First World War timeline

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  • The American Monument on the Mull of Oa, Isle of Islay
    The American Monument on the Mull of Oa, Isle of Islay
  • The Scott Monument floodlit in red to mark Remembrance Sunday 2014
    The Scott Monument floodlit in red to mark Remembrance Sunday 2014

This August Scotland and the rest of the UK will commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Learn more about the country’s involvement in the conflict with this timeline detailing key observance dates including the outbreak of the conflict and Armistice Day, major battles that have particular resonance for Scotland such as Loos and Arras, and domestic incidents like the sinking of the HMS Iolaire.


4 August: Outbreak of WWI. A state of war is declared at 11pm after Austria-Hungary rejects an ultimatum by Great Britain to desist from hostilities

25 - 26 August: Battle of Le Cateau. This rearguard action following the retreat of British and French troops after the Battle of Mons involves many Scottish regiments. Although it achieves its objective in delaying the advance of the Germans, it costs over 7,000 British casualties

12 September: Appeal for First Scottish Women’s Hospital. Campaign launched by physician and suffragist Elsie Inglis to raise funds for the first Scottish Women’s Hospital for the Foreign Service Committee with the aim of providing all female-staffed relief hospitals for the Allied war effort


25 April: Gallipoli. The 52nd Lowland Division including a number of Scottish Battalions are involved in the later stage of this Allied naval and military operation to secure the strait of the Dardanelles and thereby capture the Ottoman capital of Istanbul and gain entry to the Black Sea

9 May: Battle of Aubers Ridge. Scottish regiments sustain heavy casualties during this Franco-British offensive. An estimated 2,000 out of 11,000 British casualties are Scottish

22 May: Train crash at Quintinshill. A troop train transporting mostly Territorial soldiers from the Leith-based 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots regiment headed for Gallipoli collides with a local passenger train killing 214 officers and men. A further 246 people, mainly soldiers, are injured

July: Munitions of War Act. Women are allowed to assume jobs in munitions factories, such as those in Glasgow and Gretna, previously restricted to men

25 September: Battle of Loos. Over 30,000 Scottish soldiers serve in the largest British offensive mounted on the Western Front in 1915. Half of all casualties are Scottish with five awarded Victorian Crosses in recognition of their extraordinary bravery

8 December: Edinburgh-born Douglas Haig promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. Replaces Sir John French following his resignation after the Battle of Loos


January: Military Service Act passed. Conscription introduced (compulsory military service) up to the age of 50

April: Munitions production begins at H.M. Factory, Gretna. It becomes the UK’s largest cordite factory

2 April: Edinburgh bombed by German Zeppelins. Two German Zeppelins conduct the first-ever air raid on Scotland. The first reports of bombs landing in the Leith area of Edinburgh arrive shortly before midnight. Over the next 35 minutes, 24 bombs are dropped on the capital killing 13 and injuring 24

31 May: Battle of Jutland. This marks the largest and only naval battle fought between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet (including the Royal Australian and Royal Canadian navies) and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet during the war. While Britain and its allies sustain far greater casualties, Germany never again successfully challenges British control of the North Sea

5 June: Sinking of the HMS Hampshire. After setting sail from Scapa Flow to transport the British Field Marshall Earl Kitchener on a diplomatic mission to Russia, the armoured cruiser is struck by a mine laid by the German U-boat U-75 and sunk to the west of the Orkney Isles. 643 of the 655-strong crew, including Kitchener, are drowned. On Marwick Head, five miles east of Dounby in Orkney, stands the Kitchener Memorial in honour of the memory of the both Kitchener and the others who were lost at sea

1 July - 13 November: Battle of the Somme. Three Scottish divisions – 9th, 15th (Scottish), 51st (Highland) – and numerous Scottish battalions in other units participate in one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict. British casualties exceed an estimated 350,000


9 April: Battle of Arras. 44 Scottish battalions and 7 Scottish-named Canadian battalions are attacked on the first day in what is the largest concentration of Scots to have fought together during the war. A third of the 159,000 casualties are Scottish


5 February: Sinking of the SS Tuscania. A luxury liner carrying more than 2,000 American troops from New Jersey to France is torpedoed by the German U-boat UB-77 off the coast of the Isle of Islay. An estimated 230 lives are lost

6 October: Sinking of the HMS Otranto. Just eight months later, a Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser sailing from New York to Glasgow collides with the steamship HMS Kashmir in a storm and sinks near Machir Bay off the west coast of Islay. More than 400 lives are lost. The American Monument is built by the American Red Cross on a high cliff on the Oa Peninsula in commemoration of both tragedies

11 November: Armistice Day. Armistice between the Allies and Germany signed at 11am marking the official end to the First World War


1 January: Loss of HMS Iolaire. The Iolaire is sailing soldiers to the Isle of Lewis when it strikes rocks and sinks off the coast of Stornoway. 205 men out of a crew of 284 are drowned

21 June: The Scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow. 72 warships of the German High Seas Fleet deliberately sink themselves following the order of Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter after being interned at Scapa Flow as a condition of the Armistice agreement

January 1918 - December 1919: Spanish Flu Pandemic. Glasgow becomes the first city in the UK to be affected by this deadly influenza pandemic which claims the lives of millions worldwide