Para Handy author tops poll for World War I poet memorial


23 August 2018
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The result of an online poll to choose whose words should be engraved on a new monument to commemorate Scotland's First World War poets has been announced.

The result of an online poll to choose whose words should be engraved on a new monument to commemorate Scotland's First World War poets has been announced.

The winning lines were written by an author more familiar to Scots for his prose than poetry – Neil Munro, better known for his Para Handy stories.

The lines that will appear on the monument are taken from Munro’s poem ‘Lament for the Lads’:

Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying
Far though they be from the hills of their home

Earlier this month the poll was launched to find a quote to be inscribed on the memorial. With the centenary of the end of World War I approaching, Scots were asked to choose between lines from six poems. While many know the works of war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Scotland's war poets are less well known and it is hoped that the poll helped raise awareness amongst the Scottish public of their literary heritage. To that end nearly 1,000 votes were made online. There was also a lively debate online about the poll – and about Scottish war poets who didn’t make the shortlist.

Lament for the Lads

‘Lament for the Lads’ was first published in the Daily Record on 24 December 1930. It was inspired by 'Cumha nan Gillean' by the Gaelic poet Calum MacPhàrlain (1853-1931). Originally from Argyll, Munro left to work in Glasgow as a journalist but love of his birthplace and the Gaelic language spoken by his mother and grandmother never left him.

A popular novelist and short story writer, Munro returned to journalism in 1914 on the outbreak of war. He visited the front line several times in the capacity of war correspondent, in 1914 and 1917, and the war touched him personally when his son Hugh was killed during the Battle of Loos. In February 1917 he was sent to Albert in France, where it is probable he visited Hugh’s grave at Millencourt. Although ‘Lament for the Lads’ was published 12 years after the war ended, the depth of the feeling evidenced in the poem describes a pain that never fades, which must have spoken to all those who voted for the lines from his poem.

The memorial

The memorial will be erected in Edinburgh's Makars' Court, with an unveiling ceremony held in mid-November. Munro’s quote will be chiselled onto a Celtic cross that incorporates in its design a pen. The cross will be the first standing monument in Makar's Court, where tributes are usually inscribed on paving slabs. The cross will be sited to the left of the entrance to the Writers Museum, a corner spot currently unoccupied.

Neil McLennan Senior Lecturer (University of Aberdeen) and Chair War Poets’ Corner (Scotland) Committee says, ‘Our aim was to ensure the public had a role in the War Poets’ Corner Memorial for Scotland. We wanted Scots to realise what a rich heritage of war poets this country has, that it isn’t just Owen and Sasson. Neil Munro is a fine choice and his words will ably represent all those whose writing captured the pity of war.’

Asif Khan, Director of the SPL, added: ‘Any one of the six poems featured in the poll would have made a fine choice. Munro’s poem expressed just a little more than the others the pain and the need to memorialise the sacrifices made a century ago. If only a handful of those who voted go on to read other Scottish WW1 poets, such as Charles Hamilton Sorley and Joseph Lee, we’ll feel the poll has done its job.’

The memorial has been gifted by Dignity Funerals Ltd. 

MORE: Scottish songs of World War I