Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

It was interesting to see two articles in Scottish newspapers today about the commemoration of the First World War. One was by Joan McAlpine MSP in the Daily Record and the other was by Alex Massie in The Scotsman

Both writers came to different conclusions but in both cases they used incorrect and widely quoted statistics about Scotland and the Great War.

The first is the number of Scottish WW1 war dead. This is often quoted as 150,000. This figure is taken from the total number of war dead recorded in the rolls of honour in the Scottish National War Memorial. Researchers are still finding names to add so the current total is just over 147,00 names.

This figure is based on all the names in all the rolls. That means the men of the Lovat Scouts who died in Salonika after December 1916 are recorded in two rolls - The Lovat Scouts and the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders - because between then and the end of the war they were the 10th Bn Cameron Highlanders. There were several other yeomanry regiments in the same situation; Black Watch battalions of Scottish Horse and Ayrshire Yeomanry in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. All these men died once but are recorded twice.

Many men served in more than one regiment during the war for a variety of reasons. A man may have enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry, transferred to the Royal Scots and by the time of his death be serving in The Northumberland Fusiliers. One soldier, one death but three entries in the rolls of honour in Edinburgh Castle.

There is a roll specifically for Scottish soldiers serving in English regiments but there is no roll for Englishmen serving in Scottish regiments. Each bay in the Scottish National War Memorial for a Scottish infantry regiment records the men who served in them irrespective of nationality. The men from Manchester who served in the Royal Scots, the Dubliners in the Black Watch, the Leicester men in the Seaforth Highlanders are all counted as Scots in the SNWM. If they happened to serve in two regiments they are double-counted too.

So if there weren't 150,000 Scottish war dead in the First World War how many did actually die? There is no accurate figure but it's probably around 100,000 - 110,000. However until all the post-war dead who died of wounds into the 1920's are found and counted an accurate figure is still impossible to determine.

We now come onto the second statistic. The five thousand war memorials which the Scottish Government have set up a £1m fund to help restore is based on a figure taken from Wikipedia.

A civil servant tasked with a press release must have gone onto Google, typed in "Scottish War Memorials" and got this Wikipedia page. At the time the figure of total Scottish war memorials was given as between 5,000 and 6,000. This had been based on one-tenth of the estimated UK total of war memorials provided by the Imperial War Museum's United Kingdom National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM). I know this because I wrote the Wikipedia page when that number was 55,000.

In the last couple of years the UKNIWM has revised its figure to 100,000 and the Scottish War Memorials Project has estimated that there are 8,000 to 10,000 war memorials in Scotland based on the comprehensive recording work done in Dumfries & Galloway. This figure includes all Scottish war memorials, not just the ones erected after the First World War.

In the SWMP we categorise our memorials as civic, church, unit, school, individuals and others. There are just over 1,400 civic war memorials in Scotland, the memorials paid for and erected by locals and used as the focus of remembrance by communities each November. Of that figure 1,200 are on high streets and in prominent locations in our towns and villages across Scotland. These 1,200 Celtic crosses, obelisks, cairns and statues are the ones the First Minister had in mind when he launched the War Memorial Restoration Fund but they are only a fraction of the memorials in our country.

There will be many more newspaper articles about Scotland in the First World War in the months to come, lets hope that as the centenary approaches we see a little less reliance on Wikipedia and a lot more accuracy.

No comments:

Post a comment