Tuesday, 30 November 2010

1.2 The experience of Scots on the Western Front / Battle of Loos

The Battle of Loos

THe Battle was part of a series of battles by the allies to attack the large German salient which ran from Flanders to Verdun. The French would attack in the south, the British in the north.

British battles of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert and Loos.

Loos involved the first of Kitchener’s New Army divisions.

Scottish losses were so dreadful that no part of Scotland was unaffected. The Black Watch (raised in Tayside) had massive casualties; the 9th lost 680 officers and men in the first hours of the fighting. Of 950 men of the 6th Cameronians who went into battle, 700 were casualties.

A relatively meaningless battle in terms of what it achieved. Like the Somme, it was intended to be a joint French-British offensive. Haig was sceptical owing to the lack of artillery and introduction of new army units. He was overruled by Kitchener. Haig felt he did not have enough men and his reserves were far behind the front line. Gas was to be used to make up for the lack of artillery.

Loos deserves to be called a Scottish battle owing to the large number of Scottish troops in action: 30,000 took part in the attack. Of 72 infantry battalions taking part in the first phase of the battle, half were Scottish.

Some of the features of the Battle of the Somme (July 1916) were to be played out first at Loos. Unfortunately, the British Army failed to pay enough attention to these points.

1. The difficulty of attacking powerful German defences.

The attack came up against stiff German opposition organised in strong points such as the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Fosse 8 and Hill 70. The British attack broke down owing to German reinforcement of their position and time it took to get the reserve units up to support the limited successes of the first day.

2. The importance of artillery.

Eye witnesses commented on the power of the artillery bombardment at Loos. It was simply not powerful enough. Poison gas was used by the British for the first time. This was an attempt to make up for the weakness of the artillery. The inadequate supply of artillery shells was a cause of a major political crisis in 1915. This helped to weaken the position of the Liberal government and of the British army commander Sir John French. General Haig used his powerful connections with Buckingham Palace to undermine French and he replaced him as commander in December 1915.

Five Victoria Crosses were given to Scots after the battle in recognition of their extraordinary bravery.

Of the 20,598 names of the dead on the memorial at Loos one-third are Scottish. The Battle of Loos was a "wake up call" for the people of Scotland. They got a very early warning of just how serious the fighting and the casualties would be. The rest of Britain would catch up when the Battle of the Somme took place the following summer.

1.1 Scots on the Western Front / Recruitment

1.1 Recruitment

The photograph shows men of the 15th battalion Highland Light Infantry. Despite the name, most recruits came from Glasgow. The 15th were famous as "the dandy boys in Green", all drivers and conductors of Glasgow's "shoogly trams". The rush of recruits caused a severe shortage of army uniforms so the "dandy boys" simply wore their green Glasgow trams uniforms!

This source highlights key factors which caused the rush of voluntary recruitment in Scotland between July and October of 1914. Why did so many volunteer?

Patriotism and Pride: Many volunteered because of their pride in Scotland and Britain. They were proud of and determined to defend the British Empire. Pride in their local communities was important too especially for the Glasgow Tramcar boys and other "Pals" battalions - all recruited from the same communities, the same Scout and BB companies and even the same families.

Escape: The Tramcar boys had a good employer in Glasgow City Corporation (Council) but many workers did not. Volunteering for the army was an escape from the grind of boring, low paid jobs and unemployment. Scotland had a very high rate of volunteer recruitment for this reason. When conscription was introduced in 1916, many Scots workers were NOT forced to join the army since their jobs, e.g. engineering / munitions, were often considered of vital national importance. Despite this fact, voluntary recruitment remained high in Scotland.

Proving yourself worthy: The "warrior race" myth had a powerful effect on young minds especially if they were subjected to pressure from employers (some landowners offered to keep jobs open for volunteers for when they returned), girl friends (some women gave white feathers to young men who were not in uniform) and relentless pressure from the media ...

Finally, many Catholic Scots (mostly first or second generation Irish immigrants) saw military service as a good way of proving their loyalty and defending fellow Catholics in Belgium and France.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Background: Martial Traditions

The Scots: are they a "warrior race"?

Source 1 - The Krankies: Scottish pantomime act.

Source 2 - West Lothian's own Susan Boyle

All right. Calm down. Stop laughing now. The idea that any collection of 4-5 million people can all be "warriors" sounds pretty funny to modern people. Yet this idea that the Scots were naturally warlike was widely believed in 1914. It was a myth of course but like most myths it contained a few grains of truth.

Grain of Truth 1

Until the 19th century, Scotland had always been a poor country with strong trading links with Europe. There was a tradition of young Scots men seeking their fortune in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and even Russia. Military service was part of that tradition, especially during the religious wars in Europe in the 17th century. This print shows Scots soldiers who fought in the attack on Stettin in the army of the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.

Grain of Truth 2

For centuries Scottish Highlanders had belonged to clan groups. Cattle stealing and fighting over clan territory was part of this until the battle of Culodden and the defeat of "Bonnie Prince Charlie". Laws passed such as the disarming Act were then passed by the UK government. They made the carrying of weapons (including bagpipes) illegal. Emigration from the Highlands then finished off the clan "system".

From the 1750s on, Highland Regiments had been formed to fight in the wars in North America against the French. The British Army General, James Wolfe famously commented ...

"They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and it is
no great mischief if they fall."

Many more Highland and Lowland regiments were founded during the war of American independence and then against the French revolution and Napoleon. Recruitment into the Army was always needed to fight the Crimean war against Russia in 1856 and the wars of Empire in the late 19th century. Poverty was a great recruiter of both Highland and Lowland Scots. Paintings such as the one below helped to create the myth of the warrior race and were useful aids to recruitment also.

However, the myth WAS a myth. In the 19th century, Scottish regiments struggled to recruit sufficient men from the Highlands or the Lowlands. Often, they had to make up the numbers by recruiting from England and Ireland. The First World War was to change that.

The Charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo 1815.

Why was the "Warrior Myth" so powerful in 1914?

There were three major reasons for this ...

Hollywood actor Liam Neeson as "Rob Roy". The warrior myth still sells movie tickets!

1. Blame Sir Walter Scott! His historical novels such as "Waverley", "Rob Roy" and his poems "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" were huge blockbusters in the early 19th century. They created a massive world wide interest in Scotland and a tourist boom which has lasted to this day! Some historians have called Scott, "the man who invented Scotland". Composers like Mendelssohn wrote symphonies which were inspired by visits to Scotland and even Queen Victoria became obsessed after her husband Prince Albert bought a Highland home at Balmoral.

2. By 1914, Scotland had become an urban and industrial society. Most people had boring jobs (if they had jobs at all) in offices, factories etc. The idea that an office worker or shipyard labourer was part of a "warrior race" was bound to be flattering and popular. Historians have called this development "the invention of tradition."

3. Emigration from Scotland had a huge impact on Scottish culture at home. Scots emigrants in Canada, the USA, Australia etc were nostalgic for the "old country". This was often expressed by starting Caledonian Clubs and dressing in Highland dress. Most of these emigrants were lowland Scots but dressing up as Highlanders was much more romantic and impressive to the people they lived among in their new countries.

Watch this clip from the BBC series "A History of Scotland".


What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Prepare a mind map with "Scotland's Martial Tradition" at its centre. Around the centre write your ideas about ...

1. What is meant by "martial tradition"?
2. Evidence in favour of this idea? (See the "Grains of Truth" above.)
3. The role of Walter Scott in creating the myth.
4. The role of emigration and emigrants.
5. The idea of the "invention of tradition" which some historians of the 19th C believe in.

Background: Scottish Politics in 1914

Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman. MP for Stirling and Prime Minister after the Liberal victory in 1906. He symbolised Liberal dominance in Scottish politics. He died in 1908 after leading the Liberal Party to its greatest ever election victory.

The Liberals dominated Scottish politics before WW1. Their appeal was based on moral issues such as Temperance, land reform and Free Trade (which placed them in opposition to the great landowners) and changes in the UK Constitution such as Home Rule for Ireland.

1910 Election showed Liberal dominance: Libs 57 Cons 10 Lab 3.

Why the Liberals?

Seemed to stand up for middle classes and workers against aristocracy and big businessmen against the landowners.
After 1906, New Liberalism led to minimum wages pensions and sickness and unemployment benefits.

Why vote Liberal?

After 1882 Reform Act, new voters in the working classes voted for them.
There was no Labour Party till 1900.
The Young Scots were an energetic group in the party that took the message through leaflets to peoples’ homes and onto the streets.
In 1910 this young Scot group had 2500 members, nearly as big as the entire Independent Labour Party.

Conservative and Unionist Party.

Associated with big landowners and landlords who profited from huge rents to town dwellers.
Cons wanted to protect British wheat farming by putting up trade barriers to foreign competition. This would lead to higher food prices.
Scotland needed foreign trade and did not want trade barriers.

The Labour Party

James Keir Hardie was the first to stand as an Independent Labour Candidate in 1884. He lost.
He believed the Liberals would never do enough for workers.
In 1888 the Scottish Labour Party was created.
It campaigned for health and safety in mines, an eight hour working day, votes for women and home rule for Scotland.
In 1900 this party and other groups got together to create the Labour Party.
Before 1914 the Labour Party was very small in Scotland and had little impact. Yet ten years later it all but replaced the Liberals in Scotland as the main party for Scots.

Background: Scotland on the eve of the Great War

Above: The Turbinia was powered by a Parson's steam turbine. State of the art engineering on the Clyde.

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

The best of times ...

By 1914, Scotland had experienced over 100 years of economic growth. This had made Scotland one of the most urbanised and technologically advanced nations in Europe.

Nearly 20% of the world's shipping was built on the Clyde and the "industrial base" of the central lowlands combined coal, steel, engineering, and even oil produced in Broxburn and the surrounding areas.

Steam locomotives manufactured in Springburn were exported all over the world. The Royal Navy's latest battleships had 15 inch guns forged at the Parkhead forge and they depended for their accuracy on precision optical instruments made by Barr and Stroud, also in Glasgow.

Belfast workers and engineers built the Titanic but Glasgow engineers knew that her "reciprocating" steam engines were dinosoars compared to the steam turbines designed and built at Parson's works on the Clyde and fitted to the Cunard Line ships at John Brown shipbuilders in Clydebank.

The worst of times ... (Extracts from URBAN HOUSING IN SCOTLAND 1840-1940 by W W Knox


The 1911 Census showed that while the number of people living in one room homes
declined to 13% of the total, the number of those living in two roomed homes was still high at 41%. Thus over half the population of Scotland in 1911 lived in one or two roomed homes, while in England the figure was only 7%. Moreover, 45% of Scots lived at a density of more than two people per room, while in England the respective figure was only 9%. Of course, in the great cities the situation was much worse. Glasgow had two-thirds of its population living in this type of cramped accommodation, and Dundee had 72%, compared to only 32% of London's population.


Living in such cramped and unhealthy homes had an obvious impact on the health of young children and their physical development. Children who lived in spacious accommodation were heavier and larger than their counterparts in one roomed homes. Also the incidence of rickets and other physical deformities were more marked. In Dundee, where overcrowding was significant, 44% of school children had impaired hearing and 48% had poor eyesight. Surveys also showed a long list of other illnesses and deformities.

Just prior to the First World War important legislation was passed in the form of the Education Act of 1908 providing for compulsory medical inspection of school children. Local authorities were empowered to provide food and even clothes for those children who were classed as either poor or needy. Although authorities in rural areas opposed the scheme it was generally adopted in the cities.

The health of adult male workers was also addressed in the National Insurance Acts of 1911-12. Workers in trades such as shipbuilding and construction earning less than £160 per annum were included in the scheme. For fourpence a week they were allowed access to a doctor and appropriate treatment, although consultant and hospital services were not covered. Even so, the dependants of those paying into the scheme were not entitled to treatment. The government
had reasoned that a family's poverty was more the result of the chief breadwinner being sick than his wife or children. Therefore, the priority was to get him back to work rather than restore a sick child to health."

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Draw up a "balance sheet" for Scottish society in 1914. Positives on the left. Negatives on the right.

SQA Guidelines

The Impact of the Great War, 1914-1928

A study of conflict and its political, social, economic and cultural effects, illustrating the themes of conflict, change and identity.

Issues Detailed descriptor

Background Scotland on the eve of the Great War: political, social and economic conditions; martial traditions.

1. Scots on the Western Front

Voluntary recruitment; the experience of Scots on the Western Front, with reference to the battles of Loos and the Somme; the kilted regiments; the role of Scottish military personnel in terms of commitment, casualties, leadership and overall contribution to the military effort.

2. Domestic impact of war: society and culture

Recruitment and conscription; pacifism and conscientious objection; DORA; changing role of women in wartime, including rent strikes; scale and effects of military losses on Scottish society; commemoration and remembrance.

3. Domestic impact of war: industry and economy

Wartime effects of war on industry, agriculture and fishing; price rises and rationing; post-war economic change and difficulties; post-war emigration; the land issue in the Highlands and Islands.

4. Domestic impact of war: politics

The impact of the war on political developments as exemplified by the growth of radicalism, the ILP and Red Clydeside, continuing support for political unionism and the crisis of Scottish identity.

The significance of the Great War in the development of Scottish identity.