Scottish war memorials

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Scottish war memorials are found in all communities in Scotland. They are found on most main streets and most churches in Scotland. Many commemorate the sacrifice of the First World War but there are many others to wars before and since 1914–1918.

Alloa War Memorial in Clackmannanshire

History of Scottish war memorialsEdit

The history of Scotland has often been bloody and there is a martial tradition which is strong in Scotland. Scots have fought in many battles and served in armed forces in many parts of the world. This service has been part of Scots armies; as mercenaries, and in the British Armed Forces. The service of the martial Scots are commemorated with war memorials across Scotland and around the world.

Scottish war memorials commemorate the sacrifices made as early as 1263 up to the recent war in Iraq and the conflict in Afghanistan

The earliest memorials record the battles fought against Viking and English invaders. Later ones recall Scottish civil wars. Sometimes these civil wars are related to religious intolerance, sometimes over the succession of royalty.

Most of these early memorials have the same thing in common. They were not erected until the 19th century, sometimes hundreds of years after the actual battle had taken place. Another thing they have in common is that they do not list individual names.

By the late 19th century after several small Colonial wars the infantry and cavalry regiments of Scotland had started to erect memorials in churches and garrison towns in Scotland. These memorials would now include lists of names. Sometimes just Officers, but sometimes non-commissioned officers and enlisted men

The first recorded civic war memorial in Scotland where local men who died overseas in war and were named on a stone is in the local churchyard at Balmaclellan, Dumfries and Galloway and was erected after the Crimean War. It was not until fifty years later after the Second Boer War that other civic war memorials were erected in Scotland.

By 1914 a precedent had been set for local communities for erecting war memorials when they had lost their sons in war time. By the time the First World War had finished in 1918 nearly every community in Scotland decided to erect a memorial to their own war dead.[1]

At the same time a proposal for a national war memorial led to the creation of the magnificent shrine at Edinburgh Castle. The Scottish National War Memorial. This memorial continues to commemorate Scots who have died in wars since 1914 and currently commemorates 206,779[2] men and women who have died serving in UK and Commonwealth Forces.

At the same time as the civic and national memorials were being erected factories,[3] banks,[4] golf clubs,[5] boys clubs,[6] schools,[7] universities[8] churches,[9] railways,[10] police,[11] post offices[12] and even a prison[13] erected war memorials to those men and women who had gone to war.

Because of the size of military formations during the First World War there were not only regimental memorials erected but Scottish Brigade and Scottish Divisional memorials too.

Commando Memorial in the Scottish Highlands was unveiled in 1952, dedicated to the World War II British Commandos that trained at Achnacarry Castle.

After the Second World War many communities had the sad task of adding names to their existing war memorial.[14] Aberlady, East Lothian used the same memorial they had erected for the Boer War and used again for the First World War to list their Second World War Dead. Other communities chose to erect new memorials for the Second World War Dead rather than change the First World War Memorial.

Even today communities are still erecting war memorials to men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars.

Recent unveilings of Scottish war memorials include.

Types of Scottish war memorialsEdit

There is no typical Scottish war memorial. Five of the most common types are Celtic cross, obelisk, cairn, mercat cross, and statue but they can also take the form of plaques or tablets of bronze, brass, marble, granite or wood; memorial gardens; fountains; rolls of honour; Crosses of Sacrifice;clock towers; lychgates; parks; halls; hospitals; bandstands; stained glass windows; altars; baptismal fonts; sporting cups and medals.

Scottish artists and architects including Sir Robert Lorimer, Alexander Carrick, Charles Pilkington Jackson, Thomas John Clapperton and William Birnie Rhind and others created some memorable monuments across the county.

After the First World War there was a difference of opinion in some communities as to whether a memorial to a community's sacrifice should be a practical memorial which would benefit the living or a stone memorial to the dead. This led to some memorials being District Nurses,[17] hospital beds, holiday cottages for war widows and orphans. Reorganisations of health care since the formation of the National Health Service has meant that the care of these memorials was taken out of local control and many of these memorials no longer exist. With the disappearance of the memorial the sacrifice is forgotten.

Care of memorialsEdit

War memorial in Largs, North Ayrshire

Once the memorials were erected and unveiled the committee who raised them then passed them into the care of another organisation. In the case of the civic memorials they were passed on to the local Municipal Corporation or County Council who still maintain them to this day (as Unitary Authorities) through the local community council. Often the local branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland or other local volunteers help with the maintenance and upkeep of the civic memorials. The Royal British Legion Scotland also run an annual campaign called the "Best Kept War Memorial".

Non-civic memorials are often in the care of churches, or clubs or private companies. When these organisations leave a building, refurbish it or close then the future of the war memorials in their care is not always assured.

Since the 1960s church mergers and closures have sometimes meant that memorials integral to the buildings have been lost when the building has been demolished. Sometimes a new memorial is created to replace the old one such as at St George's Church in Edinburgh. Sometimes photographs of the memorials are all that is left. Greenside Church in Edinburgh have photographs of the memorial windows of St James's which were demolished along with the building in 1975. The roll of honour from St Mungo's Church is in private hands after it was left for salvage when the Lockhart Memorial Church in Edinburgh dissolved in 1984. Other private memorials are at risk too. A roll of honour in Livingston was recovered from a rubbish skip after the Social Club it was in was refurbished in 2008 and the memorial was thrown away.

Interest in Scottish war memorialsEdit

There are three organisations with a national interest in Scottish war memorials.

  • UK National Inventory of War Memorials is based in the Imperial War Museum in London and is recording basic information of all the UK's war memorials. Also known as the UKNIWM
  • War Memorials Trust has been set up to help local organisations with information on maintenance, conservation, listing and cleaning of war memorials. In Scotland it works with Historic Scotland in running a small grants scheme for conservation and repair of war memorials including restoring the legibility of inscriptions. (note that routine maintenance is specifically excluded)
  • The Scottish War Memorials Project has been set up to record Scotland's war memorials (see below)

The Scottish War Memorials ProjectEdit

Running since December 2006 as a voluntary project to photograph and record all of Scotland's war memorials and make them online for free. The Scottish War Memorials Project has over 4,900 war memorials recorded to date including nearly all the c.1,400 civic memorials in the cities, towns and villages across Scotland.

Using photograph hosting websites the project is internet forum based. It has no running costs and is entirely voluntary.

Examples of Scottish war memorialsEdit

Based on the UKNIWM's approximate total of 100,000 war memorials in the whole of the UK then an assumption of a total of Scottish war memorials of up to 10,000 is not an unreasonable estimate. It would be impossible to list them all here so the following lists are based on examples already listed on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

Oban War Memorial

Pre-First World WarEdit

First World WarEdit

There are over 1,000 civic war memorials remembering the First World War in Scotland. There are hundreds more non-civic memorials so this list provides only a small example of the war memorials in Scotland

Spanish Civil WarEdit

Second World WarEdit

Post-Second World War to presentEdit

  • Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. 783 names listed for wars since 1945[2]

Scottish war memorials outside ScotlandEdit

War memorials to Scots and Scottish regiments can also be found outside Scotland

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorials Commemorating ScotsEdit

Apart from the memorials listed above which are for Scots and Scottish regiments the following memorials are examples of Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials which list Scots war dead on their panels.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Boorman, D (1988) "At the Going Down of the Sun: British First World War Memorials"
  2. ^ a b c d Report to the Trustees of the Scottish National War Memorial, 2008
  3. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the North British Rubber Company War Memorial in 'The Scotsman' – Friday, 14 April 1922, page 3
  4. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the British Linen Bank War Memorial, Edinburgh in 'The Scotsman' of 7 November 1923
  5. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Bruntsfield Links Golf Club War Memorial, Edinburgh in 'The Scotsman' of 14 February 1921
  6. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Boy's Brigade War Memorial at St Stephen's United Free Church in 'The Scotsman' of 21 January 1921
  7. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Leith Academy War Memorial in 'The Scotsman' of 19 September 1921
  8. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Aberdeen University War Memorial in 'The Scotsman' of 29 September 1921
  9. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Dalmeny Street United Free Church War Memorial, Edinburgh 'The Scotsman' of 23 November 1921
  10. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Caledonian Railway Company, War Memorial, Glasgow in 'The Scotsman' of 16 November 1921,
  11. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Dunbartonshire Police War Memorial in 'The Scotsman' of 25 October 1921
  12. ^ Article on the Unveiling of the Edinburgh & District Post Office War Memorial in 'The Scotsman' of 12 December 1921
  13. ^ Recorded by the Scottish War Memorial Project
  14. ^ Boorman, D (1990) "For your tomorrow: British Second World War Memorials"
  15. ^ "Edinburgh memorial to 500 nurses who died in WW1". Edinburgh Evening News. 10 November 2015.
  16. ^ "Fallen nurses Great War memorial". Scotland's War. 11 November 2015.
  17. ^ From "The Scotsman" – Saturday, 22 July 1922, "A war memorial was last year installed in the parishes of Kintail and Glenshiel, Ross-shire, by the Clan Macrae Society in the form of a district nurse, as this was considered a better form of memorial to the gallant clansmen who had fallen than by wasting money on bricks and mortar"

External linksEdit