The Scottish Government has set up a panel of 12 people from across Scotland with expertise to bring to the shaping of the commemoration of the centenary of the start of World War 1 in 2014.
Called ‘The Scottish Commemorations Panel’ the 12 are a blend of professionals from the military and veterans communities, community leaders, clergy, media, historians and education specialists.
- Brigadier David Allfrey MBE
- The Duke of Buccleuch
- Maggie Cunningham
- Reverend Ron Ferguson
- Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin KCB CBE
- Group Captain Bob Kemp, CBE QVRM AE DL
- Magnus Linklater CBE
- Dr Bill Maxwell, FRSA
- Professor Louise Richardson
- Trevor Royle FRSE
- Commodore Charles Stevenson
- Professor Sir Hew Strachan
The Chair of the panel is former Army Chaplain, Norman Drummond and its remit is to recommend a preferred approach for Scotland’s commemorations of the forthcoming centenary – and to oversee the delivery of the programme.
The current Tri-Service Heads in Scotland, Rear Admiral Chris Hockley, Major General Nick Eeles and Air Commodore Gerry Mayhew, will provide additional advisory support to the Panel.
The Panel’s first meeting will take place in Edinburgh in the coming week, on Thursday 14th March, to lay down the foundation of its thinking and programme development.
The tightrope to be walked
It is to be hoped, given that the centenary of World War 1 falls in the year of the independence referendum, that this is not presented as Scotland’s war, overly bedecked in tartan for narrow political ends.
This was almost everyone’s war and while we were a part of it, we must respect the enormity of the entire event, celebrating and grieving for the bonding of that common cause and the waste of it.
War on this scale engages and requires the national solidarity that gets a country through it, one way or the other, in victory or defeat. The magnitude of the carnage of that war was so huge that it is beyond real grasp.
The truth of that war is also, as anything human must be, complex and various.
The initial rush to enlist in the British forces was not motivated solely by patriotism but also by immediate need. Surging inflation in the early years of the 20th century had brought widespread hardship, seeing Scots and others driven to enlist for the certainty of regular food and wages.
Ten Scottish regiments were involved, contributing together 22, or 14%, of the 157 battalions of the British Expeditionary force. Of the estimated 908,351 deaths amongst the British Empire force – this was a war in which the empire and not just Britain, was involved – around 100,000, or 11% were from the Scots battalions. Britain itself is thought to have seen around 745,000 of its forces killed, so Scots deaths in service made up 13.4% of that total internal loss, with 11% of the population of the day.
Stories of comradeship in the dreadful, sodden and rat infested trenches and of the Christmas truce with its impromptu football game between the enemy forces ram home the humanity that somehow transcends the worst that we can do to each other.
The big story the numbers tell
Beyond such stories, destruction on such a vast scale is, oddly, approachable best through that apparently most soulless of things – statistics. Numbers have a real place in the effort to represent and embrace the unimaginable.
It is not just the dead that are the losses of war, it is the missing, the injured and the irreparable that make up something closer to the full volume of the casualties.
Russia enlisted 12,ooo,ooo men. 76% of these – 9,150,000 men – were casualties.
The 2011 Scottish census shows that the the total number of men and women between the ages of 20 and 49 totals 2,177,000. This is 23.79% of the casualties suffered by Russia alone and almost exclusively of its enlisted menfolk – so four times the volume of our most physically effective working age population of both genders today were lost to one gender of one of our allies in the first World War.
- France took casualties of 73.3% of the 8,410,000 it enlisted.
- British Empire casualties were 35.8% of the 8,904,467 enlisted.
- Romania had a 71.4% casualty rate in the 750,000 strong force it assembled.
- Serbia took a 46.8% casualty rate amongst its 707,343 force.
- Germany saw 64.9% casualties amongst the 11,000,000 it raised.
- Austro-Hungary took a horrific 90% casualty rate in its 7,800,000 strong force.
- Turkey had 34.2% casualties amongst its 2,850,000 men.
Britain and its Allies lost over half of their combined forces – 52.3% – as casualties. Germany and its Allies lost 67.4% of their combined forces as casualties.
In total, on both sides, over 65 million went to war – beyond the emptying of the entire UK today; with over 8.5 million killed; 21.2 million wounded; and 7.75 million missing. This total number of casualties was 37.47 million – or 57.5% of all involved.
The smallest forces sent were those of Portugal at 100,000 and Montenegro at 50,000. The current ‘strategic revision’ of the British Army today will fall between these two at 80,000.
‘The war to end all wars’
This is a war unlike any other before or since, not only in the scale of the losses on both sides but, in the British home forces, in the nature and cost of Lord Kitchener’s recruiting strategy.
His call for volunteer forces recruited from localities saw the formation of what were called ‘Pals’ battalions – men of all ages enlisting together from an area where they and their families were embedded, to fighting – and largely to die – together.
In the almost 1,000 battalions raised in the first two years of this war, over 66% of them were locally raised ‘Pals’ units.
The most famous of these are:
- on the British Mainland, the Accrington Pals – the 11th [Service] Battalion [Accrington] East Lancashire Regiment.
- in Ireland, the Ulster Volunteer Force forming the 36th [Ulster] Division and supplying 13 more battalions to three existing regiments.
- in Scotland, the 16th (2nd Edinburgh) (Service) Battalion of the Lothian Regiment Royal Scots, included the entire first and reserve team players of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, along with several of its boardroom and staff members and a substantial number of its supporters.
The ‘Pals’ units illustrated the solidarity of community – and the unimaginable emotional, social and economic impacts on those communities when few of their menfolk returned.
Half of the Accrington Pals battalion had been recruited from Accrington and District, with most of the remainder raised in its neighbouring towns of Burnley, Chorley and Blackburn.
On 24th June, the run up to the opening of the Battle of the Somme under a week later, the Accrington Pals were engaged in the battle for Serre which saw 584 casualties taken from their total of 720 within 20 minutes – 81%. As the news filtered through to Accrington, church bells tolled incessantly.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 36th [Ulster] Division at Ancre was the only Division to achieve its first day targets. Of the 9 Victoria Crosses awarded, 4 were to the 36th [Ulster] Division. But on that first day they took 5,104 casualties, 2,069 of them killed.
British casualties on the first day of the Somme are given as between 58,00 and 60,000, of which 33% were killed. To this day, this remains a record loss for a single day of battle.
The strength of the ‘Pals’ recruitment concept carried the dreadfully disproportionate losses suffered by the towns and villages from which these units had been raised. Lessons were learned from this and when Conscription as introduced in 1916, no further local units were sought or formed.
This was called ‘the war to end all wars’. It should have been but of course it wasn’t.
The philosopher, George Santayana, famously said: ‘ Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
We must therefore hope that the commemorations which emerge from this panel are based on the understanding that the core purpose should be to renew the memory of just how numbing was the scale of human destruction this particular war created, in an attempt to prevent war as a means of settling disputes.
The members of The Scottish Commemorations Panel
Norman Drummond, who Chairs the Panel, says: ‘Scotland’s Commemorative Programme must provide opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the war in meaningful ways and so to enable them to explore the resonance of World War I and its aftermath to contemporary life here in Scotland and beyond. This view is shared by the Panel.’
Brief notes on the individual backgrounds they bring to this task are:
- Brigadier David Allfrey MBE - is Producer and Chief Executive of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Events and Festivals Champion for the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA).
- The Duke of Buccleuch – Captain General, The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland, Royal Company of Archers and Hon Colonel, 52nd Lowland 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and formerly President of the National Trust for Scotland.
- Maggie Cunningham – Chairman of BBC Alba and a Director of Sabhal Mor Ostaig. Former Deputy Controller of BBC Scotland, Head of Radio Scotland and Secretary to the Broadcasting Council for Scotland.
- Reverend Ron Ferguson – a former Leader of the Iona Community and Minister of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Ron is a columnist, author and playwright and lives in Orkney.
- Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin KCB CBE – his long career in the Army culminated in his appointment as Adjutant General, the Army Board member responsible for all personnel matters. Since leaving the Army he has been closely involved with veterans affairs in Scotland. Most relevant in the context of the Great War commemorations he is President both of the Royal British Legion Scotland and Poppy Scotland. He has been a Commissioner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission since 2005 and is currently its Vice Chairman.
- Group Captain Bob Kemp, CBE, QVRM, AE, D – a former Royal Air Force aviator, the Inspector of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and an Industrialist, currently Director Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.
- Magnus Linklater CBE – who has held a number of senior editorships on newspapers in London and Scotland, including the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Observer and London Daily News. He has been Editor of The Scotsman, and columnist and Scotland Editor of The Times. A former Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, he is the author of several books on current affairs and Scottish history.
- Dr Bill Maxwell, FRSA – appointed as Chief Executive of Education Scotland in May 2011. Education Scotland has been established as a new style of integrated improvement agency, supporting quality and improvement in Scottish Education. Bill previously held the post of Senior Chief Inspector of Education in Scotland and, prior to that, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales.
- Professor Louise Richardson – was appointed Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of St Andrews after a 20 year career at Harvard University. A political scientist by training, she has written and taught extensively on the subject of political violence.
- Trevor Royle FRSE – author of more than 30 books on the subject of war and empire including “Flowers of the Forest: Scotland and the First World War (2006)”. Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.
- Commodore Charles Stevenson CBE – served in the Royal Navy in Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers. A former Director of Naval Surveying, Oceanography and Meteorology at the Ministry of Defence he completed his service as the Naval Regional Commander, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He now runs his own Company as well as being an Ambassador for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
- Professor Sir Hew Strachan – Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford University; Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner; Trustee of the Imperial War Museum; member of the UK National First World War Committee.