Chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE, was honoured to deliver The University of Edinburgh’s Mountbatten Lecture 2016 in April. Each year, an expert on defence-related matters is invited to speak to staff, students and the wider public, with previous speakers including astronaut Neil Armstrong and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. A transcript of Professor Drummond’s address follows.


When the Prime Minister in October 2013 announced the centenary commemorations of World War I on one occasion he used the word ‘celebrate’ which he must have regretted to this day. Yet his insight and that of his advisors into commemoration, the word hereinafter studiously used, has not only been accurate but also remarkable.

I think it is fair to say that not only the level of interest but also the growth of such over the intervening years has been greater than anyone could have anticipated, not only in the UK with separate and complementary programmes being undertaken in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland but also in many nations across the world – for if the First World War was anything it was certainly that… a ‘world war’ touching various parts and peoples which perhaps only a significant commemoration of this nature provides an appropriate opportunity to accurately recall.

In that spirit of commemoration, I feel honoured and privileged to have been invited to deliver this year’s Mountbatten Lecture in the University of Edinburgh, one of my alma maters in the mid 1970s for which formative period in my life at New College I shall always be abidingly grateful.

I have chosen as my title this evening “Commemorations – snapshots and lenses and perspectives from WW100 Scotland and beyond” underpinning which is the telling WW100 Scotland strapline “What Do We Learn From All Th1s?”

First of all Snapshots – the first snapshot which I would like to offer you this evening comes from Sunday 10 August 2014 when WW100 Scotland chose to commemorate the beginning of the First World War insofar as it had affected Scotland. This followed on from the UK and Commonwealth Commemorative Service in Glasgow Cathedral on Monday 4 August 2014, the day after the closing ceremony of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Sunday 10 August 2014 with all its preparations for a Drumhead Service on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, thence a march/procession down the Royal Mile to a facsimile cemetery laid out in Holyrood Park coincided with the arrival of ‘Hurricane Bertha’ in all its reckless force!

Some 6,000 people still turned out for the Tri-Service Drumhead on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and it was estimated that some 15,000 people and more watched the procession of Pipes & Drums and Military Bands and participants who in many cases joined in en route to Holyrood Park, by which time 5,000 brave souls were determined to see the ceremony through to completion. One of the organisers in the Park thought fit to approach the Drum Major of the Cockenzie & Port Seton Pipes & Drums with the thought that they might in these ghastly conditions be ‘stood down’, to which the young Drum Major replied “No sir, there’s no way that we are standing down for this is nothing compared to the conditions which those whom we remember went through” and so the Pipes and the Drums and the Bands played on and the large crowd stayed.

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A procession to Holyrood Park following the Drumhead Service on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.

My second snapshot is to ask you in your imagination to think of yourself in Perth station… some of you may know it well, others not at all. It is a typical cavernous Victorian building which must have been hugely impressive in its day when it was fully used platform by platform as it most certainly is not now. Take yourself back to the autumn of 1914 and you are gathering there as a member of The Black Watch or perhaps of another arm or unit or service and you are making your way south to France and to the Front. What would the atmosphere have been like, what would have been the chat, the humour, the banter and the camaraderie and the anxiety? And then the trains, your train, rolls in and it’s time to say farewell to your loved ones who have gathered to see you off. What would you have said and what would have remained unsaid as you left behind your family of birth and origin and then dared to join another one, another family, with whom you were yet to experience almost unspeakable horrors in the days and months (and years if you were lucky) which lay ahead. The journey south would have been slow with intermittent stops and then in the early morning the troop train, likely travelling through the night on the East Coast line, would have reached early morning King’s Cross, thence to a further train or transport to the channel ports and across to France.

At the centenary commemoration of the East Coast Line, and of the thousands upon thousands of troops and train journeys made then and throughout the course of the First World War, there was on 7 November 2014 a commemoration on Platform 1 of King’s Cross Station with the arrival there of the newly named engine “For the Fallen”.

A Royal Regiment of Scotland Piper at the unveiling of East Coast commemorative locomotive "For the Fallen".
A Royal Regiment of Scotland Piper at the unveiling of East Coast commemorative locomotive “For the Fallen”.

Those of us present at that moving commemoration could not have missed the fact that when the empty troop train, hauled by the engine For the Fallen, was berthed or came to rest at Platform 1, through the windows of the train Platforms 2 and 3 and 4 one could see the early morning life of London beginning – men and women walking and in some cases rushing to work, children of all ages being escorted or finding their way as with students to places of study and opportunity. It was then that those of us watching through those windows were once again able to realise that but for those who had gathered in the cavernous Victorian stations such as Perth and in so many other parts of the United Kingdom, and who then made their way south to Kings Cross and other London stations, but for their ‘doing their bit’ in their time and in their generation that which we saw through the windows of the train, that which we now take for granted as normal life, might have been very different indeed.

My third snapshot flows from the first 2 insofar as it describes the hellish, and there are few other words for it, conditions which awaited those serving in the Western Front and in other theatres of war – not least at Gallipoli wherein the Australian and New Zealand forces played such significant historic parts that both Australia and New Zealand trace their sense of nationhood to the war-torn beaches and hills of the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Dardanelles in 1915 and early 1916.

There was a Scotsman by the name of Padre Mac, William McKenzie who was born in Biggar, Lanarkshire on 20 December 1869 and whose family moved to Queensland, Australia in 1884. From his Scottish Presbyterian roots he became a Salvationist and at the outbreak of the First World War he was commissioned as a Salvation Army Chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force.

His record of service has been described as follows and I quote…

“As chaplain to the 1st Infantry Brigade, Fighting Mac (as he became known) went ashore with the troops at Gallipoli. He saw horrors no man should see. He accepted responsibility with which no man should be burdened. In one three-day period, Fighting Mac conducted 647 funeral services. He was constantly in the front line — after one funeral service he found three bullet holes in his hat. A grateful government awarded him the Military Cross for his work, a gallantry honour virtually unheard of for a military chaplain.”

“In late 1917 McKenzie was released from active service, his health shattered, not surprising for a man of 48. He had been awarded a Military Cross in June 1916 for ‘distinguished service in the field’, and it was rumoured that he had three times been recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was farewelled officially from the battalion—a most unusual gesture.

7000 people crowded Melbourne’s Exhibition Building to greet him on his return early in 1918; other welcomes followed in every State of Australia. But the war had profoundly affected him. He said he was ‘completely unstrung and unnerved—I had seen so many fine chaps killed … I had buried so many, too—that I had to ask myself again and again, is it worthwhile living?’”

It was said in the post-war years that when he walked from his Church into Sydney down towards Circular Quay he could not get very far as the Mothers and Grandmothers and Daughters of those who had been killed at Gallipoli merely wanted to touch ‘Padre Mac’ who they felt could possibly have been with their loved ones when they died.

My final snapshot for this evening comes from perhaps an unexpected place, from Dublin in Ireland. I had been invited by the First Minister to represent Scotland on Thursday 31 July 2014 at the unveiling of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cross of Sacrifice within Glasnevin Cemetery in the heart of Dublin. This previously unthinkable event had been organised by the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust and by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in close co-operation with the Ireland and UK Governments and was attended by President Michael D Higgins of Ireland and by His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent in his capacity as President of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, by the Taoiseach of Ireland and by the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.

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A service to mark the unveiling of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cross of Sacrifice within Glasnevin Cemetery

Here in the heart of Dublin was a commemoration of the 200,000 Irishmen who fought in World War I and of the 50,000 who died – and it seemed to follow closely in the spirit of that historic visit of Her Majesty The Queen to Ireland in May 2011. The sun as it fell on the Cross of Sacrifice intriguingly and benevolently cast shadows in different parts of the day on the graves of Daniel O’Connell, Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins, all Irish Freedom fighters of their day. Even a small incessantly noisy demonstration outside the cemetery gates could not interrupt the flow of goodwill and the continuum of peace-making culminating in a magnificent Address by President Michael D Higgins which ended with the following words:

“If all wars are an object of infinite sadness, this particular one also remains as an inextinguishable source of bewilderment.”

“Just as the generation that produced WWI soldiers, had to leave behind the idiom of the 19th century – that language used for over a century to celebrate the idea and the hubris of progress – we today are invited to leave behind some of the terms and concepts of the 20th century, such as its grammar of binary divisions between “the enemy” and “us”.

The time has come for an ethics of narrative hospitality to replace our past “entrenchments” – that awful word bequeathed to us by an era scarred, not just by the consequences of war itself, but by the effect of the very idea of War, of the possibility of total war, on subsequent generations.”

“Let us now together cultivate memory as a tool for the living and as a sure base for the future – memory employed in the task of building peace”

I hope that these individual Snapshots of World War I centenary commemorations thus far serve to begin to cast our minds back to those who 100 years ago would at that time have been sufficiently challenged and inspired and ultimately conscripted to serve or not to serve in what was meant to be ‘the war to end all wars’.

So what are the Lenses through which we might wonder inwardly if not out loud as to how things were then, 100 years ago, in comparison with how we see things and perhaps take for granted now?

First of all ‘kit’, the uniform they wore is almost unthinkable according to modern standards. Those of you who may be mountaineers will know how your forebears scaled incredible heights in tweed suits, plus fours and leather boots which had to be laced and re-laced in often freezing conditions. Similarly one does not have to be particularly imaginative to wonder what it would have been to go to war in what is known as a “jock’s kilt”, a heavy coarse blanket which likely would have been too warm in the heat and not all that warm in the cold, particularly when heavy and damp. Nothing could have prepared you for the discomfort of the whiplash of your kilt on the back of your legs, nor the chaffing of the heavy uniforms to sensitive parts, nor the caking of mud and leakages in your boots nor the on occasions insane charges ‘over the top’ into unexpected machine gun fire.

Your prospects might not have been of a University education as extensively as now but you would certainly have been hoping to follow a trade or go into a proud apprenticeship towards a steady job in a major industry or in a professional firm or perhaps looking ahead to a career in the Services. Your family, unless you were particularly privileged, would likely not have travelled that far from your local village or town or county or community… some commentators have said that the average distance travelled away from your local community 100 years ago would have been perhaps 6 miles or so. Family and the security of such would have likely been everything to you and no matter the inevitable ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of family and communal living, there would have been a deep sense of protecting your ain folk, of earning a living to make things possible for your family, your children, of keeping a home where friend and stranger would find a welcome.

And then it all happened… quite suddenly given the slow and laborious communications of the day you realised we were at war with Germany and your services would at some stage be required. Of course there must have been many backward glances but the predominance was the spirit of mucking in and getting on with it. For many the pre-1914 social conditions were such that anything was better than being at home and so there was also a sense of adventure and opportunity but in reality things soon became very different indeed.

Yet somehow the indomitable spirit of survival, of looking after your mate, the person next to you, of feeling that we’re all in this together and we must either make the best of it or together find the best way out of it… somehow that spirit prevailed. This was particularly evident to those participating last May 2015 in commemorating the Quintinshill (Gretna) Rail Disaster, the worst rail disaster in UK history, when over 200 Royal Scots, and others, lost their lives en route to Gallipoli and when within 48 hours those bodies which could be identified were brought home for a mass funeral in Rosebank Cemetery here in Leith.

HRH The Princess Royal at a service commemorating the Quintinshill rail disaster in Rosebank Cemetery, Leith.
HRH The Princess Royal at a service commemorating the Quintinshill rail disaster in Rosebank Cemetery, Leith.

One could not fail to be struck by the manner in which all the emergency services, which would have been hugely limited in those days in terms of equipment and transport in comparison with nowadays, came together with literally hundreds of people making their way from throughout Dumfriesshire and across the border from Cumbria and Carlisle just to see if they could help in any way.

Similarly when the City of Dundee led the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Loos in September last year there was within those commemorations no sense of recriminations as to what might have been but rather admiration and gratitude for the spirit, the Loos spirit, of those who served in what some commentators have termed “Scotland’s battle” as all the Scottish Infantry Battalions were in action with considerable and disproportionate losses.

The centenary of the Battle of Loos is commemorated in Dundee.

These are just some of the ‘Lenses’ in addition to the previous ‘Snapshots’ through which we have considered this evening the First World War Centenary Commemorations. Yet to ‘Snapshots’ and ‘Lenses’ must be added ‘Perspectives’.

When I was invited to Chair the Scottish Commemorations Panel in late 2013, and to become a Special Representative for Scotland on the UK WW1 Advisory Group, I accepted this responsibility and honour, as it certainly is, on 3 conditions – all of which I am glad to say were readily approved.

The first was that the WW100 Scotland programme should concern itself with Education, the second with Genealogy and the third with Legacy – all of which have been tellingly wrapped up, we feel, in the WW100 Scotland strapline of “What Do We Learn From All Th1s?”

There is no doubt that before and since the commemorations began there has been a great deal of educational activity throughout the primary and secondary schools and universities and colleges of Scotland as indeed throughout the United Kingdom. Historians and sociologists and psychologists and philosophers amongst others have seized upon the wealth of reflective material that is contained not just within the military engagements in various parts of the world but also within the impact that the First World War had on the Home Front in terms of technology and engineering, the structure and order of society, the place of women and of family life – all of which and more will be examined and considered in the UK Conference on the War on the Home Front which will be held at the University of St Andrews in early June 2018, hosted by WW100 Scotland here in Scotland under the aegis of Professor Sir Hew Strachan.

Meeting some pupils with Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, at the WW100 Scotland education event in November 2015.

This Educational Conference is greatly anticipated not only by academics but also by members of the public, for we are hoping to create something of a book festival atmosphere wherein people of all ages can through lectures and literature and art and drama rediscover, or perhaps discover for the first time, ways in which society was never the same again after the First World War.

If the range and reach of educational endeavour has in some ways surprised and pleased us all in relation to these commemorations then few things could have been more powerful than the search for genealogical roots… what were members of my family doing then? Where were they and how did they respond? Are all those names on the countless War Memorials just names and how can I, how can we or my class or school or sports club or church or place of worship or office or company or bank or place of work do them justice after all these years?

Attics have been searched, cupboards have been opened, boxes found, letters and memorabilia read and re-read and reverently handled to the extent that we now know that when the broadcast media are considering such events that which resonates most with them and with the general public are personal human interest stories.

Education and Genealogy and lastly and fittingly Legacy… how will these commemorations look in 10 or 25 or 50 years’ time? What will those who come after us say about how we commemorated the centenary of the First World War here in Scotland and beyond? (Perhaps one of you not so many years from now will be standing where I am now!)

We are very conscious within the Scottish Commemorations Panel that at the centenary of the Armistice on Sunday 11 November 2018, followed closely by the centenary of the loss of HMY Iolaire off the coast of Lewis no more than half a mile away from Stornoway harbour with the loss of 174 Lewismen and 7 Harrismen, returning ex-servicemen, on New Year’s Day 1919, the WW100 Scotland strapline of “What Do We Learn From All Th1s?” morphs into “What Have We Learned From All Th1s?”

And so in a series of educational engagement events and in a growing number of focus groups, particularly with young people, we have been asking, as I do to you all tonight, how should we commemorate the Armistice and related events in November 2018 and beyond?

With the centenary of the Armistice falling on a Sunday it has been felt that the people of Scotland would wish to be amongst “their ain folk” on Remembrance Sunday and that we should be looking to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War perhaps in more imaginative ways, making full use of modern communications such as social media and global interaction.

One of the questions that regularly seems to be asked is “What sort of people are we today, 100 years on, from the sort of people whom we have remembered and whose bravery and sense of commitment and self-sacrifice we are often and regularly in awe and gratitude?” How would they, insofar as we can honestly imagine, wish their legacy to be reflected and remembered 100 years on?

I came across a possible example some weeks ago when visiting Orkney as part of the senior recce visit for the Jutland 2016 on Orkney commemorations, during which I asked to visit Stromness Primary School whose WW100 commemorative work along with several other schools across Orkney had drawn considerable admiration and attention.

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Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Orkney, where Battle of Jutland commemorations took place in May.

Can you imagine my delight on meeting their esteemed Head Teacher Neil McIntosh and then being guided around the primary school and there to meet amongst others Joanna Shearer, their inspirational Primary 5 teacher, and others who in their philosophy of education have taken as their World War I legacy subject Conflict Resolution.

In a hugely creative and impressive manner from early years, from aged 2 onwards, the World War I centenary commemorations have inspired teachers and classes to look at conflict and its resolution in contemporary day to day matters and dealings all with an emphasis on endeavouring to understand why things have happened and very often seeing it from the other person’s point of view.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, from early years onwards could be the legacy topic or subject of WW100 Scotland which could perhaps be part of a nationwide review of our values as individuals, as communities, as a country in an increasingly international and globalised world.

And perhaps this is what President Michael D Higgins was referring to when he said:

“… we today are invited to leave behind some of the terms and concepts of the 20th century, such as its grammar of binary divisions between “the enemy” and “us”.

The time has come for an ethics of narrative hospitality to replace our past “entrenchments” – that awful word bequeathed to us by an era scarred, not just by the consequences of war itself, but by the effect of the very idea of War, of the possibility of total war, on subsequent generations.”

“Let us now together cultivate memory as a tool for the living and as a sure base for the future – memory employed in the task of building peace”

crowds gathered to pay their respects today in edinburgh at the 100 anniversary to the quintinshill rail disaster, the event was attended by HRH Princes Royal and scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon as well as decendants of the royal scots soldiers who lost their lives in the distater.    IMAGE - MICHAEL BOYD / BOYDPICS 07773 784 823 www.mikeboydphotos.com