburgh and London throughout the war years.

At one point during the ceremony as the symbolically empty train drew in, I noticed through the windows that on another platform young people, some accompanied and some not, were making their way to school and that a whole host of men and women were making their way to work at the start of the early morning rush hour.  When the regular announcements of arrivals and departures and platforms threatened to drown out the speakers I realised that this is exactly how things would have been 100 years ago.  Life continuing as normally as possible as our troops made their way through the station to France and to a very uncertain future… then as now “for our tomorrow giving their today”.

The Woodland Trust Scotland Tree Planting Ceremony in Dreghorn Woods was similarly evocative with hundreds of young people and families beginning the planting of an ultimate 5,000 trees… living memorials to those who gave their lives yet symbols of a new future with which I am sure that all those who made personal sacrifices in foreign fields and here at home would most assuredly have approved.

On Armistice Day, I had the privilege of being present at the Remembrance Service at the Scottish National War Memorial where Padre Abelado, Assistant Chaplain General Scotland, gave an impressive contemporary Address.  How fortunate we are in Scotland to have at the heart of Edinburgh Castle such a magnificent artistic and representative Memorial to those who have gone so unselfishly before us.

We also further reflect with admiration on the centenary commemorations of McCrae’s Battalion amongst so many other well planned local events across Scotland, including significant and poignant remembrances of the Christmas Truce 1914.

At this stage 100 years ago no one was to know then what challenges and terrors would lie ahead in the New Year of 1915 with Gallipoli, the Quintinshill (Gretna) Rail Disaster and the Battle of Loos – the centenary of all of which and more will be appropriately commemorated with both dignity and gratitude in 2015.

May I on behalf of the Scottish Commemorations Panel thank the literally thousands of people who have planned and organised and gathered in local and national events across WW100 Scotland in 2014 and look forward with them to ensuring that the educational and genealogical legacy of this and following years will assuredly make a difference to the lives and aspirations of those who come after us.