Scotland and the Great War

By Catriona M. M. Macdonald; E. W. McFarland | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
‘A Coronach in Stone’

E. W. McFarland

Scotland laments the glorious, England mourns the dead.
The noble Scottish National War Memorial typifies this
characteristic of the race, as the silence on Armistice Day
is symbolic of the English temperament. When the Eng-
lishman bows his head on Armistice day, the Scot lifts up
his voice. England has made an etherial monument of her
backwardness, Scotland has mobilised all the resources of
her national art into a visible monument. Scotland needs
sorrow for her art to be manifest… the Scot watches the
cloud shadows chase over the hills and mourns dead
chieftains.1

THE CONTROVERSIAL WORK OF RAISING a Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle had begun during the last year of the Great War and was finally brought to completion with its formal opening on 14 July 1927. Monument building in this case, as in most societies, was an act of love and remembrance, fulfilling the need to give dignity in death, while assuring the living that their loved ones had not died in vain. The scale of Scotland’s war losses demanded no less. In 1921 the official estimate of the war dead stood at 74,000, but unofficial claims of 110,000 or more went on to fuel nationalist propaganda in a later generation.2 On the memorial tablets of the Scottish infantry regiments in the National Memorial could be read 85,548 names alone. The greatest losses had been suffered by the Royal Scots: 583 officers and 10,630 men in its 35 battalions; the Gordon Highlanders had lost 9,000 from its 21 battalions; the Black Watch had suffered most of the Highland regiments with 10,000 killed.3 Becker, in his account of the French at war, has written of the ‘abstract quality’ of so many conscripts’ deaths.4 But many of Scotland’s war dead were not conscripts. In their own minds, they were ‘civic soldiers’ – men like the ‘Writer-Fighters’, an unlikely band of Dundee journalists who enlisted

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