WWI commemorations in Scotland


Scotland will pause in memory of the many thousands who fell in battle during the First World War during a programme of commemoration to mark the centenary of the conflict outlined by First Minister Alex Salmond today. 

Speaking to an audience gathered in Perth for the Royal British Legion Scotland annual conference, the First Minister outlined the schedule which will focus on key observance dates for the anniversary.

The commemorations will bring together significant events such as the outbreak of war and Armistice Day, with major military battles such as Jutland and Gallipoli and important domestic incidents such as the loss of HMS Iolaire to represent the full scope of the impact felt by Scotland during the conflict.

The five-year programme was compiled by the specially created Scottish Commemorations Panel, headed up by distinguished former Army Chaplain Norman Drummond who was also a guest at today’s event hosted by Robert Allan, National Chairman, and Janet Harvey, National Vice Chairman of the Royal British Legion Scotland.

The programme features commemorations of the significant battles at Loos and Arras, both of which have particular resonance for Scotland given the involvement of those who fought for Scottish battalions and the high casualty rate they suffered.

The First Minister also confirmed that the centenary of the beginning of WWI would be marked with a Drumhead Service on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, replicating services conducted on the front line where neatly piled drums draped with flags were used in place of a religious altar.

The First Minister said:

 “Next year and throughout the following five years, people in communities across Scotland will gather together and remember the exceptional sacrifice made by their sons during the brutal conflicts of the Great War.  

“The Great War commemorations are in no sense a celebration of the centenary of this devastating conflict. They are a commemoration, which will give the whole of the country the opportunity to reflect on the impact that the First World War had on Scotland during a programme of significant dates I am outlining today.

“As well as marking the outbreak of war with a Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle, this programme will see commemorations of major military battles with a particular resonance for Scotland, such as those at Loos and Arras, and the observance of the anniversary of significant domestic events, such as the train crash at Quintinshill and the loss of HM Iolaire. 

“By reflecting on these devastating events, and the consequences they had for communities the length and breadth of Scotland, we will help people of all ages in this country understand more about the futility of war and strengthen our resolve to never let a tragedy like the Great War happen again.”
The Scottish Commemorations Panel is chaired by Rev Norman Drummond, a distinguished former army chaplain, and includes a mix of professionals from the military and veterans’ communities, community leaders, clergy, media, historians and education specialists.

Norman Drummond said:

“The dates recommended by the Scottish Commemorations Panel reflect the impact that the First World War had on Scotland.  As well as aligning with the UK commemorative programme these dates enable Scotland to remember the specific and significant contributions made by our servicemen and women and our local communities in very challenging times throughout the First World War and beyond.”

Robert Allan, Royal British Legion Scotland National Chairman, added:

“As a truly national charity with over 40,000 members across Scotland RBLS helps ex-servicemen and women of all ages adapt to life after they have served in the forces by providing community and friendship. Remembrance is at the heart of what we do and we believe it’s vital to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s heartening that communities in Scotland will get the opportunity to remember the significant contributions made by our servicemen and women throughout the First World War and beyond with the programme of events announced by the First Minister today. To commemorate this period in our history RBLS will be launching a special campaign to capture the stories of veterans in Scotland and working closely with schools  to help them learn about their local war memorials.”

The dates recommended by the Scottish Commemorations Panel that will be marked during the centenary of the First World War are as follows.  Full details of the events to be held on each of the dates will be announced in due course.

  • August 2014: Outbreak of WWI.  Among other commemorations, including a Commonwealth ceremony in Glasgow, a drum-head service will be held on the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle, replicating the church services staged on the front line that used neatly piled drums for impromptu altars.
  • 25 April 2015: Gallipoli. The joint British and French operation mounted to capture the Ottoman capital of Istanbul and secure a sea route to Russia involved various Scottish battalions.
  • 22 May 2015: The train crash at Quintinshill, near Gretna: the Leith-based 7th Battalion Royal Scots, Territorial Force were on their way to Liverpool for Gallipoli and lost 214 officers and men; 246 people, mainly soldiers, were injured.
  • 25 September 2015:  Battle of Loos. Part of the first Allied offensive in Artois and Champagne. Half of all casualties were Scottish and five VCs were awarded to Scots, including an award to piper Daniel Laidlaw, who braved poison gas and gunfire to play his company forward.  
  • 31 May 2016: Battle of Jutland. The only time that British and German dreadnought battleships came to blows. Both sides claimed victory – the Germans lost fewer ships and men but the British claimed victory as Germany never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea during WWI.
  • 9 April 2017: Battle of Arras. A concentration of 44 Scottish battalions and seven Scottish-named Canadian battalions attacked on the first day in the largest concentration of Scots to have fought together during the war.  One-third of the 159,000 British Expeditionary Force casualties were Scottish. 
  • 11 November 2018: Armistice Day and celebration of peace.  
  • 1 January 2019: Loss of HMS Iolaire. The Iolaire was carrying soldiers back to Lewis when it struck rocks and sank off the coast of Stornoway with the loss of 205 men out of a crew of 284. 

Earlier this week, the First Minister announced a £1 million scheme to offer financial support to every secondary school in Scotland to help them carry out educational visits to Western Front battlefields.

In January, the First Minister announced a £1 million fund to allow communities across Scotland to preserve the memory of their war dead by refurbishing war memorials ahead of the centenary.