Scotland in World War I - The Scottish National War Memorial

03 June 2013
castle-69561.jpg Scottish National War Memorial
The importance of the Scottish National War Memorial in remembering World War I. ...

The importance of the Scottish National War Memorial in remembering World War I.

A Scottish National War Memorial was first suggested in 1917, even as World War I was grinding on. Post-war fund-raising began in the early 1920s but problems arose that recall more recent controversies surrounding the design, building and cost of the Scottish Parliament. Sir Robert Lorimer, an architect best-known, perhaps, for country houses, was put in charge of the project.

His initial designs attracted fierce criticism in the press; the Earl of Rosebery likened the proposed building to a ‘huge jelly mould’ and Lorimer literally had to go back to the drawing-board.

The chosen site was along one side of Crown Square at the highest point of Edinburgh Castle – a prominent position where a giant jelly mould certainly would not go down well. The site had been occupied in medieval times by a royal chapel but a military barracks building appeared there in the 18th century. The last soldiers cleared out in 1923, clearing the way for the Memorial. Lorimer decided to incorporate much of the structure of the existing building in his revised design. Scotland’s finest artists and craftsmen, around 200 in total, were recruited to work on the project.

The result was a strange building, clinging to the apex of the Castle Rock. From the south, it looks like a small medieval fortress; on the north side it more closely resembles a church, with stained glass windows and an apse. It was finally opened in July 1927, some nine years after the guns had finally fallen silent. Some questioned the point of it. The War Graves Commission was already ensuring that every serviceman would be commemorated where he had fallen, be it Flanders, France, Gallipoli or Salonika; local war memorials had appeared in towns, cities and parishes all over the country.

Ever-open wrought-iron gates lead into the apse in which is the shrine, the heart of the Memorial.

The Castle Rock itself protrudes through the floor and the large Stone of Remembrance, of green Italian marble, is set into it. The stone carries a Cross of Sacrifice and holds a casket of polished, decorated steel with a praying bronze angel at each corner. Looking rather like a popular conception of the Ark of the Covenant, it was a gift to the Scottish people from George V and Queen Mary. Inside it is the Roll of Honour, the list of all Scotland’s war dead. ‘Nearly everybody in Scotland,’ wrote Ian Hay, ‘has a proprietary interest in the contents of that casket.’

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Free public access to the Memorial was always intended. When it was opened, only certain parts of the Castle complex required entrance fees. However, a general entrance charge to Edinburgh Castle was introduced in 1979. Those who only want to visit the Memorial can apply at the Castle ticket office to have the entrance charge waived. So don’t pay a penny at the gate (unless you plan to tour the Castle as well) but do leave something in the Memorial donations box for its upkeep.

Visit the Scottish National War Memorial website.

(Image copyright Dave Hitchborne)