Chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, Norman Drummond CBE, FRSE, reflects on commemorations in 2015 and looks ahead to the coming year.
2015 was a year of several WW100 Scotland Commemorations which recalled not only the state of the War and of the Nation in 1915 but also the gradual dawning that ‘the War which was meant to end all wars’ was going to take rather longer than ‘being over by Christmas 1914’ as had been previously and optimistically thought.
Gallipoli 2015, amidst a myriad of poignant and well organised local commemorations across Scotland, saw a large gathering of civic and military and community representatives in the early morning of Saturday 25 April 2015 in the iconic Scottish National War Memorial within Edinburgh Castle. The Gallipoli Service and Ceremony was well organised by Legion Scotland to whose Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Gray, and his Legion Scotland Team of representative and volunteers we were all most grateful.
An interesting addition to Gallipoli 2015, in keeping with those ceremonies which would have taken place some 9 and 11 hours earlier across the various cities and towns and communities of Australia and New Zealand, was the provision of an early morning bacon roll breakfast for guests within Edinburgh Castle – and for several hundred in the overflow congregation who were able to watch and participate on a large screen on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade breakfast porridge was generously provided for all by Victor and Carina Contini.
Gallipoli 2015 also commemorated the departure of the 52nd Lowland Division and their landing in Suvla Bay on 4 June 1915 with commemorations hosted by the University of Stirling under the appreciated guidance of Professor Holger Nehring and his department. The 52nd Lowland Division had trained in the Stirling area 100 years ago and it was appropriate therefore that a series of academic talks and school related events should be held there over the weekend of 4 to 6 June 2015. This was launched with a fascinating Lecture of historic insight and contemporary relevance given by Professor Sir Hew Strachan, Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews.
The “worst rail disaster in British history” was commemorated in 3 parts over consecutive days in late May 2015… firstly on Thursday 21 May 2015 at Larbert Station where a large gathering, organised by the indefatigable Baillie Billy Buchanan and his team of associates, was heartened as we all were by the large number of those who turned out to mark the centenary of the departure of the 1st/7th (Leith) Battalion, The Royal Scots, The Royal Regiment (1/7 RS) for Gallipoli, following their several months of training in the Larbert area.
On Saturday 22 May 1915 at 6.49am this Liverpool bound troop train collided head on with a local passenger train at Quintinshill just north of Gretna, where 100 years later under the careful aegis of Councillor Archie Dryburgh and Dumfries & Galloway Council, a series of well-attended commemorative events were graced by the presence of HRH The Princess Royal and attended by the First Minister of Scotland.
The Quintinshill 2015 commemorations in Gretna and the surrounding area paid particular tribute to the remarkably swift hands-on assistance provided at the time of the crash by the local communities from as far away as Carlisle. This appropriate reflection was also commemorated on Saturday 23 May 2015 at a very moving Service in Rosebank Cemetery in Leith, where a capacity gathering at The Royal Scots Memorial in Rosebank Cemetery was further augmented by almost 1,000 others in Pilrig Park who were able to view and participate via a large screen kindly provided through the generosity of Sir Tom and Lady Farmer.
The Princess Royal, in her capacity as Royal Colonel of The Royal Scots, and the First Minister again attended and both took particular interest in the pleasingly large number of descendants who had come from as far afield as the United States and Canada to be present to remember their loved ones who perished in what has become known as the ‘Quintinshill (Gretna) Rail Disaster’.
Throughout the three days of events, and thanks largely to the co-ordinating and co-operative efforts of Colonel Robert Watson of The Royal Scots, Councillor Archie Dryburgh of Dumfries & Galloway Council and Baillie Billy Buchanan of Falkirk Council, an appropriate tone of grateful remembrance of those who died, and those who went so swiftly to the aid of the few who survived, was reflected not only in the locations of Falkirk, Gretna and Leith but also worldwide through some compelling media coverage allied to a well-received BBC Scotland documentary.
Loos 100 from earliest days as far as WW100 Scotland was concerned was always going to be centred on the City of Dundee, so early and in advance had Bob Duncan, in his capacity as Lord Provost of Dundee, and Billy Kenefick and his colleagues within ‘Great War Dundee’ at the University of Dundee been in careful preparation. The Black Watch Beacon on the Law in Dundee was customarily lit in the early morning of Friday 25 September 2015. The ‘Great War Dundee’ Children’s Book Prize was presented late that afternoon and the Remembering Loos Concert, so evocative and moving that often reverent silence greeted the conclusion of each reading or musical rendition… reminiscent to those in The Black Watch of the silence which greets the playing of the Pipes as the highest form of praise and of grateful recognition, took place that evening.
The following morning, on Saturday 26 September 2015, a 1,000 strong congregation gathered in the City Square of Dundee for a multi-denominational Loos 100 Service in the presence of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay. Large screens broadcast the Service to the thousands who had lined the streets to watch the Tri-Service march past en route to the City Square.
TRH The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay spent a considerable time after the Service speaking to and commenting upon the exhibitions and displays from local schools and in viewing the remarkable cutting edge technology of the research and findings of ‘Great War Dundee’. After unveiling a Loos 100 commemorative plaque in the Caird Hall, TRH The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay met with veterans and with current Servicemen and Servicewomen and Cadets from all 3 services. That afternoon the SPL designated the Dundee v Ross County Premier League match as commemorative of Loos 100 – for the record the result was a very exciting 3-all draw!
On Sunday 27 September 2015 in the Parish Church of Dundee St Mary’s, The Black Watch held a moving Service which was well attended by representatives of several Regiments across the Dundee and Angus and Perth & Kinross areas.
The Panel was also represented in September 2015 at the Lens-Benifontaine Airshow held at Loos-en-Gohelle in Northern France. The Airshow attracted over 60,000 members of the public and commemorated the Centenary of the Battle of Loos and also featured the ‘Somme Battlefield Pipe Band’ who will visit Scotland in 2016.
On Wednesday 18 November 2015, the first WW100 Scotland Educational Engagement Event was successfully held in the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Representatives and teachers from several lowland secondary schools attended to hear thoughts and join in discussions relating to ‘Enlistment and Conscription’, within which the hands-on presence of BBC Scotland was greatly appreciated. It is anticipated that these WW100 Scotland Educational events will now become a regular feature of each succeeding year of commemoration in different selected parts of Scotland.
“The Trench Notes”, first produced in booklet form for the WW100 Scotland Drumhead Service held on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle on Sunday 10 August 2014, have led to a series of such publications including Gallipoli, Quintinshill (Gretna) Rail Disaster, the Battle of Loos, Enlistment and Conscription – these have all attracted considerable educational interest across Scotland and in several parts of the United Kingdom and overseas.
As 2016 begins there would seem to be no diminution whatsoever in the interest in WW100 commemorations across Scotland with Jutland 2016 to be commemorated first of all on the Firth of Forth on Saturday 28 May 2016 and then at St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney and in Lyness Cemetery on Hoy on Tuesday 31 May 2016.
On 30 June 2016, overnight Vigils for the Somme are planned in all the capital cities of the United Kingdom and it is hoped that all those who might wish to will be able to participate during the WW100 Scotland Vigil in the Scottish National War Memorial – these Vigils will take place in advance of the UK and International Centenary commemoration of the Somme on Friday 1 July 2016 at the Thiepval Memorial in France.
The calibre and quality of local and community centenary commemorations of World War 1 across Scotland continues to deeply move and to impress. Bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds in a spirit of shared and grateful remembrance with the particular emphases on Education and Genealogy and Legacy enables us all, individually and collectively, to continue to ask ourselves, in the words of the telling strapline of WW100 Scotland, ‘WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM ALL TH1S?’
Norman Drummond CBE, FRSE
Chair, Scottish Commemorations Panel