Following his reflections on commemorative events of 2017, Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE, Chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel and WW100 Scotland, looks ahead through the 2018 programme.
On Friday 4 May 2018 on Islay, WW100 Scotland will hold centenary commemorations of the loss of SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto with a short Act of Rededication at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa, with its inscription from President Woodrow Wilson, at an Island and National and International Commemorative Service at the War Memorial in Port Ellen Harbour. We look forward to welcoming not only VVIP guests from Scotland and the United Kingdom but also from the United States and Germany and France along with descendants of the 600 American Servicemen who lost their lives and of the 1,800 who were rescued by the Royal Navy on the night of the SS Tuscania disaster.
Whilst separate commemorations took place on Islay on Monday 5 February 2018, 100 years to the day to the loss of SS Tuscania, and will similarly do so on Saturday 6 October 2108 for HMS Otranto, Friday 4 May 2018 has been chosen as this date falls at the conclusion of the NATO Exercise Operation Warrior, when it is hoped that the US Navy and the Federal German Navy and the Royal Navy will lie off shore.
There is no doubt that before and since the WW100 Scotland commemorations began in 2013 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 from 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; and the place of women and of family life. All of this and more will be examined and considered in the UK Conference on ‘The War on the Home Front’ which will be hosted by WW100 Scotland at the University of St Andrews under the aegis of Professor Sir Hew Strachan from Wednesday 20 June to Friday 22 June 2018.
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 become involved in a number of ways to 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.
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 11 November 2018 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.
Plans are currently being drawn up for a parade in Edinburgh, to follow the customary Remembrance Sunday Services and commemorations, which we hope will be well attended as indeed mirrored across the cities and towns of communities of Scotland.
It has also been decided that the National Centenary Commemorative Service will take place in Glasgow Cathedral in the early evening of Armistice Sunday 11 November 2018, thus returning to where the UK Centenary Commemorations began, the day after the closing ceremony of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, on Monday 4 August 2014.
Our aim in Scotland will be, in the famous words of the Canadian poet and field surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, to “hand over the torch to the young people who will come after us” in a multi-generational Service of Gratitude and of Hope.
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, in so far as we can honestly imagine, wish their legacy to be reflected and remembered 100 years on?
In order to facilitate and encourage those inter and multi-generational discussions WW100 Scotland has been pleased and proud to encourage a series of productions entitled Far, Far from Ypres conceived and written and delivered by Ian McCalman of the McCalmans. Far, Far from Ypres tells the story of a Scottish Soldier of the First World War and is beautifully and movingly depicted in words and music and song to the extent that all those who have seen Far, Far from Ypres at Celtic Connections in the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow have been mightily moved in saying that this is a “must see production to which you should bring your children and grandchildren”.
In the lead up to Armistice Day November 2018 this ‘must see’ production will tour Scotland, staged in 10 venues and finishing on the evening of Armistice Sunday 11 November 2018.
There will also be an associated community/education programme which will allow local history to be researched and incorporated into the production at each venue. This will provide at a local level, a greater knowledge and understanding of the First World War with the words and experiences of those who were there and highlights how it impacted on the lives of the whole of the population.
In his final blog of this series, Professor Drummond will look beyond 2018 into 2019 – commemorating the aftermath of the war and what can be learned from the centenary commemorations.