Edinburgh University's Scotland's War project to be axed

A major nationwide project offering an unprecedented insight into Scotland's involvement in the First World War is to be wound up.

A war memorial is unveiled in Edinburgh. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson

The Scotland’s War project, co-ordinated by the University of Edinburgh, has shed new light on the experiences of ordinary Scots caught up in the conflict.

Its research has helped relatives of Scotland’s lost fallen solve long-standing mysteries as to their fate, but despite current national and international centenary events the initiative is to be culled.

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The scheme, the largest First World War public engagement initiative outwith the work of the Imperial War Museum, has drawn on the expertise of hundreds of members of the public, who have submitted diaries and other artefacts.

Members of a British Highland regiment in a trench in 1915. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With worldwide commemorations planned until 2018 and beyond, it had been expected that the project would continue. But in a letter to the project’s partners, Professor Ewen Cameron, head of the university’s school of history, classics and archaeology, said it was being closed following the “exhaustion” of £75,000 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and “the fulfilment of the project’s objectives”.

The move was questioned by those who credit the project with helping them discover the fate of their loved ones. Until last year, Reverend Harold Steven, from Glasgow, only knew that his uncle had fought in the war after emigrating to Canada. After contacting the project he was able to trace his final resting place to an unmarked grave in Toronto.

After approaching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, his uncle – Gunner Ian Hector Steven, who served with the Canadian Field Artillery – now has a stone of remembrance at his grave. Steven will travel to Canada for a military dedication ceremony next May.

“The support from Scotland’s War was tremendous and it’s disappointing and very surprising that it’s coming to an end now,” he said.

Members of a British Highland regiment in a trench in 1915. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Christina Strachan from the Milton Quilters group, which made artworks depicting Scotland’s involvement in the war, said the decision was “very shortsighted” and she was “shocked and saddened”.

She said: “Why would the project be wound up when the commemorations will be continuing until 2018? It has taken away some of the pride it gave us to show our honour, gratitude and respect to those who served their country.”

A university spokeswoman said: “We are proud to have been part of the Scotland’s War initiative, and all that it has achieved, since its launch in 2014. The funding generously granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund ends this month and the aims of the grant requirements have been fulfilled.

“Therefore – as with many outreach projects – the project will draw to a close. We will continue to run Scotland’s War until the end of the year to ensure all archive materials collected over the past two years are digitised and made publicly available. Its legacy will provide an invaluable resource for generations to come.”