America's touching tribute to Scotland's war dead

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NEARLY 80 years ago, on a bright Edinburgh day, hundreds of people joined in the unveiling of a new war memorial on the west end of Princes Street Gardens. Like most monuments and plaques that dot the city's landscape, this particular one has carried additional significance ever since.

The Scottish-American War Memorial is a moving expression of beauty and dignity and captures the essence of the strong bond between the two lands. At its centre, the memorial – known as The Call – features a young, kilted soldier representing the First World War fighting spirit of Scotland. At the unveiling ceremonies on 7 September 1927, Alanson B Houghton, the US Ambassador to Britain, said of the seated bronze infantryman gazing toward Castle Rock:

"Today we commemorate the Great War with the figure of a common soldier – one youth separated from the thronging files of recruits pressing on from behind – one youth within sound of the pipes and drums and within sight of the old Castle on the hill – one son of Scotland from a mansion or a manse or a mine, from a farm or a factory, from a Glasgow close or an Edinburgh lane – it matters not. For he came from all of these. He kept lonely company with his own soul in a tank or in a trench, on the sea or in the sky. And he went to his death alone."

Fast fact

Memorial Day in America was originally known as Decoration Day and was first held in 1868 to honour the Civil War dead. States in the South refused to recognise the remembrance day until after the First World War. The day became an official holiday in 1967.

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US Consulate General, Edinburgh

Monday marks Memorial Day in America, a time to reflect on the men and women from all US wars who went to their "death alone". Five years after the dedication of the Scottish-American memorial, it was decided to hold an annual remembrance service on the US holiday. This year marks the 72nd Memorial Day service in Edinburgh, one of the few European cities that sustains the tradition.

"It's appropriately sombre," says Ccile Shea, Consul General to the US Consulate in Edinburgh. "It reminds me of the important foundations that have developed over the years between the US and Scotland."

The non-denominational religious service includes a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue by American and Scottish dignitaries, the playing of both national anthems and the skirl of a Scottish piper – a stirring moment that traditionally attracts the attention of curious tourists and passers-by.

"It's very moving," says Shea. "It's very symbolic and shows the important values that we share – both now and on the battlefield."

One of the most poignant war memorials in Britain, The Call was designed by R Tait McKenzie, a Canadian-born physician and artist of Scottish descent who was at the time a distinguished educator at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The memorial, which cost 10,000 (or about 400,000 today), was a gift from American Scots as a tribute to the bravery of Scottish troops during the 1914-1918 conflict.

Directly behind the statue, a long bronze relief panel features men from all walks of life joining the call to arms, marching from left to right, with a pipe band leading the way. The Craigleith sandstone backdrop was designed by architect Reginald Fairlie. Along the base of the panel, a carved inscription reads: "If it be life that waits I shall live forever unconquered; if death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free."

High atop the frieze, and worn from the years exposed to Scotland's notorious weather, are two intertwined wreaths. Featuring two shields – one bearing the Stars and Stripes and the other the Saltire Cross – they best symbolise the long-standing links these two nations share to this day.

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