To mark Remembrance Day, we remember the terrible sacrifice and enduring impact of the First World War and the special role that Scotland played.
Drawn from works in the National Galleries of Scotland collection, these are the stories of people whose lives were touched by the conflict, from famous figures to ordinary men and women.
We will remember them.
Emslie graduated from Edinburgh University Medical School in 1910 and in 1912 gained an M.D., specialising in mental illness. She joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals organisation (SWH) in 1915 and was posted in the French town of Troyes. She and her female staff became known locally as les braves dames écossaises.
She wrote, referring to the fact that the British Government had rejected the offer of assistance from the SWH: How strange are the fortunes of war! Here was a Scottish Women’s Hospital attached to the French Expeditionary Force, while side by side with us were the men of a British division without a hospital.
Emslie’s next posting was to the first allied hospital in Serbia where ‘the suffering was past telling and was only equalled by the boundless courage of the patients.’
When preparing to leave the initial site in Serbia, she recalled: ‘… we made a bonfire of every scrap that might be useful to the enemy and crouched round it…the fire lit up thoughtful faces, for there was not one of us but had someone serving in France, the Dardanelles or on the high seas and our hearts were with them”.’ Emslie would have been thinking of her own brother Hamish who was fighting on the Somme.
In the summer of 1918, Emslie was made Commanding Officer of the field hospital at Ostrovo in Serbia and then, following the front line advance, on to Vranja. After the war, she assisted in creating a civil hospital in Vranja with the surgical instruments and equipment used by the SWH. When she left Serbia, Emslie took a group of Russian orphans to Constantinople. She was awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle in recognition of her wartime service.
Scott-Moncrieff studied Law and English Literature at Edinburgh University. He was given a commission in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and served with the 2nd Battalion on the Western Front from 1914 to 1917. On 23 April 1917 he was wounded by a shell explosion when leading his men into an attack at the Battle of Arras. As a result, Scott Moncrieff was rendered permanently lame and was disqualified from active service. He was also suffering from shell-shock. Writing home on the 1 May 1917, Scott Moncrieff tells of the mental anguish, flashbacks and nightmares caused by shell shock:
'At night I had not such a bad time, thinking rather than sleeping, but still feeling this awful inability to control or co-ordinate my thoughts, which is, I suppose, a result of the shell shock. I find it so hard to grasp that this great nocturnal space bounded by the four corners of my bed… - has just the one inhabitant.'
He recovered, was awarded the Military Cross, and in 1918 took up a position in the War office in Whitehall.
Maidie Scott was asked to act as a companion to the poet Wilfred Owen who, in 1917, was being treated for shell-shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital. The hospital was run by William H. Rivers, a psychiatrist who based his methods on Freud’s ‘talking’ cure. An important element in the treatment of his patients was ‘ergotherapy’ or cure by functioning, engaging in activities related to their peacetime existence. He encouraged Owen, whose shell shock presented itself in the form of terrifying nightmares and a stammer , to teach at the local school, edit the hospital magazine The Hydra, and to attend social gatherings in Edinburgh with members of the literary and artistic community.
Maidie Scott spoke of her ‘intense but purely spiritual passion for the young officer Owen’, and of his ‘intense but respectful passion’ for her. She recalled visiting Edinburgh slums in the Grassmarket with him ‘where again, despite his silence, gentle gravity and reserve, Wilfred was adored – there is no other word for it’. She spoke of his ‘intense pity for suffering humanity – a need to alleviate it, wherever possible, and an inability to shirk the sharing of it, even when it seemed useless.’
Owen was eventually declared fit and sent back to his regiment. He was killed in action on 4 November, one week before the Armistice was declared.
‘Great Britain and Germany will be fighting for their existence. Therefore the war is bound to be a long war.’ (Haig, August 1914)
Though there was optimism in 1914 that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ it was clear to those in command that the wart would be a long, terrible and costly one, both in the expenditure of public funds and human life. On 15 August 1914 Haig took up his post as commander of one of the two corps in France. In December 1915 he became Commander-in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, assuming command of one and a half million men. The ensuing battles of the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Cambrai resulted in enormous casualties.
Haig’s strategy, much criticised at the time and by subsequent commentators, from which he never deviated, was:
1. Manoeuvre for position;
2. The first clash of battle;
3. The wearing-out fight;
4. The decisive blow.
It is the third phase- the long three years of attrition fought in the trenches and incurring unprecedented casualties - that is still debated by historians.
Dr Inglis was one of the first women to study medicine in Scotland. She established a maternity hospital in Edinburgh, with an entirely female staff, and she played a major role in starting up a medical school for women. Inglis was an active supporter of the fight for female emancipation and was a founder member of the Scottish Women's Suffragette Federation.
When the First World War broke out Inglis proposed the establishment of all-women units of doctors, nurses and orderlies to set up field-hospitals. The War Office rejected her offer but France and Serbia accepted, and the Scottish Women's Hospitals Organisation (SWH) was established, staffed by volunteers and funded by donations. Initially Inglis remained in Britain organising the units, but in 1915 she went to Serbia to relieve a colleague. Serbia was soon invaded but Inglis stayed at her hospital, winning the admiration of the Serbs and eventually being interned then repatriated. In 1916 Inglis became the first woman to be decorated with the order of the white eagle, the highest Serbian honour. Inglis returned to Southern Russia in September 1916. She knew before leaving Britain that she had cancer, though she told none of her colleagues. She worked tirelessly and in September 1917 she collapsed. No longer able to work as a surgeon, she continues to direct the unit, leaving only when finally ordered out of Russia. Inglis died the day after her boat docked at Newcastle.
Sir Harry Lauder enjoyed international success as a popular entertainer. With his extravagant Highland dress, wily humour and sentimental songs, he came to personify Scotland to many, particularly to audiences in the United States, Canada, Australia and the other countries he toured. Praised by Winston Churchill as ‘Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador’, Lauder was aware of the importance of his presence during the War and devoted himself to a campaign of entertaining troops and encouraging support of the war effort. When the United States entered the war, Lauder was at the Glasgow docks to welcome American ships and thank the troops personally for coming to Britain’s assistance in her hour of need.
Lauder’s only son, John, was killed in action in France aged twenty-five. In the wake of his son’ s death, Lauder wrote Keep Right on to the End of the Road, a morale-boosting anthem for weary soldiers.
In 1916, the poet and children’s author, Lady Margaret Sackville, published The Pageant of War, a collection of anti-war poems in which she declared that women who supported the war were betraying their sons.
Sackville joined the anti-war pressure group that he co-founded – the Union of Democratic Control. The UDC believed that the war was the outcome of secret negotiations and intrigues carried on beyond democratic scrutiny. They opposed conscription, wartime censorship and restrictions on civil liberties. By 1917 there were more than a hundred local branches across Britain with over 10,000 members. The historian A.J.P. Taylor called the UDC ‘the most formidable radical body ever to influence British foreign policy.’
Sackville lived in Edinburgh during the war and befriended the English war poets, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, during their time as patients at Craiglockhart War Hospital. Both poets owned copies of The Pageant of War.
Sackville’s brother, Gilbert, 8th Earl de la Warr, was killed in action in 1915.
Maxton was a pacifist who was prominent in the anti-war movement in Glasgow. He was a working as a school teacher but his opposition to the war cost him his teaching post. Maxton appeared before Barrhead military tribunal in March 1916 and was offered the opportunity to join the Royal Army Medical Corps but he refused.
Soon afterwards he was arrested and charged with sedition for speaking against the deportation of some of the prominent Clydeside shop stewards and for urging the munitions workers to strike in protest. He was tried at Edinburgh High Court in May 1916 and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Upon his release, Maxton was once again offered the opportunity to work as a non-combatant in work of national importance, but again refused.
He spent the rest of the war years working for a firm of barge builders who supplied neutral countries. After the war, Maxton stood for Parliament and eventually became the leader of the Independent Labour Party.
In May 1914 Flora Drummond was serving her ninth prison sentence for militant suffragette activities. After going on hunger strike, she was released and was recuperating on the isle of Arran when war was declared. The suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, promptly made a pact with the government and ordered the immediate cessation of all militant activities. Pledging to help the war effort, she urged her fellow-suffragettes to ‘fight for their country as they fought for the vote’.
In 1917, Flora Drummond , together with Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst, formed The Women’s Party which was committed to fostering a sense of patriotism in working-class women. They spent the war years urging trade unionists, including the Glasgow ship workers, not to go on strike. Called ‘The General’ because of the uniform she wore, Flora Drummond toured the country reviewing lines of female munitions workers
Reith was 25 years old when the war broke out. On 29 July1914 - one day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - he wrote in capital letters in his diary the single word ‘WAR’.
As a keen member of the cadet corps at school, Reith had then joined the Territorial Army, becoming a commissioned officer in the 5th Scottish Rifles. He was, like many young men of his generation who voluntarily enlisted, excited to be called up and sent to France. He conducted himself at the Front with bravery bordering on recklessness. Conspicuous because of his great height (6 feet 6 inches) he seemed to have no fear, putting his head above the parapet and venturing for sheer bravado into ‘no-man’s-land’ - the piece of ground that stood between the British and German trenches which was constantly guarded by snipers. On 7 October 1915, at the Battle of Loos, Reith was shot in the face. This injury left him with his infamous scar, lacerating a diagonal across his left cheek. Reith was shocked by the scale and horror of the casualties:
‘I had never witnessed such sights before; this was indeed a battlefield. I had seen dead men and dead horses but never in these numbers.’
The musician and collector of Hebridean songs Marjory Kennedy Fraser was one of the founders of Bangour Hospital. Set up to treat the mentally ill, the hospital was converted to a war hospital in 1915. It was at the forefront of medical advances during the war, including x-ray, orthopedic surgery, bone grafting and nerve suturing. Many of the patients treated there were suffering from shell-shock.
One of volunteer nurses Effie Day, recalled that on her first day at the hospital she ‘wanted to run home.’ She had been sent to the unit where mustard gas casualties were housed, unable to speak and their faces blackened and burned. ‘It was horrible but you just had to grit your teeth and carry on’. Effie reported that there was increasing resentment against the war because the young men ‘no sooner recovered than they were shipped back to the trenches’. After the war, Effie Day became a committed pacifist.
Marjory Kennedy Fraser’s son David, a mathematician and psychologist, was a Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He wrote home from the Front during the Battle of Passchendale, describing a reconnaissance he made in advance of ‘the stunt’. He took ‘a very interesting wander over the shell-torn ground that was so long in German hands’ and was ‘amused to see notices all over the place in German as well as English’. David survived the war and later became a pioneer in the treatment of the disabled.
Munro left Inverary School at the age of thirteen and pursued a career in journalism, eventually becoming editor of the Glasgow Evening News. In the 1890s he published short stories and novels, and by 1914 had achieved worldwide literary fame. Munro returned to journalism at the outbreak of war becoming a war correspondent and visiting the Front on four occasions.
His son Hugh was killed at the battle of Loos in 1915. Munro was never to complete another novel; instead, he wrote poetry.
One poem, called The Only Son, in which a father laments the death of his son who has been killed in a distant land may be read as Munro’s own lament for Hugh.
The father says of his son’s ghost:
It must walk sad sands in foreign lands,
In blindness and blackness with outstretched hands,
Too far, too far over sundering seas,
Too far from your folk in the Hebrides,
For our poor dirging to give you ease.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was daughter of the Earl of Strathmore. At the outbreak of war, her family home, Glamis Castle in Angus was offered to the government for use as a convalescent hospital. An Irish officer who was treated there recalled that, while her older sister Rose nursed the wounded, Elizabeth and her brother David ‘used to help out in the wards by running errands for the soldiers, writing letters and making sure they had enough tobacco…Elizabeth also kept them entertained by playing cards and billiards with them or singing songs and generally kept their spirits up.’
Three of Elizabeth’s brothers served in the war with the Black Watch. John and Michael were wounded. Fergus was killed during the Battle of Loos in September 1915. As he was leading an attack on the German lines, his leg was blown off by a barrage of German artillery, bullets struck him in the chest and shoulder, and he died on the field.
Elizabeth was profoundly affected by the loss of her brother Fergus and his death remained a source of great sadness to her throughout her long life.
George Washington Browne and his wife suffered great personal tragedy as a result of the war - the loss of their three sons. The eldest son, Leslie Aitchison Browne served with the Light Infantry in France and was severely wounded in 1916. He never fully recovered and died in September 1922, at the age of 32.
The second son, Lieutenant George Brownlie Browne served with the Black Watch in France. He was killed on 7 February, 1916, in the trenches near Loos. He was aged 23.
His Commanding Officer wrote to Sir George Washington Browne:
'Your boy was absolutely devoid of fear. He took part in a most successful bombardment in January, and in my report on the matter I specially mentioned your son’s name… he would in all probability have been mentioned in Dispatches for his gallantry on that occasion.'
The youngest son, Private Hew Edwards Browne served with the Royal Scots as an official photographer. He was sent to France in February 1916, and was killed on 1 July, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was 21 years old.
There are more portraits of incredible people who helped shape history during the First World War within our collection, including generals and statesmen such as David Lloyd George, Field-Marshal George Francis Milne, General Henry Sinclair, General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton and Sir Winston Churchill.
There are also artists and writers whose work during the war years continues to help us shape our understanding of the conflict, over 100 years on. Figures such as JM Barrie, John Buchan, Naomi Mitchison, Peter Wylie Davidson, Sir William Gillies and William McCance are all featured within our collection.
We will remember them.