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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

World War I

World War i

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  • 1 For W.P. Paterson, Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University, the war could serve to link the (...)

1The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 provoked an immediate response in Scotland. Most people greeted the war with enthusiasm: the war was perceived as a just crusade against the Germans and many were those who thought the war would consolidate the sense of unity of the nation1. Large numbers of men rushed to enlist. A total of 700,000 Scottish men served in the armed forces during the conflict, which represents half of the Scottish men aged between eighteen and forty-five. Out of the 157 battalions that comprised the British Expeditionary Forces, there were 22 Scottish regiments.

2But not all Scottish people welcomed Britain’s involvement in the First World War. The Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Labour Party strongly condemned what they saw as an imperialist war and argued that the working classes would suffer the most from the war. There was also some opposition from Suffragette groups like the Women’s Peace Crusade. The resolution that was passed at a peace demonstration against the war in August 1914 clearly stated that the working people of all countries “had no quarrel with each other”:

  • 2 Forward, 15 August 1914.

This meeting deplores the outbreak of War and declares it to be the outcome of Capitalism allied with Militarism, which has been consistently opposed by the organized workers and pacifists in all the countries concerned […] Further this meeting emphatically protests against the increasing of the prices of foodstuffs and its consequent miseries to the working classes.2

3The Military Service Act of 1916 introduced compulsory military service, but also made it possible to obtain exemption on grounds of occupation, faith or moral belief. Some 16,500 conscientious objectors obtained exemption certificates.

4The Great War had a major impact not only on the Scottish economy but also on society and politics. The war effort stimulated the Scottish industry especially in the sectors of engineering and shipbuilding, the Clyde basin becoming the most important centre of munitions production in the British Isles with a total workforce of 250,000. Vast quantities of textile were needed: the British army needed tents, groundsheets, tarpaulins and sandbags. Scottish woollen and linen manufacturers had to increase their production.

5The Great War was a cataclysmic event in terms of loss of life. About 20% of the British soldiers who died during the war were Scottish. 18,000 soldiers from Glasgow died during the war, some 10% of all the adult males of the city.

6The Great War is one of the most thoroughly documented events in history. Millions of words were written – letters written to and from the front, newspaper and magazine articles, propaganda, official reports, advertisements, poems etc. All these documents give an idea of how soldiers and civilians experienced and endured the war. As Richard Finlay has noted,

  • 3 R. J. Finlay, Modern Scotland, 1914-2000, London: Profile, 2004, p. 30.

The soldiers tend to be forgotten in history books. Yet to write about the First World War and not to take account of the soldiers and servicemen is to leave half of all Scottish men aged between eighteen and forty-five out of the picture.3

Notes

1 For W.P. Paterson, Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University, the war could serve to link the aristocrats who in August were likely to be found on the grouse moors and the working-class “slouching spectators of the football spectacle” (See M. Lynch, op. cit, p. 422).

2 Forward, 15 August 1914.

3 R. J. Finlay, Modern Scotland, 1914-2000, London: Profile, 2004, p. 30.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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