The final year of the World War One centenary saw us deliver a number of memorable events – remembering the SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto tragedies in Islay, our War on the Home Front Conference in St Andrews, the Far, Far from Ypres commemorative tour which visited ten venues across Scotland, the Centenary of the First Armistice at Glasgow Cathedral, our final education event at the National Museum of Scotland, and finally, marking the Iolaire tragedy in Stornoway on New Year’s Day.
As the commemorative programme comes to an end, Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE, chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel and WW100 Scotland, reflects on the final year of events in Scotland, and what we have learned from it all.
When the Scottish Commemorations Panel formed up in early 2013, an unbelievable six years ago now, there was a feeling both amongst the Panel and across the country that following the UK Commemoration of the start of the First World War in Glasgow Cathedral on Monday 4 August 2014, the morning after the Closing Ceremony of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the WW100 Scotland commemoration the following Sunday 10 August 2014, that there might be something of a lull in activity until preparations began for the 2018 Armistice and beyond.
Those presuppositions could not have been more misplaced for as the commemorative period has progressed, throughout each and every year since 2014, there has been steadily significant and welcome growth in commemorative activity across a’ the ‘airts and pairts’ of Scotland.
WW100 Scotland pays particular tribute to all those intrepid and imaginative organisers on the ground who have steadily encouraged others to participate in events or to research background history of those who served, whether as family or friends, and to bring together a whole series of significant commemorations of those ‘who for our tomorrow gave their today’.
It is clear that the foundational aims of WW100 Scotland in terms of Education and Genealogy and Legacy have been met in full measure and now across the Lord-Lieutenancies and Local Authorities of Scotland there is a veritable caucus of personal, community, national and international material from which our successors in years to come and not least historians will garner much and be glad and grateful for.
Early on in our work in developing the significant WW100 Scotland logo we also created the strapline of “What Do We Learn from All Th1s?” This strapline has proved to be most effective in the garnering of all the key and lasting points of each and every commemorative activity and occasion.
SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto on Islay
2018 has been a very full and highly significant year for WW100 Scotland with the centenary commemorations on Islay of the loss of SS Tuscania, in February 2018, and of HMS Otranto, in October 2018 – all brought together in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal with a significant commemoration in several parts on Friday 4 May 2018. In our planning, within which we were greatly and nobly assisted by the WW100 Islay Committee under the Chairmanship of Jenny Minto MBE, we were delighted not only to have, in addition to HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Ambassadorial presence of the United States in Robert Wood Johnson IV, of Germany in Tania Freiin von Uslar-Gleichen and of France in Consul General Emmanuel Cocher. In addition, and on account of Operation Warrior taking place at sea, we were most memorably joined by ships of the Royal Navy, US Navy, Federal German Navy and the French Navy.
An early morning wreath-laying ceremony at the American Monument, at the Mull of Oa, on Islay was followed by a Commemorative Service at the War Memorial in Port Ellen with some memorable local contributions in that historic setting full of the emotional significance of 100 years previously.
A Royal Naval Guard and the Band of HM Royal Marines (Scotland) were in significant attendance and after the Service a packed congregation, of international representation not least descendants, enjoyed meeting HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and seeing a very well received local exhibition by the school children of Islay. The contemporary dance piece performed by the young Ella Edgar Dancers was also greatly appreciated by HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, as well as by the local and national and international gathering.
War on the Home Front Conference
The University of St Andrews was the historic setting for the first ever UK Conference on the War on the Home Front, indefatigably and imaginatively organised by Sir Hew Strachan, which drew scholars from across the country and beyond whose academic papers will be ultimately brought together in a hitherto less well researched area of the history of the First World War.
A brilliant lecture by Michael Morpurgo packed the Younger Hall, with a memorably long queue of excited school children snaking down North Street, was followed by Never Such Innocence presentations, a public debate on Remembrance, First World War footage accompanied by tunes and songs of the era on a solo piano, and a Conference Dinner kindly hosted by Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews University in the welcome presence of Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
Far, Far from Ypres
Far, Far from Ypres and its 10-Theatre Tour of Scotland in the run-up to their final performance on Armistice Sunday 11 November 2018 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh proved to be an outstanding success. Conceived and written and directed and formed and led by the incomparable Ian McCalman, Far, Far from Ypres in its description of a Scottish Soldier throughout the First World War period was beautifully narrated by Iain Anderson of BBC Scotland and with Barbara Dickson and Siobhan Miller and Dick Gaughan regularly participating alongside well-known performers from the Scottish Folk Scene. It was very pleasing that each venue was extremely well attended, if not sold out, and each performance in the 10 venues across Scotland ended with an immediate and prolonged standing ovation.
WW100 Scotland in partnership with Poppyscotland, being grateful to the Clydesdale Yorkshire Banking Group (CYBG) and Dickson Minto for their sponsorship as indeed several others in various parts, had hoped and planned with Ian McCalman and his cast that Far, Far from Ypres would provide something of a build up to the national Commemorative Service of the Centenary of the First Armistice on Sunday 11 November 2018 in Glasgow Cathedral and this it assuredly did.
Centenary of the First Armistice
Interest and enthusiasm for the Service, beautifully and sensitively televised by BBC Scotland, was widespread and a very full multi-generational congregation of well over 1,200 people were joined by HRH The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence for what has since been hailed as a truly significant and highly memorable historic yet contemporary occasion.
We were very grateful to Andy Cant, the celebrated lone Fiddler and lone Piper from Orkney, who had played so memorably at the UK Commemorative Service for the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland in St Magnus Cathedral in 2016 for his especially commissioned Fiddle tune to begin the WW100 Scotland Service and for his In Remembrance solo pipe tune which so fittingly concluded the national commemorative Service that Armistice Sunday afternoon.
Of special mention within and amidst extensive newspaper and broadcast and social media coverage was the presence and contribution of the Prayer readings by three generations of a German/Scottish family and by young Commonwealth representatives from Canada, Australia and New Zealand augmented by a reading from Mahatma Gandhi by Panel Member, Gurjit Singh Lalli as well as by a prayer by Rabindranath Tagore read by Eva Bolander, Lord Provost and Lord Lieutenant of the City of Glasgow.
The National Youth Choir for Scotland were also in attendance and with their customary style and precision sang the Anthem Wherever You Are by Paul Mealor as well as accompanying the Legion Scotland singer and sweetheart, Amy Hawthorn, in the contemporary songs of Pack up your Troubles and Keep the Home Fires Burning and Keep right on to the end of the road being led by.
Perhaps most memorable of all was the moment when in the words of the Canadian Medical Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the torch was handed over to the next generation and Professor Norman Drummond, Chair of WW100 Scotland, escorted Cara Lucas (aged 10) from Priorsford Primary School in Peebles to the Lectern where she read with great confidence and admirable clarity the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi.
Cara’s father, Alexander James Lucas, was a Royal Marine Commando, serving with 45 Commando, based in Arbroath, Scotland, and was killed at Action in Kajaki, Afghanistan on 24th November, 2008. He was 24 years old.
The Glasgow Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Andrew Forbes led the full house in great and memorable voice and in addition sang For the Fallen, words by Laurence Binyon to a setting by Douglas Guest, and accompanied Ceitlin Smith in her accomplished and moving rendition of the song An Ubhal is Airde/The Highest Apple written by Rory and Callum Macdonald of Runrig.
The Service was skilfully narrated throughout by JJ Chalmers – an ex-marine who suffered life-changing injuries after being blown up by an IED in Afghanistan, JJ now presents for the BBC and Channel 4.
Armistice Centenary activity on and around Sunday 11 November 2018 was magnificent and inspiring. Young people and families and organisations and communities across Scotland each in their own way came up with something really special and memorable which all those attending will not likely forget.
Walks of Gratitude and Hope were accomplished in the Cities of Edinburgh and of Perth, early morning Pipers played and late evening Bonfires were lit whilst over the weekend during the day similar events drew very large multi-generational crowds to local Cenotaphs and War Memorials.
Indeed the Centenary of the First Armistice seemed to bring together all three of the original themes of WW100 Scotland in terms of Education and of Genealogy and of Legacy and it is only right and fitting that once again WW100 Scotland and the Scottish Commemorations Panel salutes the indefatigable commitment of Lord-Lieutenants and Convenors of Local Authorities and all those with carefully and appropriately considered local and national events for their indefatigable efforts to make sure that this and subsequent generations do not lightly forget the sacrifice and commitment of those who have gone before us and whom we have in several ways so poignantly and so intricately remembered. In this regard the Panel is also very appreciative of the time and commitment received from the armed forces in support of commemorative events, both large and small, over the past four years.
Welcome news on the Armistice Sunday, at the final Far, Far from Ypres performance in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, was that Far, Far from Ypres had been nominated in the BBC Alba Trad Music Awards for Event of the Year… and how pleased were we all not many weeks later to learn that Ian McCalman and his talented cast and crew of Far, Far from Ypres had been voted for and achieved this most prestigious and appropriate Award.
WW100 Scotland and the Scottish Commemorations Panel owes a particular debt of gratitude to Ian McCalman and Far, Far from Ypres for there can be no doubt that their successive and increasingly successful performances across Scotland in the run-up to Armistice Sunday really did alert an increasing number of individuals and families to the local and national and international significance of the Centenary of the First Armistice 100 years ago on 11 November 1918.
Throughout the commemorative period, WW100 Scotland with partners in various parts of the country have organised educational engagement events for Schools and Teachers, each of which has proved very successful not merely in terms of participation but also in the provision of subsequent educational thought and materials.
The final educational engagement event, with thanks to the National Museums of Scotland, took place there on Thursday 6 December 2018 and in a series of Lectures and Workshops addressed the aftermath of the First World War and was heralded by a warm welcome from Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and a customarily stellar Lecture by Sir Hew Strachan.
New Year’s Day 1919 will forever in the minds of those in the Western Isles, as indeed across Scotland and within the Scottish Diaspora, be associated with the tragic loss of HMY Iolaire and 201 of the 280 on board within sight of Stornoway Harbour that cruel and stormy early morning.
Great credit must be given to the Western Isles Council, ably led by Convenor Norman Macdonald and so magnificently assisted by Doileag MacLeod for the Iolaire Centenary commemorations which began with a torchlight procession from the harbour to the Nicolson Institute for an inspiring evening entitled A Community Remembers, where all those present were encouraged and inspired by local and youthful talent in readings and verse and music and song with two appreciated performances by a small band of HM Royal Marines (Scotland).
A Community Remembers was broadcast live on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal as were the powerful moments of a short Vigil at the Iolaire Memorial at 1.48am with a moment of silent remembrance at 1.55am 100 years to the minute when HMY Iolaire hit the rocks of the Beast of Holm so close to shore and home.
The WW100 Scotland Iolaire Centenary Commemorative Service was well attended by a vast crowd on the slopes looking down to the Iolaire Memorial, where in the presence of HRH The Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles and the First Minister of Scotland, readings and psalms were presided over by The Very Revd Dr Angus Morrison who led the congregation in his own composition of the Iolaire Centenary Prayer.
Throughout the commemorative period WW100 Scotland has been very grateful to Jenny Waldman and Nigel Hinds of 14-18 NOW for their early interest and subsequent several commissions as part of the 14-18 NOW Arts Programme, which included two musical commissions. The first An Treas Suaile (The Third Wave) by Julie Fowlis and Duncan Chisholm and the second Sàl (Saltwater) by Iain Morrison. There can be no doubt that the Iolaire Centenary Commemorations occasioned and inspired a whole range of magnificent artistic and musical and written contributions once again in the themes of Education and Genealogy and Legacy, powerful indeed to remembrance of a generation whose only way to forget was to choose not to remember.
The magnificent newly-commissioned Iolaire Sculpture entitled The Rope has not only been in several ways both appropriate and cathartic after such a long period of time but also now provides an outstanding place to visit and to contemplate, whether as a relative or friend of a descendant or family or visitor all so keen to pay respects.
So as 2019 begins, WW100 Scotland is planning an artistic installation which all being well will tour chosen locations in Scotland thereby enabling Lord-Lieutenancies and Local Authorities to collect and display artefacts and reminiscences of the commemorative period thus providing a deep and lasting legacy for our successors to consult in the fulness of time.
So what have we learned from all this?
Firstly, we have been reminded how important it is to use ‘memory as a tool for the living’ and so to be very aware in our own times of letting politics get so out of hand that destructive and debilitating conflict follows.
Secondly, we have been in awe of the remarkable camaraderie of those who have gone on before us, whether in the fighting line or providing for the troops or those, particularly women, who did indeed ‘keep the home fires burning’ – of colleagues thrown together in a common aim who became comrades in a shared purpose, reminding us that “those things which divide us are as nothing to compared to that which unites us”.
And thirdly, in these also uncertain times here at home and abroad, we have realised that whilst attitudes may have changed there are certain values which are timeless and which shall never change.
Loyalty and devotion, courage and self-sacrifice, perseverance and resilience demonstrated by those who sacrificed their lives and gave up their future in the service of others – those who for our tomorrow gave their today.
What better tribute can we pay to those who have gone so selflessly before us than by demonstrating those values in our daily lives?
To be there for each other, to cross the road, to give up our coat for a stranger, to go the extra mile, to be the stretcher bearer to those in any kind of need whether in physical illness or trouble or mental distress?
What we have learned from and throughout these commemorations is how vital is the spirit of service, and that there is nothing in life nor in death which can separate us from the love of our faith and of our family and of our hope to live in a world of peace where “those things which divide us are as nothing compared to that which unites us”.