La A’ Blair S’ Math n’ Cairdean

2014 has been a year of commemoration and reflection. Much has been made of the anniversary of the beginning of World War One, the War To End All Wars. In August 2014, myself and three friends attended a Drumhead Service at Edinburgh Castle. This was the beginning of Scotland’s commemorations of the First World War.


My friend’s husband commented on the difference between our experience of being part of this service, and that of the soldiers preparing for war. We sat as spectators, admiring the precise formations and musical prowess of those playing the polished brass instruments. What would the soldiers have felt as they heard the pounding of the military drums and the strains of the pipes? Anticipation? Fear? One can only imagine.

All the council areas of Scotland were represented, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The military men did an admirable job, and showed extraordinary patience, as they tried to corral us into rows of five for our march down the Royal Mile. We never quite managed to keep formation. But it didn’t matter. We still walked. Mostly in silence. Sometimes with a short exchange of words with the stranger who walked beside us.

Field of Remembrance

Field of Remembrance

We each purchased a small wooden cross, with a poppy at its heart. As we stood under the banner of our home towns, we scrambled in ours bags for biros and in our memories for the names of those we knew who had fought. Some did not know names. So they wrote the name of a village instead. I reflected on how I could not actually write Upper Coll – a village that did not exist until after the War.

My three friends and I each wrote Iolaire 1919. The disaster which continues to mark the end of the War for the Western Isles.

As the rain poured down, we lay our crosses in the Field of Remembrance beside each other. And then we walked away. We carried on, like it was any other Sunday.

Blog post title: At the Drumhead Service, we each received a small publication called “Trench Notes – Facts from the Front Line”. On the front of the booklet were the Gàidhlig words La A’Blair S’Math n’ Cairdean (Friends are good on the day of battle). This phrase is found on the  51st (Highland) Division Monument in France, commemorating those who died as part of operations in World War One. (Source: Edinburgh’s War 1914 – 1918)


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