Saturday, 21 May 2011

Old Scottish War Graves

When we think of war graves we think of white stones in massed ranks in beautifully tended war cemeteries around the world. The dignity shown to the dead of the First World War is far removed from the lot of the dead from previous wars. Up until the late nineteenth century dead bodies on a battlefield were quickly stripped of any valuables and then put in a mass grave to be covered over as soon as possible to stop the smell and the spread of disease.

The last pitched battle on British soil was Culloden in April 1746. It was a massacre for the Jacobites and it was up to the victors to dispose of the bodies. Clansmen were taken to pits dug beside the road through the battlefield for burial.

Over two hundred and fifty years the widening of the road and the planting of trees did not eradicated the mounds where the Jacobites were buried and the National Trust for Scotland has worked hard over recent years to return the field back to the state it was in 265 years ago.

In the late nineteenth century the local landowner placed simple headstones over the mass graves but it is unlikely the Redcoats detailed to dispose of the dead would have taken the time to separate the piles of tartan clad dead. As far as they were concerned the only good rebel was a dead one, and they would have been only too happy to tip the corpse into the nearest pit whatever regiment or clan he had served in.

That is really quite irrelevant though because the fact is the Jacobite dead ARE commemorated, which can't be said for the dead of most of the battlefields of Britain. The mounds in the middle of the battlefield are war graves, a place of pilgrimage as solemn and personal for some as the Menin Gate in Belgium or The Somme in France are for others.

In a twist of fate which the victorious British soldiers would not have imagined all those years ago; the men they considered traitors and brigands are commemorated, and the men who won the day lie in unmarked graves.

They are not forgotten at the new visitor centre though, where a handful of names of those known to have died on both sides are listed in one of the rooms. They are also commemorated on one of the walls of the centre where prominent stones represent deaths from both armies.

I have only used a few photographs of the Culloden graves here. To see them all please visit the Scottish War Graves Project or the Scottish Military Research Group's Facebook Photo Album.

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