The Scottish National War Memorial commemorates nearly 135,000 Scottish casualties in the First World War, 1914-18, more than 50,000 in the Second World War, 1939-45, and the campaigns since 1945, including the Malayan Emergency, the Korean War, Northern Ireland, the Falklands War and the Gulf War.
The Memorial is to be found in Crown Square at the very top of the rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands. In 1927 the architect Sir Robert Lorimer and 200 Scottish artists and craftsmen created a serene Hall of Honour and Shrine, where the names of the dead are contained in books that are on permanent display.
The Memorial is open to the public, free of charge on application to the Castle Ticket Office. Find out more about visiting us.
The history of the Scottish National War Memorial has been compiled by Dr Diana M Henderson.
- In the beginning
- A National Memorial
- The Men behind the Vision
- The Original Proposal
- The Choice of Edinburgh Castle
- Committees, Committees, Committees
- An Architect is Appointed
- Agreement in Principle, More Problems, Fundraising Starts
- Progress at Last, the Building Begins
- The Rolls of Honour
- The Opening Ceremony
- The Continuing Story
In the beginning
When the First World War began in 1914, few people in Britain really appreciated the impact of a twentieth century world war.
By 1917 thousands of British Servicemen and Women were under arms and fighting in France, Belgium, Italy, the Balkans, the Middle East, in the air and on the High Seas. Many had already died or were missing and it was clear that the war was still far from won.
Scots, and those of Scottish descent, from all over the world also served. These men and women came from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries. Some were of direct Scottish descent, their families having emigrated many years before, while others served proudly in Scots Commonwealth units.
Scots and Scots from overseas were fighting in every theatre of the war - serving in the Navy, the Merchant Navy, the Army, The Flying Corps and the Women's Services, as well as working in the mines, shipyards, on the land and in munitions factories.
The Scottish economy, with its strong industrial and agricultural base (and many remote and outlying districts), was deeply affected by the impact of the war, and because of the high casualties it was clear that things would not be the same when the war eventually ended.
Few families in Scotland were not touched in some way by the impact of the war. Many men were serving in locally based Regular and Territorial Force units or had joined up together from the same district or village, so that when their regiments were committed to battle and when casualties were high there were terrible repercussions on their local communities.
In 1917, although victory was still not assured, a number of people in Scotland were determined that those who had sacrificed their lives should be appropriately remembered and that their names should be permanently recorded and honoured in a National Memorial. The move was strongly supported by servicemen of all ranks who felt deeply the loss of their comrades.
A National Memorial
While the War Office maintained the lists of casualties, registration of the whereabouts and the graves of the dead began in France in 1914 when a Red Cross Mobile Unit under the leadership of Fabian Ware started to collect and record evidence of burials.
The idea of village, town, city and regimental memorials is not new and there are many surviving examples in Britain from the 19th century and before, including the Crimean War and the Boer War. Some of these were very practical and took the form of hospitals and schools. Many were able to accommodate, in stone or on a brass plate, the names of the fallen.
It was clear however that the scale of the First World War was going to need new thinking on the subject of memorialisation. Such thinking was already well advanced when, in 1917, the architect Edwin Lutyens came forward with his idea of "the Great War Stone", a permanent, non-denominational alter-like national stone which by its simplicity alone would convey the magnitude of loss. This stone was to become the world famous Cenotaph. It was decided that the war was also to be memorialised in the establishment of a National War Museum, later to become the Imperial War Museum, London. Alongside this, local museums were also to be established.
As a focus of National and Imperial mourning it was logical that the Cenotaph and the National War Museum be located in the Imperial Capital, London.
A number of eminent Scots were also thinking along the same lines and while they strongly supported the concept of the London Cenotaph and National War Museum they also wanted a truly Scottish memorial, in Scotland, recording the names of all Scots and displaying Scottish material.
The Men behind the Vision
The moving force behind this vision was John George 8th Duke of Atholl. A leading member of the Scottish aristocracy, the Duke of Atholl, or "Bardie" as he was known from his title, the Marquis of Tullibardine, was a serving soldier who had fought in the Sudan and had raised the Scottish Horse Yeomanry. He was a man of considerable vision and energy and, what was more important, he had both influence and connections.
In the spring of 1917 Atholl gathered around him a number of leading and powerful Scots. These included, Lieutenant General Sir Spencer Ewart, General Officer Commanding in Scotland, a devoted Cameron Highlander and accomplished historian; Lieutenant Colonel D. W. Cameron of Lochiel; Sir Hector Munro of Foulis; Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Captain George S. C. Swinton.
The Original Proposal
Atholl lost no time in promoting the Scottish case for a memorial. He wrote to the Commissioner of Works asking that Scotland should have her own memorial in the form of a museum collection to be housed in Edinburgh Castle. A man of influence, he also approached the King requesting his approval for the Scottish memorial. His Majesty supported the scheme.
There then followed widespread consultation, which included the five Lord Provosts of the Cities of Scotland and extensive press coverage, largely in The Scotsman newspaper.
Initially there was concern on the part of the City of Glasgow and it was important that the City Fathers of Scotland's largest urban centre agree to the scheme. The problem was solved when Spencer Ewart hosted a dinner for all of the interested parties and agreement was obtained.
The Choice of Edinburgh Castle
The choice of Edinburgh Castle was inspirational, historically interesting and sensitive.
The Castle stands high above the centre of the capital city of Scotland dominating the skyline for miles around. Even in 1914 the Castle was a major tourist attraction and its roots lay deep in the folklore and traditions of Scottish history.
Until 1914 it had been the main barracks for the Infantry garrison of Edinburgh and soldiers had lived there and guarded its walls for many centuries.
The standard of military accommodation within the Castle precincts was however very basic. The barrack rooms were crowded and draughty with leaky roofs. The accommodation was heated by small coal burning fires in open grates some of which were still used for cooking. There were only a few baths for the whole of the garrison, no running hot water and very basic toilet facilities. The one communal cookhouse meant that most of the men still ate in their barrack rooms.
As a result of these shortcomings a new barracks was built at Redford on the outskirts of the City which would house both infantry and cavalry units. These barracks were being built in 1914 just before the outbreak of war. It was therefore envisaged that when the war ended there would be vacant accommodation within the Castle walls which could be adapted for the Memorial plan.
In addition, the concept of a military museum was a very new idea which would not compete with existing regimental museums for there were none. The Scottish regiments were more likely to agree to a central location such as the Castle where they had all served at one time or another. By this time the individual regiments had acquired many regimental trophies and together with much of the silver, artefacts and archives these were usually deposited with the Regimental Depots and were not on display to the public. Thus the opportunity to show the regimental histories and traditions was welcomed.
The choice of Edinburgh Castle was however a sensitive one. Any proposal to alter the distinctive Edinburgh skyline by the building or demolition of any part of the existing structures was bound to meet with considerable opposition. This opposition was both vociferous and powerful and was in time to change the plan significantly.
Committees, Committees, Committees
In general, the principle of a Scottish Memorial met with approval and there then followed extensive discussion of the detailed plan by a number of committees, by the Cabinet and by Parliament.
Late in 1917 General Ewart wrote to the Colonels-in-Chief of all of the Scottish Regiments with a specific plan which now included a special memorial building as well as the museum. However the war was not going well and with the German offensive in France and Flanders in the spring of 1918 little progress was made on the memorial.
Finally, in October 1918, a Scottish National War Memorial Committee was appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, "to consider what steps should be taken towards the utilization of Edinburgh Castle for the purposes of a Scottish National War Memorial".
This Committee was made up of: The Duke of Atholl, The Rt. Hon. Lord Carmichael, The Admiral Commanding-in-Chief at Rosyth, The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Scottish Command, The Lord Provosts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth, The Rt. Hon. William Adamson MP, The Rt. Hon. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, James Brown MP, Sir John Burnet, Lt. Col. D. W. Cameron of Lochiel, David Erskine of Lintrathen, General Sir Spencer Ewart, Sir John Findlay, proprietor of The Scotsman, The Rt. Hon. Lord Glenconner, The Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. A. MacDonald, The Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell, Sir Hector Munro of Foulis, The Rt. Hon. Lord Newlands, Sir William Robertson, The Very Rev Sir George Adam Smith, The Rt. Hon. Eugene Wason, The Very Rev. A. A. Wallace Williamson, J. Lawton Wingate, Sir George Younger MP and Captain George S. C. Swinton who was appointed Secretary.
Great care had been taken with these appointments to ensure that the Services, the press, the church, learning, architecture, Scottish history, the cities and the political parties were all represented. The Committee first met in Edinburgh on 15th January 1919 and appointed six sub-committees, finance, construction, records, museums and propaganda.
The man with the least enviable task was probably Captain George Swinton, the Secretary. George Sitwell Campbell Swinton was born in 1859. His family home was Kimmerghame in Berwickshire. He had served as a Captain in the Highland Light Infantry and in 1901 he was appointed March Pursuivant in the Lyon Court, the heraldic court of Scotland. Ultimately he was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms and Secretary to the Order of the Thistle. He devoted enormous energy to the Scottish National War Memorial and he influenced both its design and its very being.
An Architect is Appointed
The committee lost no time in pushing ahead. Firstly, they tried to identify suitable sites in the Castle for the memorial. They were particularly keen on the site of the ancient garrison church which dated back to the reign of David I and in 1919 was the site of a barrack block known as Billing's Buildings.
Secondly they looked at ways in which the names of the dead were to be commemorated and it was suggested this take the form of a Roll of Honour inscribed in " fairly written books" and that in addition, the memorial include individual memorials to each unit or group of units.
It was not long before the editor of The Scotsman newspaper was raising objections to any sort of "church" being involved and during this planning period there was extensive and sometimes acrimonious press coverage in relation to the memorial plans. Nevertheless the Committee pressed ahead and in April 1919 the eminent architect Sir Robert Lorimer was appointed as advising architect.
Lorimer, who had already designed and built the Chapel for the Knights of the Thistle in St Giles Cathedral, toured the Castle with the Duke of Atholl on a cold spring day in April 1919. He advised against a chapel or church as it "would excite much opposition". Instead he proposed a shrine and cloisters on the site of the existing Billing's Buildings with stained glass windows and that the building could be "of a dedicatory character without actually being church or chapel". The memorial books were to be housed in the old Officers' quarters on the west side of Crown Square.
At this stage the Museum, which had once been the primary purpose, made little progress and the general proposal was to put it "in the lower wards of the Castle" where it would house not only regimental trophies, but also the contents of the existing Museum of Antiquities.
It was estimated that the Memorial Shrine and Cloisters and the museum would cost a staggering £250,000.
In its final report the Committee endorsed Lorimer's proposals, suggesting that priority should be given to the commemorative cloisters and shrine. They also agreed that further investigation would have to take place as to how the proposed building would alter the skyline. There was one dissenting voice, that of Sir J Lawton Wingate, President of The Royal Scottish Academy, who complained that the scheme for the memorial was too complex and, "too exclusively a glorification of militarism". The Scotsman soon followed with objections to the museum being linked with the Museum of Antiquities and there again followed a series of angry letters in the press.
Agreement in Principle, More Problems, Fundraising Starts
Sanction for Robert Lorimer's scheme was finally given by the Government in January 1920. It was however conditional. They insisted that scaffolding be erected on the site to show the effect on the skyline. Immediately the scaffolding was erected there was an outcry. But worse was yet to come. The Ancient Monuments Board objected to the plans for the Museum, the Lloyd George Government fell and the new government denied that any scheme had ever been sanctioned, the General Officer Commanding Scotland warned the committee that because of the crisis in Ireland the Castle might well be needed to house troops and the influential Cockburn Society were about to debate a motion hostile to the entire scheme.
The leading critics were Sir Richard Lodge, Professor of History at Edinburgh University, Principal Laurie at Heriot-Watt College and Lady Francis Balfour who actually demanded that the Duke of Atholl and Sir Robert Lorimer should be hanged!
Through it all Atholl and Swinton worked on with courage and determination although there were clearly times when they must have thought that they would fail. There were even proposals to abandon the whole scheme in the Castle altogether and to erect a memorial on Calton Hill or Princess Street Gardens.
Undaunted they began fundraising. However this too had its problems as the Memorial appeal coincided with large appeals being made by Edinburgh Infirmary and Edinburgh University and the many small appeals for Parish memorials. Nevertheless they made some progress by some innovative fundraising techniques which included the sale of commemorative stamps, the "Shilling-a-head" fund and "Thistle Day". Donations came in from all over the Empire and with the enormous generosity of Mr A. P. Lyle of Glen Delvine who gave £50,000, the sum of £120,000 had been raised by August 1922.
In the midst of the hostility and shortly after the death of his staunch supporters Lord Balfour and David Erskine, Atholl hastily co-opted the artist D. Y. Cameron and John Warrack to the Committee. Both men were respected authorities on design. Lochiel, Sir John Findlay, Sir J. Lawton Wingate and Sir Herbert Maxwell all resigned.
Lorimer too made substantial compromises to his plan. He suggested that Billing's Buildings should be retained and adapted to form a Memorial Gallery. On the North side he proposed a deep apse, the roof of this extension being no higher than the existing height of Billing's Buildings. At the same time Atholl abandoned the larger plan for the Museum and agreed that regimental relics should be placed in the old Officers' quarters in Crown Square and in the rooms adjacent to the Crown Jewels of Scotland. It was an astute move for the rooms adjacent to the Crown Room were then used as the soldiers' canteen and other offices which did little to enhance the Honours of Scotland.
Progress at Last, the Building Begins
Finally, in April 1923 the opposition crumbled. The Ancient Monuments Board gave a favourable report on the changes, the War Office gave final and unqualified consent and, in October of that year, the Government approved Lorimer's designs. Six years after Atholl had made his original proposals the project went to tender and work began.
But Atholl's work did not end here. Robert Lorimer paid regular weekend visits to Blair Castle to discuss the fine detail and how every regiment, service and corps should be remembered, including the animals who in their own way had served and suffered in the war.
Some of the finest Scottish craftsmen and women of the day committed many hours to ensuring that every detail was correct. The windows had to lend a soft and subtle colour to the interior, but there had to be sufficient light to ensure that the names in the Books of Remembrance could be read.
The frieze in the Shrine, the work of Mrs Gertrude Alice Meredith Williams, was deemed by all to be a masterpiece and the Duke of Atholl was particularly delighted with it. Referring to "Mrs Meredith Williams' wonderful frieze", the Duchess of Atholl recorded, " The beauty of the frieze is in part due to her husband. During his three years in the ranks in France he made endless drawings of his fellow soldiers. The drawings furnished a priceless inspiration for the amazing number of men and women recorded in his wife's masterpiece".
It is clear from the records that both the Duke and the Duchess of Atholl played a major part in influencing the interior design of the building, particularly in relation to the subtle symbolism and the wonderful serenity and simplicity.
The Rolls of Honour
As building progressed, unaffected even by the General Strike of 1926, discussion was taking place about the names to be placed on the Rolls of Honour and in the Casket. A form of words was agreed which would provide the criteria for admission to the Rolls. Brought up to date this now reads:
"A member of the Armed Forces of the Crown or of the Merchant Navy who was either a Scotsman (i.e. born in Scotland or who had a Scottish born father or Mother) or served in a Scottish Regiment and was killed or died (except as a result of suicide) as a result of a wound, injury or disease sustained (a) in a theatre of operations for which a medal has been or is awarded; or (b) whilst on duty in aid of the Civil Power."
The original Rolls were compiled from War Office lists, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and from lists supplied from the Commonwealth countries and elsewhere. Even today names from the First World War and other conflicts are still being added.
The Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony took place in glorious sunshine on the 14th of July 1927. As the King had made it a policy not to open any war memorials, the ceremony was performed by The Prince of Wales and the King and Queen were the first visitors. The detailed preparations were masterminded by the Duke of Atholl and were greatly assisted by General Sir William Peyton the GOC Scotland who had served with Atholl in Gallipoli.
Veterans and their relatives came from all over Scotland and the Commonwealth. Many of the veterans were limbless or blind. Because Crown Square is so small, a vast crowd assembled on the Esplanade to witness the arrival of the Regimental Colours and Guidons and the Royal party. By using loud speakers they were all able to listen to the ceremony and join in the community singing of hymns. The Guard of Honour was provided by the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and there were detachments from the other services and the Women's Services alongside representatives from the veterans' organisations, widows, churches, Parliament, Lord Lieutenants, and the Lyon Court.
After a solemn benediction, The Prince opened the building and, as the pipers played "The Flowers of the Forest", the small party moved into the shrine where the Casket, a gift from the King and Queen, was opened. The Colonels of the Regiments and Services then each slowly laid their Rolls of Honour on the table beside the Casket. The Roll for the Women's Services was carried by the Duchess of Atholl wearing the nursing uniform of the Voluntary Aid Detachment.
Shortly after, The King and Queen and Princess Mary arrived and laid wreaths outside the Memorial. They then moved inside and The King placed the Rolls of Honour in the Casket, all except the Roll for the Women's Services which was deposited by The Queen herself. The Casket, containing over 100,000 names, was then closed. It was a moving and poignant ceremony and many were in tears.
After the main party had left thousands who had waited on the Esplanade made their way to the Memorial. Hundreds were carrying wreaths and posies of flowers which they laid in Crown Square covering the grey flagstones with a brilliant carpet of colour.
Wreaths laid at the opening ceremony of the War Memorial
An unknown writer later recorded, "the debt Scotland owed to the men, who in the face of coldness, discouragement and powerful opposition, held fast to their purpose to erect a National War Memorial which would be held in admiration and reverence as long as Scots are Scots".
The Continuing Story
In the years after the opening ceremony thousands flocked to the Memorial. Many inconsolable widows and relatives regularly visited on the anniversary of the death of their loved one, opening the appropriate Roll of Honour and running their hand over a name.
In February 1929 Atholl's original project, the Scottish National Naval and Military Museum, was opened and survives today as part of the National Museums of Scotland.
During the Second World War 1939 - 1945 the Rolls of Honour, the stained glass windows of the Memorial and many of the contents of the Museum were removed to safety for fear of bombing.
Following the Second World War a further 50,000 names were added to the Rolls of Honour. At this time it was decided to leave the memorial unchanged as a masterpiece of Scottish architecture and craftsmanship and no Second World War Battle Honours were added to the Regimental bays. And it thus remains, a memorial to all who have died since 1914. Names are regularly added.