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Next of Kin – Memories of the First World War

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Embroidered postcard and letter sent by Buchanan to his sister. He wrote his last letter on 11 September 1915

Embroidered postcard sent by Buchanan to his sister. He wrote his last letter on 11 September 1915


Monday 4 August 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict which would irreparably transform the face of Scotland and the rest of the UK and Europe forever. Of the 690,000 Scotsmen who went to war, 74,000 were never to return, killed in combat or by disease. A further 150,000 were seriously maimed.

The devastating impact of this unprecedented carnage was felt by families and communities in every part of Scotland and throughout the world. Next of Kin, a landmark exhibition by the National War Museum of Scotland which opens on 18 April, explores the enduring human cost of the of the conflict through the belongings of those who experienced the horrors of the Great War first-hand, passed from relative to relative, down through the generations.

For many of those who served in the conflict, keeping objects connected to this seminal period in both their own lives and history was their own private way of remembering the past. Families also treasured objects as a means of grappling with the absence or loss of their loved ones.

The exhibition will shine a light on eight personal histories which reveal the impact the First World War had upon the servicemen and women and their families at home in Scotland using postcards, letters, photographs medals, memorial plaques and other artefacts.

One such story is that of Seaforth Highlander George Buchanan from Bathgate who was killed in action aged 27 on the first day of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915.

On display is a photograph of Buchannan in uniform, his service medals, the last letter he wrote home, just a fortnight before his death, a memorial plaque sent to his next of kin by the Government after the war, and the letter from the battalion chaplain to his mother confirming his death after weeks during which he had been posted missing in action. You can read the letter below (Click to enlarge)


Together these five simple objects tell the story of young man which is at once unique and horrifyingly typical of Scottish soldiers at the time. Buchanan was among the first of thousands to perish in a battle in which Scottish infantry battalions comprised almost half of the British assault force.

The exhibition will run until March 2015 after which it will go on tour, bringing the story of Buchanan and others to eight venues located throughout Scotland who will contribute their own artefacts and stories unique to their locale.

A difficult but integral chapter in Scotland’s history, Next of Kin is a compelling and poignant experience for those looking to gain a deeper understanding of the profound human tragedy of the First World War and its all-encompassing legacy.

Find out more about Scotland and the First World War Centenary.


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