Exhibitions charting World War I Scots to be held

Fiona Hyslop and Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland admire a statue named "Blighty". Picture: Neil Hanna
Fiona Hyslop and Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director of National Museums Scotland admire a statue named "Blighty". Picture: Neil Hanna
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TWO major exhibitions charting the role Scots and their ancestors played in the First World War will take centre-stage in the world-wide programme being planned to mark the centenary of the conflict next year.

The National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle will both be playing host to signature exhibitions as part of a four-year programme of commemorations backed by the Scottish Government.

They will be two of Scotland’s major contributions to an international First World War Centenary Partnership, set up by the Imperial War Museum in London, to co-ordinate anniversary events around the world.

The National War Museum, which is part of the castle, will present “a portrait of Scotland at war”, with rarely-seen military artefacts from its own collections and donated family treasures, combining with personal stories.

The castle exhibition, Next of Kin, will have an initial run in the capital from April of next year until March 2015 before heading off on a three-year tour of Scotland, with the experience of local soldiers featuring in each location.

Common Cause, the exhibition at the national museum in Edinburgh, which will run from July until next October, will explore the war stories of the Scottish diaspora, with displays to be drawn from collections around the Commonwealth.

The show, which will feature archive newsreel, photography and the recorded accounts of military personnel, is expected to depict how Scottish identity and culture was expressed in forces assembled in the likes of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Other projects planned by National Museums Scotland as part of a four-year programme, funded by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, include school pupils across the country working with a leading artist to tackle issues raised by the centenary commemorations, a series of special events at the National Museum of Flight, in East Lothian, and a special exhibition, to be staged in 1918, looking at how poppies came to such an iconic symbol of remembrance.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the national museums, said: “The First World War affected millions of Scots, whether at home or in service, and people of Scottish descent all over the world. Behind the bare statistics of war, there are countless individual stories of heroism and loss, triumph and tragedy.

“Many of the objects in our collection are deeply linked to these stories and individuals, and provide a tangible link to events which, a century on, have passed from living memory.

“The whole programme starts with the exhibition which will take place initially at the castle, which will look at the whole human experience of the war and the impact on loved ones at home. The exhibition will go on tour to eight venues around the country, where local museums will tailor the exhibition to tell stories from their own area and the impact of the war on local communities.

“The exhibition at the museum is really about the experience of Scots who emigrated to places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and how many of them, when they enlisted, essentially formed Scottish regiments.

“We’ll also have special events at a range of our sites over the four years, including the National Museum of Flight, which few people are aware actually started off as a First World War airbase set up to protect Edinburgh and Leith Docks from attacks by Zeppelins and also to do reconnaissance over the North Sea.”

First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled plans by the government to throw its weight behind the First World War commemorations earlier this year.

On the actual anniversary of the onset of war in August, Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade will play host to a “drumhead service”, replicating the church services staged on the front line that used neatly piled drums for impromptu altars.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The First World War must be commemorated and it is important in Scotland that we do this appropriately.

“We must never forget the impact the First World War had on our country, our families and our communities.

“The content of these exhibitions will demonstrate that impact. It will give people across Scotland the opportunity to learn about how the war changed Scotland and the wider world forever. The exhibitions will also ensure the international reach and impact of the war is commemorated as well. It is all about remembrance.”

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, which is supporting the Next of Kin exhibition, said: “The First World War changed the face of modern history, touching the lives of everyone involved in this country and beyond.

“We have committed funding to a variety of projects, from organisations, large and small, which will create a deeper understanding of the heritage of the conflict. Some of these will capture the memories of individual soldiers, some will reveal the importance and uncover stories around local war memorials, whilst others like Next of Kin will bring to life the impact war had on family life across the country.”