SCOTLAND will honour those who fell in the First World War with a spectacular and moving three-part event which will bring the heart of Edinburgh to a halt at the height of the Fringe.
Tens of thousands are expected to line the Royal Mile on 10 August for a parade of veterans’ relatives and military bands to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.
More than 8000 Scots from every corner of the country will be invited to a solemn “drumhead” service, replicating those held by soldiers on the front line to honour their fallen colleagues, to held in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
The entire congregation, which is expected to include veterans groups and military charities, will be able to take part in a huge procession down the length of the Royal Mile, which will end in a replica Commonwealth war graves cemetery, which is to be created in Holyrood Park.
Organisers say the finale of the event will offer relatives of soldiers an opportunity to reflect on their contribution, as well as leave poppies or wreaths at the headstones, which represent the names of the 147,000 First World War rolls of honour held at the Scottish National War Memorial in the castle.
The event - which representatives of the Scottish and UK governments, as well as the Royal Family, are expected to attend - coincides with the second weekend of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, when thousands of street performers and festival-goers throng the heart of the High Street every day.
Fringe organisers and council chiefs have agreed to cancel street entertainment for several hours and urge performers to relocate elsewhere while before, during and after the parade, which senior officials at the Tattoo - also in its second weekend - are helping to organise, along with Historic Scotland, who are responsible for both the castle and the park.
The commemoration in Edinburgh, which political rivals joined forces to promote, will be held just days after a memorial service for Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow Cathedral, which will get the UK’s main First World War commemorations underway within hours of the city’s sporting extravaganza drawing to a close.
This August is one of eight landmark anniversaries with special significance north of the border which will be marked with major events in Scotland. These include the battles of Loos, Gallipoli and Jutland, as well as the Gretna rail disaster, when 214 officers on their way to the war from Leith were killed, and the sinking of the Iolaire, which was carrying sailors who had fought in the war back to the Isle of Lewis, with the loss of 205 lives.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government’s external affairs secretary, said every local authority in the country will be able to select suitable representatives to the “multi-faith” drumhead service, which is expected to fill the stands which are currently being erected for the Tattoo. The service is intended to honour the kind of occasions staged in the battlefield when drums were piled high by soldiers to create makeshift altars.
Ms Hyslop, who visited the national war memorial after unveiling the plans for the event, said: “I want to stress that key to this event is its inclusivity.
“No person, no family, no community escaped the impact of the conflict. For that reason, the event has been designed to include representatives of all areas in society in Scotland. Invitations will be going out shortly to every local authority to encourage them to send people from their communities to participate in the event.”
Ms Hyslop added that the gathering of so many nations from around the world at the Commonwealth service at Glasgow Cathedral and cenotaph service in George Square in August would “reinforce” the global nature of the conflict and its “devastating impact.”
She said: “If there is one thing about which we’re all clear it is that these commemorations will be without politics and will be handled with sensitivity and solemnity. We owe to this to those who fought and to those who fell.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, who also attended the launch of the commemoration at the castle, said: “The First World War was a terrible conflict which would change forever the world in which we live and the origins of which are still the subject of vigorous debate.
“The First World War shaped modern history and in so doing took the lives of millions of people from around the globe and left still more with disabling injuries. It is absolutely right that we mark its centenary and that we put remembrance at the heart of this commemoration.
“2014 is obviously a very important year for Scotland for other reason. But it should go without saying that an experience with such profound and lasting experiences as the First World War deserves the utmost respect from politicians and commentators.
Major General Nick Eeles, overall commander of the Army in Scotland and governor of Edinburgh Castle. said: “Many Scottish soldiers mustered in the castle for the final time before marching down the esplanade and off to war almost 100 years ago.
“I very much hope that Scotland will agree that the combination of events which is planned for August 10 is an appropriate way to mark, with due dignity, solemnity and remembrance, the start of a war in which more than 147,000 Scotsmen lost their lives.
“The Armed Forces are delighted and enormously proud that they will be playing a part in this commemorative event and they are looking forward to sharing it with thousands of participants from across the country.”