2.7.1 War memorials

We lack a precise figure for the number of Scottish war memorials that are entirely, or predominantly, carved stones (Figure 54) since the available datasets also include monuments composed of other materials. Between 2006 and 2013, the Scottish War Memorials Project, which was carried out by volunteers and co-ordinated by Scottish Military Research Group, recorded over 5,000 Scottish war memorials. This figure includes 1,480 civic memorials, 1,131 church memorials, 190 School memorials, 840 memorials to individuals, and 344 regimental and unit memorials (www.scottishmilitaryresearch.co.uk last accessed 1 April 2016). This dataset contrasts with 2792 Canmore entries (identified using the search term ‘war memorial’) and 1801 entries (located using the search term ‘Scotland’) on the War Memorials Online database. Other recording programmes include The University of Stirling’s ‘Lest Scotland Forgets: Recording the Nation’s Great War Memorials‘ project. This initiative seeks to identify and record all forms of physical memorial or act of memorialisation of the Great War, from 1918 through to the present day.

A celtic cross style stone memorial on a cobbled plinth with two ornate cast iron lamposts either side

Figure 54: War Memorial, Galashiels Road, Stow, Scottish Borders. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Scottish war memorials date from the early 19th century. Their introduction was influenced by a resurgence of interest in Scottish history and a popular interest in Celtic traditions arising from a Victorian fascination with Highland culture (Historic Scotland 2013, 6; Celtic Revival: Case Study 15; Figure 54). Early examples include the monument to 309 fatalities among Napoleonic Prisoners of War at the Valleyfield Paper Mill in Penicuik and the monument at Balmaclellan Church in Dumfries and Galloway recording the names of five soldiers who lost their lives in the Crimean War. Sandstone and granite are the most commonly used stone types but imported marbles might also be employed for sculpture, while slate may be adopted for inscription panels (Historic Scotland 2013, 11).

A great deal of work has focussed on war memorials. This historiography is concerned with research on Scottish examples, rather than studies of British or wider commemoration. The centenary of WWI prompted work on several fronts. In January 2013, the First Minister launched the Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund and in the same year Historic Scotland produced guidance on the maintenance and repair of war memorials (Historic Scotland 2013). Numerous national bodies and local authorities have produced interpretation and educational materials (for example www.scotlandsfirstworldwar.org ; www.scran.ac.uk ; www.aberdeencity.gov.uk).

Hay’s 1931 account of the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh (Figure 55) was published four years after it opened. This was primarily intended as a description of the structure and an account of its establishment for those unable to visit the memorial in person (Hay 1931, v; for a more recent account see Macmillan 2014). The aesthetic importance of this building is demonstrated by its inclusion in the main overviews of Scottish art and architecture (for example Macmillan 2001; Glendinning et al. 1996, MacDonald 2000). More recently, MacLeod (2010a) explored how the memorial functioned as a figurative representation of national identity, evoked by the building’s reflections of history, empire and religion, as well as through the actual process of its construction and opening. MacLeod also explores resistance to this collective memory by comparing the construction of the national monument to the war memorials established by local communities (MacLeod 2010b).

Black and white photo of an 'ecclesiastical' style stone building with stained glass windows and external carvings

Figure 55: Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Academic interest in British and European war memorials largely took off during the 1990s (e.g. King 1993; Winter 1998). There are relatively few early studies of Scottish war memorials. A notable exception is an unpublished PhD thesis (Bell 1993) that examines the symbolic meanings and values held by WWI war memorials in terms of the changing attitudes they conveyed towards life and death. Bell’s 1993 work, which focussed on Glasgow, appraised the artistic and architectural merits of monuments by grouping them into three categories: those designed and executed by memorial masons, examples created by sculptors or memorials by architects. More recently, Elaine McFarland (2010) examined monuments to the South African War, a hitherto overlooked area of research on 20th century war memorials (Figure 56). McFarland proposes that the dichotomy of previous studies that either adopt the ‘grief school’s’ emphasis on personal mourning or more ‘functionalist’ interpretations of war memorials as conduits of political ideas negates the plurality of memory and the multi-layering of the commemorative experiences. Her analysis of both the process and results of commemoration practices linked to the South African War highlights a diversity of responses that resists a joined-up or monolithic ideology of imperialism. McFarland contends that while the process involved a close interrelationship between Scottish civil society and the military establishment, ultimately the messages conveyed by commemoration voiced each party’s distinct set of needs and aspirations rather than expressing a shared vision.

Sepia photograph showing a soldier in a kilt on top of a plinth

Figure 56: Postcard of the South African War Memorial, Ludgate, Alloa. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Future research priorities include studies to better understand the current social values placed on war memorials particularly in light of the engagement created by the recent centenary of WWI. Rich case study biographies would help to explore how memorials evolve over time to suit new social and political needs. The question of how conservation measures intersect with ideas of authenticity, aesthetics and social values is of particular interest for war memorials as examples of historic carved stones in light of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s approach to management and maintenance.

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