The neat thing about being a WWI buff is that wherever I go, I find interesting WWI stuff. Even driving through a small town in western New York last fall, I happened by a WWI memorial (on right) and pulled over to snap a picture. Many U.S. towns and cities have WWI memorials, it’s just that most Americans don’t know much about them or the war they represent.
WWI memorials abound in Scotland as well. On our recent trip there, I noticed them in towns, at the Edinburgh botanical garden and at the national museum. But the Scottish know a lot more about the Great War than most Americans because it touched every Scottish town and family in some way. Scotland had about 4.6 million people at the time and over 700,000 men fought. That represents about 30% of the male population. Over 100,000 men died with many more wounded. Deaths represented 2.2% of the population. In the U.S., deaths from WWI represented about 0.1% of the population. It’s easy to see how every Scottish town and family would be impacted. Scotland was also a big industrial area of Great Britain at the time. Many women had to fill the ranks in industry under lower wages than the men they replaced and often dangerous conditions.
The Scottish were renowned fighters. Many regiments wore woolen kilts with different Tarten patterns depending on the regiment. But according to many of the men who fought in France, the kilt wasn’t a particularly good choice especially in the wet cold muddy low lands. A kilt of the correct length and weight was supposed to shed water making it a good choice for the Scottish highlands. In the trenches, mud clung to the fabric causing it to be weighted down. The caked mud could also chafe the back of the legs resulting in dangerous infections. By 1918, many of the Scottish regiments were abandoning the kilt for battledress trousers for the reasons mentioned above as well as the danger of mustard gas which burns exposed skin.
My favorite WWI memorial in Scotland was in the botanical garden with a wooden marker about John McCrea and his famous poem “In Flanders Field” which I talked about in an earlier post. There was also a plot of poppies which must have looked beautiful in summer, but were long past when we went. Scottish troops also fought in Flanders and many died so the poem has direct significance. But McCrea was also the grandson of Scottish immigrants to Cananda so he holds a special place in the hearts of the Scottish for that as well.