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WWI centennial

Remembering The War

This year's World War I centennial will honor the country's outsized
impact on the war, and reveal stories of remarkable grit and sacrifice.


In one of a warren of rooms amid the piled and castellated masonry of Edinburgh Castle, Dr. Stuart Allan draws a little black-edged envelope out of a plastic folder. It contains a memorial card, the kind of cold-comfort tribute that grieving families might be sent if a son had been killed during the First World War.

It commemorates a Scottish soldier, Private Adam McGregor, killed in action at Hooge, Flanders, in 1915. In this case, however, McGregor, originally from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, had journeyed back from his adopted home in Denver, Colorado, where he was a wool importer. Arriving at Liverpool on board the Lusitania, anxious to serve "the old country" in the war that was raging in Europe, McGregor, rather than returning home to Ayrshire, promptly joined the Liverpool Scottish regiment and ended his young life in the mud of Flanders.

The faded card may be an unspectacular-looking relic from a time of strife, but as Scotland, along with the rest of the U.K., marks the centenary of the First World War, which broke out in August 1914, it has its place in one of two major exhibitions newly opened in Edinburgh, dealing with the part played by Scots -- and the Scottish diaspora -- in the conflict that became known, with tragically risible optimism, as "the war to end all wars".

As principal curator of Scottish history for National Museums Scotland, a remit which includes the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle, Dr. Allan has been deeply involved in preparing the two exhibitions: Common Cause, dealing with the wartime involvement of the Scottish diaspora, primarily in the Commonwealth, and Next of Kin, which deals with the Great War as experienced by families throughout Scotland and how they coped with the absence and loss of their loved ones.

"With Common Cause," explains Allan, "we're principally concerned with the forces of the British empire.... We're looking at the way in which the Scottish military tradition came out among migrant populations in different parts of the empire, particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but it's also the case that people of Scottish descent in the States came over to join up as well."

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2014 issue of Scottish Life.

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