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First World War (Centenary)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th June 2013.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06302, in the name of Richard Lyle, on the 100th anniversary of the first world war. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who are leaving the chamber, and the people who are leaving the public gallery, to do so quickly and quietly.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 28 July 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the global war that was centred in Europe; recognises that, until the start of World War II in 1939, this was predominantly called the World War or the Great War; understands that many nations were involved in the war; pays tribute to the sacrifice made by all servicemen and women from 1914 until 1918; understands that 10% of the Scottish population, including many from Central Scotland, gave their lives in the conflict, and believes that by commemorating this war “we will remember them”.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

I thank members for supporting this members’ business debate. I first became interested in the subject when I was a boy. My grandfather fought in the war, and his family preserved its memory through their purchase of a publication called “The Great War”, which the Amalgamated Press produced after the war. The book that I have in my hand is one of a set of 12 that I possess. The first page reproduces this message:


Next year will mark 100 years since the beginning of that conflict—the day on which people’s lives, homes, attitudes and natures changed for ever. Until 1939, and the atrocities of Adolf Hitler, the first world war was known as the world war or the great war. Why? Because of the number of casualties, fatalities, nations and people involved. The United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Italy, Belgium, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and others were involved in the conflict. It truly was a world war.

Some 70 million military personnel, 60 million of whom were European, took part in the war. The war lasted four years, resulting in the loss of 16 million lives, with 20 million people being wounded. It is important to stress the number of people who died. Sixteen million people lost their lives in that war—that is more than three times the population of this country.

Of course, we in Scotland played our part in the conflict, with nearly 26 per cent of our population—some 557,000 personnel—dying or becoming casualties. Many of those people came from my region, Central Scotland. They were defending their country and protecting us all. In contrast, 11 per cent of the British Army were casualties. That shows the part that Scotland played in the war. We could quite often be at risk of forgetting such a fact, but the most important of memorial services and statues act as an everlasting reminder that we should never forget the sacrifices that many made during the great war.

The reason behind the bloodshed and loss of life was that, over the four terrible years of the war, the nations that were involved made significant technological advances and created tanks, heavier guns, machine guns, flame-throwers, poison gas and aeroplanes that could bomb and strafe trench areas and land behind the lines—air war was in its infancy, but it was terrible—as well as aircraft carriers, heavy battleships and submarines. Members who have listened to that list will note that some, if not all, of those weapons are still in use today by our modern armies.

I highlight the high level of loss of life in our naval forces during the war, particularly in the battle of Jutland. Many ships were sunk, most notably HMS Invincible.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

The member makes the point that one of the reasons for the great loss of life was advances in technology. How does he feel about the claim that there was a disdain on the part of some officers for the number of ordinary people who lost their lives?

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

It is a fact that it was felt that a position could be attacked but some officers were 26 miles behind the lines. I agree with the member’s comment.

I spoke of the effects that the great war had, and I intend to highlight what I mean by that. In his study of wars since the 1400s, Evan Luard stated that

“the First World War transformed traditional attitudes to war. For the first time there was ... an almost universal sense that the deliberate launching of a war could now no longer be justified.”

Commemoration is the honouring or preservation of a memory of an event or a person. Never has a word been more fitting than that: to honour and preserve. Never again should we stand back and allow ourselves to be involved in such a war or such bloodshed. The men and women of our armed forces who lost their lives in that war and others since deserve to be remembered next year and to have their memory preserved.

In the light of that, I have been approached by a constituent, Mr Ian Thomson, who is keen to erect a memorial in mainland France to recognise the sacrifice of all Scottish forces—both women and men—who fought for the liberation of Europe in the first world war. I am keen to generate support for that project, as it has been brought to my attention that no such monument exists in mainland France. There are memorials that commemorate individual Scottish regiments, and I pay tribute to them, but there is not one that takes in the whole of the work done by the Scottish armed forces. That oversight should be corrected.

Mr Thomson has recently visited and been in contact with officials—in particular, the mayor—in the French town of Arras, as we hope to position the memorial near the town, where most Scottish regiments were involved in the battle that took place around Arras. We intend to establish a group to take that forward and hope to enlist the help of the Scottish people and the Scottish Government.

Many battles—too numerous to mention—were fought all over France. They included battles at Arras, Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. We have also to remember battlefields in Italy, Russia and Africa. All the personnel who died during the conflict should have a place in our hearts. It is my sincere hope that, with the 100th anniversary of the great war approaching, the people of Scotland will take time to remember the sacrifice that their countrymen and countrywomen made to ensure that they could live in freedom. With no remaining combat veterans from the first world war, we must not become complacent and forget what those great men and women did for us. It is important never to forget, so that we do not repeat the mistakes from the past.

I thank Mr Thomson for all his hard work in bringing the matter to my attention. I ask the Scottish Government what events are planned for next year to honour all the personnel who gave their all for freedom nearly 100 years ago. With your permission, Presiding Officer, I repeat the immortal words:

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

I congratulate my friend and colleague Richard Lyle on securing this important and timely debate on the 100th anniversary of the first world war. The war memorials that grace our cities, towns and villages testify to the sacrifice that was made by so many young men who went off to fight in foreign fields, never to return to their native land. We should all welcome the emphasis that has been placed on restoring those memorials in the anniversary year, and I am glad that the Scottish Government is helping to honour the memory of all those who fought in the war, and particularly the young men who lost their lives or were injured.

Tens of thousands of men died in the trenches and are now buried in the fields of northern France and Flanders—casualties of the war that was meant to end all wars. Richard Lyle spoke eloquently about the huge loss of life. Here in Scotland, we are reminded by the historian Richard Finlay of the sacrifice that those men made. More than half of all men between the ages of 18 and 45 took part in the war. That is a colossal number of people, and behind every statistic lay a human story—a family torn apart by the loss of a loved one who was cut down in their prime: a father killed in battle leaving behind a widow and young children, or a son lost in the conflict. The impact of the war on families and communities was shattering; the war had an incalculable cost and impact on those affected.

We all have a duty to honour and remember the service of those who laid down their lives. We also have an obligation to preserve that history, so that future generations will never forget. We can do that in a number of ways. One way is through the preservation of sites of international importance that tell the war story. I am grateful to Edinburgh’s Evening News for its campaign to preserve the site where thousands of soldiers from Edinburgh and across Lothian prepared and trained for life in the trenches. My constituent, the war veteran and inveterate fundraiser Tom Gilzean, recently described the trenches at Dreghorn as a

“monument to the sacrifice of millions ... the trenches should be kept for posterity as they are a monument to the men who served in them”.

We can all agree with those words.

My constituency has another important part of the story of the first world war. In 1983, Napier College bought the former Craiglockhart College of Education site, which the military requisitioned during the first world war for use as a hospital that served as a significant centre for the treatment of shell-shocked servicemen. In 1917, the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon first met at that location, which is where some of Owen’s and Sassoon’s greatest war poetry was inspired and written. Their resulting friendship was to have a significant and lasting impact on English literature and on our view of war. I am fortunate to have the war poets collection housed today at Edinburgh Napier University in my constituency. That is a lasting and fitting legacy to those war poets that has a powerful message, which resonates still today.

As we remember the tremendous sacrifice and service of those men, we should also remember the role played by women. I recognise the efforts of my constituent Ian McFarlane to ensure suitable recognition for Dr Elsie Inglis, who was a war surgeon who set up volunteer hospital units—staffed entirely by women—that treated more than 300,000 wounded allied servicemen. Mr McFarlane has worked tirelessly to honour their memory and has succeeded in securing funding to stage an exhibition in this Parliament in honour of those remarkable women. The exhibition will feature the paintings of John Bellany, who is one of Scotland’s greatest living artists.

All those examples demonstrate how we continue to remember those who served in the war. They remind us of an important period in our history, which we must never forget and never repeat. The last words should be with Wilfred Owen, who reminds us of the horrors of war:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.”

Photo of Hanzala Malik Hanzala Malik Labour

I thank Richard Lyle for securing today’s debate. I am honoured to speak on the upcoming 100th anniversary of the first world war next year.

It is estimated that, with 300,000 recruits, Scotland had the largest proportion of volunteers in the United Kingdom. It is thought that Scotland lost more men per head of population than any other warring nation, with the exceptions of Serbia and Turkey. Scotland made a significant contribution to the war effort in men, women and materials, but we should not forget the soldiers from the Commonwealth, who were also heavily involved.

As Glasgow will host the Commonwealth games during the 100th anniversary, it is important that we take a moment to consider the people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Indian subcontinent who fought and died in large numbers during the war. In particular, 1.5 million volunteers came from the Commonwealth group of nations in the Indian subcontinent. They won some 13,000 medals through their involvement in the war.

It is important to include sepoy—that means soldier—Khudadad Khan from Punjab, which is now in Pakistan, in our thoughts. He was the first of twelve men from the Indian subcontinent to receive the Victoria cross during the first world war. I ask also that we remember the 55,000 men and women from the African colonies of the British empire who served and the 10,000 who died during the war effort.

We sometimes forget the horrors of war, but we must learn from that experience. I am an ex-territorial soldier—I used to be in the Royal Engineers. I assure members that I and the many who, unlike me, have practical experience do not wish to see war repeated.

War is a horrible evil of the human race. Every effort must be made to resolve issues around the world through dialogue rather than war. War leaves a lot of innocent people without loved ones and many innocent civilians die. We see that today in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Dialogue is important; we must support our politicians to engage. Last but not least, I want to ensure that, through our schools, our children are made aware of our past and recent history, of the horrors of war and of the positive results that can be gained through dialogue and talking to people.

I am grateful that the motion is before us, but I am saddened to learn that we do not have a memorial. We should have a memorial that recognises the contributions that all our serving men, women and children have made throughout history, so that we can mark the event annually and learn from our history. If we can do that, I have no problem in supporting the French effort.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Richard Lyle on securing this important debate.

The great war undoubtedly changed the social, economic and political fabric of our nation. It was like nothing Scotland—or any nation—had experienced before. The magnitude of the conflict, the scale of the slaughter and the mechanised precision were completely new. The war also reached home in a way that it never had before, and the idea of the home front was born.

Volunteers streamed to the colours at the declaration of war, but the buoyant mood was not to last long as the horrible reality dawned and entire communities began losing brothers, fathers and sons in huge numbers. Scotland suffered appalling and horrendously disproportionate losses, sustaining 147,609 fatalities and 410,000 wounded—more than Australia, Canada and New Zealand combined—from the 690,000 Scots who served in the British Army, a casualty rate of 81 per cent. As Hanzala Malik said, only Serbia and Turkey suffered a higher proportion of military casualties.

Richard Lyle made Scotland’s sacrifices clear: our losses represented 19 per cent of the British war dead at a time when Scotland had less than 9.5 per cent of Britain’s population, while tens of thousands of other Scots perished serving valiantly in the London Scottish, Liverpool Scottish, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, South African and other regiments raised throughout the empire. Every community in Scotland and countless Scottish families suffered grievously.

My maternal grandfather was gassed at the age of 18 a week before the armistice, and he died of emphysema at only 41. My paternal grandfather served in the Highland Light Infantry, one of only two men of 110 in his company who joined in 1914 to survive physically unscathed, although one can only imagine the psychological scars that he and so many others from that ruined generation suffered.

I want to focus on the sacrifices of just one family. Few families endured as much as the Mochrie family of Kilbirnie, the town in my Ayrshire constituency where I live. The Mochrie family had five brothers serving in the British Army, three of whom—19-year-old Private Robert Mochrie of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, 21-year-old Private Matthew Mochrie of the Cameronians, and 28-year-old Corporal James Mochrie of the Gordon Highlanders—were all tragically killed on the first day of the battle of Loos on 25 September 1915, along with many thousands of their compatriots.

There was no Scottish equivalent of “Saving Private Ryan”, and their brother, 36-year-old Private Andrew Mochrie, also of the Cameronians, was killed at the battle of Arras on 9 June 1917.

John Mochrie, of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, survived the conflict, as did his sister Euphemia, a nurse with the Army Auxiliary Corps. Her son William McKim was tragically killed serving on HMS Hood in the second world war. The McKim family still lives in Kilbirnie.

In Scotland, we still suffer to some extent not only from the human losses of the war but from those of the Spanish influenza outbreak, which also killed many hundreds of thousands of people throughout the UK and Europe, and from the economic consequences of the great war. In its aftermath, Scotland—which had been a bustling workshop of shipbuilding, railway manufacture, munitions, coal and steel during the war—was left with a huge overcapacity in each. Economic dislocation, recession, unemployment and poverty in the 1920s led to almost 10 per cent of our population emigrating overseas and thousands more moving south in the decade following the armistice.

It is hard to comprehend the suffering of those who fought and of their loved ones who waited anxiously at home during the conflict and in the crisis of confidence that struck Scotland after the war was over. Many of us are the descendants of those who bravely fought and died for their country and of those who were lucky enough to return home—often maimed and traumatised—to an uncertain future. As Richard Lyle poignantly pointed out, it is our solemn duty to remember them and to commemorate their sacrifices, which were made for all of us.

The impact of the first world war in Scotland is hard to comprehend and gauge, but it certainly changed Scotland and the world for ever.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I take the opportunity, as others have done, to thank Richard Lyle for bringing the issue before the Parliament. With the 100th anniversary of the war now so near, I am sure that this will not be the last time that we discuss issues relating to it.

In 1915, troops in the trenches were encouraged to look back across the previous century to the culmination of the peninsular war with the battle of Waterloo. Next year, we will look back over a 100-year gap and commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those who willingly took up arms in defence of their country.

It is perhaps impossible for us truly to comprehend the horrors of the great war. Wilfred Owen has been quoted in the debate already. He described the war as

“the Winter of the world”.

The sacrifices of our forefathers, which he described eloquently, are our shared heritage. The 2014 centenary, which will be commemorated around the world, will be a particularly poignant reminder of just how much we owe to a generation in which, too often, the personal hopes and aspirations of young men ended in the stinking mud of France and Flanders.

It is vital that we do not allow the scale or brutality of the war to fade from memory. That is why it is important that our young people play a key role in the commemoration. Visiting a battlefield or a war cemetery can be a deeply moving experience. I welcome the fact that the UK Government has already announced plans to commemorate the centenary on 4 August 2014, including a flagship scheme to give thousands of schoolchildren the opportunity to visit the great war battlefields and a £50 million fund to help to support community events.

I also welcome the comprehensive five-year commemoration announced by the Scottish Government and specially created by the distinguished members of the Scottish commemorations panel, which is led by former Army chaplain Norman Drummond. The funding that the First Minister announced, which is targeted at refurbishing community war memorials and supporting secondary schools to carry out educational visits to battlefields of the western front, is also to be commended.

There can be little doubt that, as our young people visit the graves of the fallen and read the names and ages on the gravestones, it will not be lost on them—as it is not lost on anyone—how young those soldiers were when they lost their lives.

Ultimately, our own communities will lead the way in the commemorations. I look forward to taking part in those activities and reflecting on those who, in the words that appear on many a war memorial, gave their todays so that we might enjoy our tomorrows.

There is one aspect of today’s debate that I cannot allow to pass without comment. It is true that the troops in the first world war were lions led by donkeys, but the suggestion that all the officers were hiding some distance away is not an accurate reflection of the history and the facts of the war.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I ask the member to let me complete my remarks.

It is true that the people who guided the conflict on the large scale were often in a protected position, but it is also the case that thousands of young officers—including another great war poet, Siegfried Sassoon—led their troops from the front and that many were themselves victims who gave their lives in service of their country. Let us not dwell on class differences that might be hidden in the history of the war. Let us remember all the courageous young men who gave their lives in northern France and Flanders so that we might enjoy our freedoms.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I congratulate Richard Lyle on securing the debate, and I commend the excellent speeches that we have heard.

The motion concludes:

“by commemorating this war ‘we will remember them’.”

It is clear from the debate that we are all committed to ensuring that the sacrifice of so many people is truly recognised and respected.

The first world war was global in its impact. It involved the major powers and their colonies in fighting across fronts in western and eastern Europe, Gallipoli, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Africa and the far east, and it claimed the lives of more than 16 million people across the globe.

Richard Lyle talked about the scale of the losses and Alex Johnstone reflected on the youth of many who died. Almost a million British lives were lost. Scottish communities bore tremendous losses—it has been estimated that more than a quarter of the Scots who fought in the first world war were killed. It is also estimated that Scotland lost about 100,000 men, in 10 Scottish regiments, out of a British total of 745,000 losses.

We must never forget our long and distinguished military history. I will be proud to attend the West Lothian armed forces day in Livingston on Saturday, to recognise the debt that we owe to our service personnel.

Remembrance is a key feature of our commemorations of the first world war. In March, I appointed the Scottish commemorations panel to advise on how we in Scotland mark the centenary of the war. On 23 May, the First Minister announced the key dates for Scottish commemoration, endorsing recommendations of the panel. The dates mark significant Scottish military involvement and tragic domestic incidents.

The tone that is adopted will be crucial. Our commemorations, especially those that mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, must be sensitively handled and relevant to all parts of Scotland and the Scots diaspora.

Scotland’s programme will align with that of the UK Government. It is fitting that the UK-wide commemorations will begin on the morning of 4 August 2014 in Glasgow. There will be a special service for Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow cathedral, followed by a wreath-laying service at the city’s cenotaph. Hanzala Malik mentioned the Commonwealth relationship.

The following weekend, Scotland will mark the outbreak of the war with a drumhead service in Edinburgh. The multifaith service will replicate services that were conducted on the front line, at which neatly piled drums draped with flags were used in place of an altar. More details about the service—and indeed about all the events that are planned—will follow in due course.

There will be recognition of Scotland’s significant military contribution in relation to four key dates. On 25 April 2015, Scotland will remember those who stood alongside our ANZAC comrades at Gallipoli. On 25 September 2015 we will turn our attention to what historians call Scotland’s battle—the battle of Loos, where 30,000 Scots served and Scots made up half the casualties. It was appropriate that Kenny Gibson talked in such personal and human terms about the losses of the Mochrie family of Kilbirnie.

On 31 May 2015, we will commemorate the battle of Jutland. Although Britain lost more ships and men, Germany never again during the war seriously challenged British control of the North Sea. On 9 April 2017 we will focus on the battle of Arras, which saw the largest concentration of Scots to fight together during the war.

We will also remember two domestic incidents, to reflect the war’s broad impact on Scotland. On 22 May 2015 we will commemorate the train crash at Quintinshill, near Gretna. The Leith-based 7th battalion Royal Scots Territorial Force was on its way to Liverpool and Gallipoli, and it lost 214 officers and men, with 246 people, mainly soldiers, being injured. The Quintinshill crash remains the worst British rail disaster.

On new year’s day 2019, Scotland will also mark the loss of HMS Iolaire. The Iolaire was carrying many naval personnel returning home to Lewis from the Kyle of Lochalsh when she struck rocks half a mile from Stornoway, with the loss of 204 of the 285 men on board.

The end of the war will of course be marked in November 2018. We will reflect on the sacrifice of those who fought, those who lost loved ones, and those whose lives were changed for ever by the nature of war.

One of the objectives of the commemoration is to reflect on the domestic impact of the war in Scotland. Our commemorations will allow for a spirit of open inquiry as we seek to understand and remember, for example, the role of women, as highlighted by Jim Eadie, the people who disagreed with the war, and the range of social impacts that the war had on all our lives.

We will not just commemorate the war with national events. The First Minister announced on 14 January the establishment of a £1 million fund to enable war memorials to be restored. There are more than 5,000 war memorials in Scotland, with one in virtually every village and community across the country. The fund will help us bring our memorials up to standard and ensure that they are at the heart of our four-year commemorations as we remember the sacrifice made by our local communities.

I was delighted to learn recently that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission plans to restore 12 graves in Motherwell’s Globe cemetery, which is of course part of Mr Lyle’s constituency area. I encourage support for public subscription for the new memorials such as the one proposed for Arras, which Mr Lyle referred to.

Photo of Hanzala Malik Hanzala Malik Labour

I agree with the cabinet secretary that there are many memorials in Scotland. I am particularly proud to see them in small villages and places where regiments were based at one time or another. However, what I would like to see is one single focal point for all our losses in Scotland. That would be a great gesture for our men, women and children who lost their lives. It is something to consider.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I would encourage Hanzala Malik to visit our Scottish national war memorial at Edinburgh castle.

Education will be a key focus of our commemorations. That is why the First Minister announced the fund for battlefields. On 20 May, he announced that a £1 million fund would be available for visits by every secondary school in Scotland. That would provide a subsidy of £2,000 per school and enable 20,000 students to visit the first world war battlefields during the next six years. It is vital that we help the next generation understand and explain to their friends the true significance of the conflict for Scotland and the wider world.

A range of activities are planned to support the centenary across Scotland. It is right that those are happening independently, so that our local communities feel free to commemorate as they see fit and in very personal ways.

A wide range of exhibitions are planned, and there will be school projects and a huge amount of activity to support genealogy and the sharing of family and community history. Tomorrow, the University of Edinburgh will launch its virtual history archive called “Scotland’s war”, which will provide an important resource. There is no shortage of fine work being carried out to create a fitting legacy from the centenary.

I am pleased also that the Heritage Lottery Fund has recently launched its centenary grants programme, enabling communities to explore their first world war heritage and deepen their understanding of the impact of the conflict.

I am sure that this Parliament will revisit the commemorations in years to come. It is our responsibility and our duty to remember. We will remember them.

13:08 Meeting suspended.

14:15 On resuming—