Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Donald Where's Your Troosers?

Is it just me or do others find it odd to see kilted soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Scotland commemorate the men of the Lowland regiments at First World War Centenary events?

Since 2006 and the formation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland the uniform for all battalions, no matter what their precedence, has been the same – a Government tartan kilt. We’ve briefly covered this in a Blog before.

The First World War Centenary will be with us until 2019. At many events the Royal Regiment of Scotland will provide a contingent, and invariably they will be in No. 2 Dress – Khaki tunic, glengarry, kilt, sporran, hose and spats. It’s a very smart uniform, and appropriate for many WW100 events as the uniform looks very similar to the service dress worn by the Highland regiments in 1914.

What irks- and will undoubtedly continue do so throughout the next few years - is seeing the men of the Royal Regiment of Scotland parade in kilts when they are commemorating men of the Lowland regiments; or when they are at Centenary events in the former recruiting areas of the Royal Scots (RS), Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF), King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) , Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)(SR) and Highland Light Infantry (HLI).

Apart from their pipers (and three Territorial battalions) the men of the Lowland regiments did not wear kilts in 1914. Until 1881 most Lowland regiments did not even wear tartan. They were proud of their Lowland status and their history of not being Highlanders; two Lowland regiments were first raised in 1689 to fight a Jacobite army full of Highlanders. Before 2006 only one Lowland regiment – the Highland Light Infantry  -  fought with the War Office to be uniformed in kilts because of its Highland regimental history. In the early twentieth century the HLI had two Territorial battalions in kilts  - but during the First World War it was not a kilted regiment. It was not until after the Second World War that the HLI once more parade in kilts after a one hundred and forty year hiatus.

Two recent First World War related occasions particularly stick in the mind where it would have been befitting for the Royal Regiment of Scotland to be wearing trews rather than kilts.

The first was the reburial of Private William McAleer of the 7th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers in May this year. Private McAleer was killed in action at Loos in 1915 and his body was only found during building work on the battlefield in 2010. At a well attended event organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he was re-buried with full military honours and the Royal Highland Fusiliers provided the burial party. How much more appropriate would it have been for the pall bearers to have been in trews on that day?

Thanks to John Duncan for the photograph
The second occasion was last week’s naming of the square outside the Usher Hall in Edinburgh to McCrae’s Place. This was to commemorate the centenary of the raising of the 16th (2nd Edinburgh) Battalion, Royal Scots by local man George McCrae. The Royal Regiment of Scotland were there to commemorate the men of the Royal Scots who served in the First World War in this battalion. How much more appropriate would it have been for them to be there in trews like the Royal Scots Association men they stood beside?

Next year we will see the Royal Regiment of Scotland take part in official commemorations for the Gretna Rail Crash (RS), Gallipoli (RS, RSF, KOSB,S, HLI), and Loos  (RS, RSF, KOSB,S, HLI). How much more apt will it be for the men of the Royal Scots Borderers, Royal Highland Fusiliers and the 52nd Lowland to be uniformed in trews for these events?

The Royal Regiment of Scotland already has an order of dress which combines the khaki tunic and the trews – According to the RHF’s dress regulations which are online it is No. 2c Dress.

Currently it specifies it is to be worn “..on Battalion duties during cold weather at the discretion of Commanding Officers. It is to be worn by all ranks on Regimental duties at Retreat-Staff Parade after 1800 hrs daily" but surely that could be changed for the two senior battalions of the regiment, and the Lowland volunteers, to allow trews instead of kilts to be worn on ceremonial occasions in place of 2a or 2b dress?

To try and rectify this sometimes incongruous use of kilts by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, an e-petition has been raised with the MoD to change the dress regulations to allow trews to be worn  by certain units on ceremonial occasions.

If you would like to see Scottish infantrymen parade in trews again, please take the time to sign the petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/72626 and please spread the word.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

CWGC Mobile app

Did you know the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has an app? It's available for Windows, Android and iOS, and can be downloaded from the link below.

It primarily can be used for finding burials near you, but at the moment it seems you can't see the list of those buried in a particular cemetery (although that might just be the ones near me that I've looked at). It also seems to only show those very close to you. I scrolled around the map and it still only had pinpoints for the two cemeteries in Carluke where I'm currently located. Wishaw and Lanark (the two nearest towns to Carluke) both have CWGC burials and nothing showed up for them. I also scrolled to France and Belgium and nothing showed up there either!

Some cemeteries are "featured" - you get a little more information, and a cemetery plan, but again no list of those buried. There is a further "featured" option in the page for these cemeteries, but that takes you to a page on the CWGC site with some selected casualties. Still no option to help you find a particular casualty. If you plan to use this app to find where your relative is buried, I wouldn't bother.

The search facility could use some work - I searched for "Airbles" and it came up blank, but "Dalziel" brought me up Dalziel (Airbles) Cemetery in Motherwell. Given that the cemetery is commonly known as Airbles Cemetery, that's not a particularly useful search. Searching "etaples" found Etaples British Cemetery with no problem. It seems it might simply search for the first word in the name - a wildcard search option would be of more use.

To sum up - could do better. It's reasonably useful for finding a cemetery you might not know about, but it needs a little work. It needs to show you more on the "nearby" map, and to make it REALLY useful it needs to give the list of those buried in each cemetery, or at the very least provide a link to the relevant page on the CWGC website.

Hopefully they'll get similar feedback from others and make some amendments.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Celebrating Scotland's disproportionate WW1 deaths

The Commonwealth Games is now upon us, and whilst that means one countdown is now finished for Glasgow another one is entering its final days. On 4th August 2014 the Commonwealth Heads will gather in Glasgow Cathedral for a service of commemoration to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War. There will also be another ceremony later in the day in George Square at the City’s Cenotaph.

A week later on 10th August, the Scottish Government’s own commemoration will take place in Edinburgh - at the Castle Esplanade and then Holyrood Park.

Around both dates I’m sure we can expect social media, online comments and letter pages to be filled with an indignant section of the Scottish population complaining about us celebrating the start of war in which the number of Scots killed was disproportionally higher than the other parts of Britain (26.4% compared to 11.8%).

I guarantee you will see these words and you will see these figures trotted out repeatedly over the next few weeks. With that in mind it’s worth having a look in some detail about the facts behind them.

Celebrating the Start of the War

Some people, and to be fair this isn’t just a Scottish trait, seem to find it highly offensive that the start of the First World War should be commemorated. They consider no centenary event before 11th November 2018 is worthy of commemoration. None of the battles where Scots fought so bravely to defeat the Germans should be marked – The Germans remember were the ones who had invaded and occupied parts of Belgium, France, Poland, the Baltic states, Russia and Ukraine. To some it is only the end of the “futile war” which should be remembered and nothing else. That is nonsense. If we are to learn anything from this  - and Scotland WW100, the Scottish Government’s First World War centenary programme, uses as its tagline “What do we learn from all th1s” (the 1 is their choice, not my typo)  - then we must commemorate the war’s events from August 2014 onwards.

For a list of the events being officially commemorated by the Scottish Government between 2014 and 2019, under the direction of Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop’s Scottish Commemoration Panel, there is a Scottish Government webpage.

Notice I have repeatedly used the words “commemorated” or “commemoration” and not used the words “celebrated” or “celebration”. The use of “celebrate” has been seized on by many with an agenda after a comment by David Cameron, at a speech in the Imperial War Museum in October 2012 after a very successful summer of celebrations across the UK for the Olympics and the Jubilee.

“Our ambition is a truly national commemoration, worth of this historic centenary.  I want a commemoration that captures our national spirit, in every corner of the country, from our schools to our workplaces, to our town halls and local communities.  A commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrated this year, says something about who we are as a people.”

It was ill-judged analogy, and Jeremy Paxman amongst others has criticised its use. Since that time, anyone involved in organising official events for the First World War centenary have been preparing for commemorations and certainly not Diamond Jubilee-like celebrations.  

The number of Scots killed in WW1 was disproportionally higher than the other nationalities in Britain

Thanks to two prominent Scottish academic history professors – Niall Ferguson and Sir Tom Devine – we have incorrect figures being quoted as fact by many Scottish commentators and our media. Because the good professors have quoted these figures it must be true. Even Trevor Royle, the Scottish Commemorations Panel’s historical advisor, has recently quoted the incorrect total for our war dead, even though he has been on record as quoting more accurate figures in the past, and admits on page 529 of his First World War chapter in A Military History of Scotland, published in 2012, that “it is impossible to get absolute agreement on the exact number of Scottish war deaths”.

Niall Ferguson first quoted the figure of 26.4% as a total number of Scots killed as a percentage of those who mobilised, on page 299 of his book The Pity of War in 1998 . On the previous page of his book he also said the following:

"The Scots were (after the Serbs and Turks) the soldiers who suffered the highest death rate of the war"

Ferguson cites American historian Professor Jay Winter’s 1986 book The Great War and the British People as his source of data. He compares Scotland’s 26.4% with the figure of 11.8% for the same numbers of dead for Britain and Ireland as a whole.  Winter’s book shows a table on page 75 – Table 3.4, Some Estimates of Military Losses Among Combatant Countries in the 1914-1918 War. The table includes the 11.8% figure for Britain and Ireland, and Serbia and Turkey, but there is no mention of Scotland.

Winter’s figures in his book are based on the statistics in the publications Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920; General Annual Report of the British Army 1913-1919; History of the War, Naval Operations and History of the Great War. War in the Air. In none of these publications is the figure of Scotland’s war dead quoted. Ferguson seems to have come up with that figure himself but does not explain his calculations. Some fact!

Sir Tom Devine’s figures are in his book The Scottish Nation 1700-2000. (published 2000) on page 309.

"Of the 557,000 Scots who enlisted in all services, 26.4 per cent lost their lives. This compares with an average death rate of 11.8 per cent for the rest of the British army between 1914 and 1918. Of all the combatant nations, only the Serbs and the Turks had higher per capita mortality rates”

This looks quite familiar. 26.4% versus 11.8% and references to Serbia and Turkey.

Unfortunately, Devine does not cite his sources for these statistics and compares the number of Scots in all services - army, navy and air-force - against a figure for British Army deaths.

With neither professor providing the detail behind their calculations we will have to make some assumptions on where they got their figures from.

Devine gives us a figure of 557,000 of Scots who enlisted in all services in WW1 as a basis for his statement.  On page 740 of Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920, published by HMSO in 1920, we get a figure of 557,618 as the men and women recruited (or “mobilised” as Ferguson would say) in Scotland during the war. This is presumably where Devine gets his 557,000 figure. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.  

So where does Professor Devine get 26.4% from? If you compare the figure of 147,000 - which was the total number of WW1 dead recorded in the rolls in the Scottish National War Memorial (SNWM) in the 1990s - against 557,000, you get 26.39%, or rounded up, 26.4%.

This SNWM total will also give you Ferguson’s figure:

Total number of Scots killed (147,000) as a percentage of those who mobilised (557,618) equals 26.36%, rounded up to 26.4%

Two eminent historians, two ostensibly collaborating statistics and both complete tosh. We can discount the statistics from both men because:

  1. Both professors have derived their figures from the same data. Devine’s statistics do not prove Ferguson’s are true and vice-versa.
  2. The Scottish National War Memorial figure of 147,000 includes many non-Scots serving in Scottish regiments and the double and triple counting of entries. We’ve covered this subject in a bit more detail before in another Blog post.  The gist of it is this; the number of Scottish war dead is likely to be nearer 100,000 - 110,000 than 150,000. One hundred thousand Scottish war dead is the figure Trevor Royle used in his Flowers of the Forest (published 2006) and was also used by Doctor Catriona M.M. McDonald and Professor Elaine W. McFarland in their publication Scotland And The Great War (published 1998).
  3. 557,618 is the total number of Scotsmen and women recruited by the British Army – from 1914 to 1918. On page 740 of Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920 it clearly states at the top of the list (e) that the figures represent “The provision of men for the armed Forces of the Crown (as far as the Army is concerned)”. It does not include tens of thousands of pre-war Scottish recruits to the regular army, the reserve and the Territorial Force, which is only given as a UK-wide total at the top of the table. It also does not include the Scots who served in the Royal Navy and later the Royal Air Force. It is also missing the Scotsmen in the armed services of the Dominions – Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and India. Trevor Royle in A Military History of Scotland (2012) says that 690,235 Scots had been mobilised in the First World War but does not give any detail on where he got this figure. I think it’s safe to assume this figure is for Scots in UK forces only and does not include the Scottish diaspora's service. 

So if Devine and Ferguson are wrong and 26.4% of Scots mobilised didn’t die during the First World War, what is the correct number?

Using Royle’s figures of c.100,000 dead and 690,235 served, gives a percentage of 14.4%. Still higher than 11.8%, but nowhere close to 26.4%. 14.4% also compares a total of the dead which includes the Scots diaspora serving in Dominion and Imperial units against a mobilised total for UK units.

If the mobilised figure includes the Scots who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Australian Imperial Force and other overseas forces, the total number of Scots who served in the Great War might be as high as 800k. This would give us a Scottish dead compared to mobilised percentage of 12.5% - less than half Ferguson and Devine’s statistic and much closer to the UK total of 11.8%. It’s worth remembering at this point that the 11.8% doesn’t include English, Welsh and Irish diaspora numbers, so by factoring that in would there actually be any difference between Scottish and UK war dead percentages? Personally, I doubt it.

As a founder member of the Scottish War Memorial Project I have seen thousands of war memorials over the last few years and take a close interest in memorials wherever I go. If I’m in Caithness the First World War memorials certainly don’t have twice as many names as ones I see on memorials in similar sized towns and villages in Cumberland, Carmarthenshire, or County Down.

Devine and Ferguson’s calculations don’t stand up to scrutiny, and they certainly don’t add up when you are standing in front of any tragically long list of names carved in stone.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Sending My Laundry Forward: A Review

Sending My Laundry Forward: A Staff Officer's Account of the First Gulf War is based upon author Stuart Crawford's diary, which he wrote for the duration of the conflict. While his unit as a whole was not sent to the Gulf they did make up the numbers in other regiments, and for various admin tasks.

Stuart Crawford was assigned as a staff officer based in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and while his time in the Gulf was not spent in the thick of combat in the front line his account is no less interesting for this.

Instead of an account of modern-day combat, you instead get a glimpse of a side of a British military campaign that some might not be happy to let you see. It is clear from this account that there was a large element of making things up as they went along, of improvising and figuring out things on the hoof.
The supply situation in particular makes for interesting reading, as the tank regiments remaining in Germany are stripped of every serviceable part and engine, leaving them with tanks which were nothing more than empty hulks. Copious amounts of supplies are ordered but never reach their destination, and units send men on scavenging missions which further confuse the supply situation. Crawford makes clear in his book that one of the lessons which had to be learned from the first Gulf War was to take a leaf from private businesses and sort out some kind of inventory system.

The situation at headquarters appears confused and disorganised, taking time to get into any kind of routine, but it remains clear that communication between the front line troops and headquarters is patchy at best. Once air superiority is gained the flow of information becomes a deluge, often leading to an overload of information of little use to those who need it.

Being written from a staff perspective actually makes this a more refreshing read than some modern-day combat memoirs – this gives a different viewpoint from that which you would normally expect to read and it is all the more enjoyable for that. Having said that it would be unfair to say that this was a story of a cushy position well out of danger – with regular missile attacks this was in no way a danger-free position, and you do get a sense of concern for the well-being of himself and his colleagues. Despite this it is clear that the end result of the war was never in doubt, and you can feel the sense of distaste as the killing continues beyond the point where it might have been necessary.

I must admit to not having read many books on the first Gulf War – Bravo Two Zero being possibly the only other memoir I have read, but Sending My Laundry Forward joins the engaging Gulf War One by Hugh McManners on my Desert Storm reading list, and it has made me determined to seek out others like it. Truthful, humorous and enlightening; I recommend you seek out a copy.

Sending My Laundry Forward can be purchased direct from the publisher or through Amazon.