Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War

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In 1914, the world prepared for war and Scotland braced itself for an event which would change the face of Scotland forever, impacting hugely on the lives of millions of Scots at home and worldwide.

Around the globe, Scottish-born emigrants had settled in many countries within the British Empire, and they too enlisted into military service, as part of the Armed Forces of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

This summer, the National Museum of Scotland will share gripping tales of the Scottish diaspora and the war experiences of Commonwealth nations during the First World War. This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War on Monday 4 August. The Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War exhibition takes place until 12 October, showcasing objects, newsreel footage and photography from countries where Scots had travelled to embrace new lives and other cultures.

Piper Richardson Pipes VC 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion. Parliament, Victoria, British Columbia. Image: John Yanyshyn Photography

Piper Richardson’s pipes. Image: John Yanyshyn Photography

Admire the set of bagpipes which belonged to Piper James Richardson, who moved to Vancouver with his family before the outbreak of the War. The pipes were recovered from the battlefield of the Somme and assumed to be from Scotland, until it was recently discovered that they were in fact from Canada.

Springbok 'Nancy' mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (The Transvaal Scottish)

Springbok ‘Nancy’ mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (The Transvaal Scottish)

Meet Nancy the springbok doe, who is one of the more unusual exhibits on show at the museum and is visiting Scotland from the Museum of Military History in South Africa. She served as a mascot to the ‘South African Scottish’ regiment (which formed part of the South African Brigade for overseas service) and was deemed a central part of ceremonial occasions and a symbol of the soldiers’ dual identity. She lived for three years on the Western Front and after her death, the doe was given a military funeral and her skin was preserved and stuffed.

There are other items on display, including a Victoria Cross medal from New Zealand, which was awarded to Private James Crichton, a former Scottish miner. The exhibition features a wide range of items on loan from England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish), France, 1918 © Ditsong National Museum of Military History

4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish), France, 1918 © Ditsong National Museum of Military History

A tragic but key chapter in Scotland’s history, Commonwealth Scots and the Great War is a compelling exploration of Scottish identity during the war. A poignant experience for anyone looking to gain a deeper appreciation for the role of Commonwealth countries during the conflict, the link between emigration and the war effort is truly captivating.

Find out more about Scotland and the First World War Centenary and other events dedicated to the anniversary of the First World War.

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Annierose Knox

Content Executive at Visit Scotland
Originally from Castle Douglas, Annierose is curious about many things including travel, the ocean and outdoor adventures.