THOUSANDS of veterans, servicemen and women and relatives of heroes of the First World War braved torrential rain on Sunday to pay tribute to those who fought in the conflict that broke out 100 years ago.
The Drumhead Service – which saw 5,000 people take part in a military-led service at Edinburgh Castle and then join a procession down the Royal Mile before again paying their respects to those killed in the war – was the first of eight events planned in Scotland to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war.
Thousands more lined the Royal Mile to watch the procession led by military bands, veterans and cadets and followed the parade to a war memorial surrounded by more than 1,000 replica Commonwealth War Graves in Holyrood Park.
Organisers said the event was designed to “stimulate the public’s imagination” about what it would have been like to experience the war, encouraging participants to march in step during the procession and be ordered in military style at the ceremony of remembrance.
Drums draped with military colours were used in place of an altar to replicate services held on the frontline 100 years ago, while the service was accompanied by music from the Festival Chorus, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and the choir of Erskine Stewart’s Melville School.
The event was attended by politicians including First Minister Alex Salmond and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, as well as a host of civic and religious leaders and military representatives.
Graeme Wilkie, who serves in the air force at RAF Leuchars, was wearing on his uniform medals won by his grandfather George Bryce during the First World War. Mr Bryce, who served in the 52nd Machine Gun Corps, was honoured for his bravery during a battle against the Turkish army at Gallipoli.
“I was very young when he died, but my mother said he never talked about it,” said Mr Wilkie. “I think a lot of people of that generation didn’t.”
During the course of the war, more than 5.2 million men served in the British Army, with a further 640,000 in the Royal Navy and 291,000 in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.
The war also affected those who remained at home, with Scottish cities suffering destruction from the first-ever aerial bombardments.
Brigadier David Allfrey, producer of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and chief organiser of the Drumhead Service, the first commemoration event of its scale to have ever been held in Scotland, said: “Today’s event was designed to stimulate the public’s imagination on what it might have been like to leave home and workplaces – with their structure and familiarity – to enlist in the Armed Forces in 1914 and, in a few short weeks, adapt to a martial way of life; being thrown together with strangers, learning foot drill, wearing uniform, dealing with strange equipment, adopting a new lexicon and learning skill at arms.”
He added: “I hope, with the conversation begun, we might all think a little more deeply about the tragedy and perhaps draw more from it.”
Around 8,000 free tickets had been allocated via Scotland’s 32 local authorities, as well as veterans’ organisations, charities and cadet groups. There was also an allocation available to members of the public from the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. However, the grandstands remained only two thirds full, which organisers said was likely to be due to the weather.
The procession down the Royal Mile saw the participants lined up according to the local authority they represented and told to march in step on the route to Holyrood Park.
Second World War veteran Tom Gilzean, 94, who sits daily in his wheelchair on the Royal Mile collecting money for the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, was delighted with the parade.
Mr Gilzean, who served with the Royal Engineers in Burma, North Africa, Holland and Germany, said: “There is not enough made of what happened in the wars. More people need to know what it was like. The boys who were in the trenches suffered unbelievably and what they did was tremendous. I take my hat off to them.”
Tourists Jean Milsom-Smith from Sussex and Sally Fairweather from Manchester heard about the parade while attending the Military Tattoo on Saturday night and decided to turn out and watch it. Ms Milsom-Smith said: “It is very important not to forget what happened during the First World War.”
Despite the rain, hundreds of members of the congregation continued to the memorial at Holyrood Park, where the replica war graves had been placed in a moving tribute to the 145,000 Scots who died in the conflict.
Mr Salmond said: “People from all walks of life and from across Scotland stood side by side with representatives of the armed forces, veterans and cadets to remember the sacrifice made by so many in Scotland, across the Commonwealth and around the world.”
Other events scheduled for the centenary will remember the end of the war, major battles including Loos, Arras, Jutland and Gallipoli and domestic incidents such as the Quintinshill rail disaster and the loss of HMY Iolaire.
Family’s pride in VC hero who lost a leg saving his comrades Cross for saving lives
Roseann Weir and her daughter Yvonne from Whitburn, West Lothian, attended the Drumhead Service to honour Roseann’s grandfather, David Ross Lauder, who was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 aged just 21 after losing his leg to a grenade.
Mr Ross Lauder, from Glasgow, served in the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, joining up aged 19 after war broke out. He died in 1972 aged 75.
“He was in the trenches where he had been throwing grenades for 24 hours. He was exhausted and he threw one that didn’t go clear and it landed in the middle of a group of his comrades,” said Ms Weir.
“He threw himself on top of it to protect the others and it exploded. He lost his leg but he saved everybody else. He had a wooden leg for the rest of his life. It was obviously well before there were such things as prosthetics, but he just got on with it. He even tried to join up again when the Second World War broke out but they wouldn’t let him so he had to join the Home Guard.
“You would have never have known that he had a wooden leg – he lived life to the full. He had a motorbike when he was young and did everything that anyone else would have done. He was very young when it happened and he later met my grandmother and got married and went on to have children. He just loved life. We are very proud of him.”
Ms Weir’s daughter Yvonne, who never met her great grandfather, said it was an “emotional” day for the family.
‘Viral hit’ of 1914-18 re-recorded
Veterans, military families and serving soldiers are giving the First World War song Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag a new life to mark 100 years since the start of the conflict.
A choir organised by a British military charity performed the song yesterday in central London, launching a new recording of what Aubrey Powell, the grandson of the original’s co-composer George Powell, described as “the viral hit of WWI”.