Scottish War Poets Memorial

World War One was regarded as the war to end all wars, which exposed soldier and civilian alike to unprecedented degrees of horror, destruction, trauma and death, claiming the lives of 17 million people.
Joseph Lee, Scottish WW1 poet

The amplification of such horror and destruction unfolding across the channel had never resonated so acutely with the British public; who sat gripped in theatres watching the latest film reels, who felt the reverberations of the artillery, who witnessed the influx soldiers returning with life-changing physical and psychological wounds and who mourned the loss of their loved ones.

As rapid advance faded into a bitter, virulent and malevolent war of attrition, poetry would prove a vital creative, therapeutic outlet for Scottish soldiers as a means communicate the futility of war and disillusionment as well as to provide a window of escapism through the use of humour and satire. 

Edinburgh Napier University is proud to work in partnership with the University of Aberdeen, Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh, Scottish Poetry Library, Dignity Funerals Ltd, National Library of Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council to install a permanent memorial to Scottish poets from World War One at Makars’ Court, Edinburgh in recognition of their bravery and sacrifice as well as the rich body of work they have left behind.

The memorial will be unveiled by the Right Honourable Lord Provost of Edinburgh in Makars’ Court at 10.15am on Friday 23 November 2018.  They'll be joined by invited guests as well as representatives from the military, cadet forces and veterans’ charities.

Members of the public are warmly welcomed to join invited guests for the ceremony. Please contact g.seath@napier.ac.uk for further information.

Public poll

A public poll was launched as a means to provide the public with an opportunity to have their say with regards to a preferred quote, from six poems written by Scottish poets from the World War One period, to feature on the permanent memorial at Makar’s Court, Edinburgh. Whilst many may know the works of World War One poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Scotland's war poets are less well known and the purpose of the poll and memorial serves to raise awareness amongst Scots of their literary heritage.

The quotes were selected by Lizzie McGregor, editor of Beneath Troubled Skies – Poems of Scotland at War, 1914-1928 (Polygon) and featured the following Scottish poets:

  • David Mackie (1891-1956)
  • Murchadh Moireach/Murdo Murray (1890-1964)
  • Neil Munro (1864-1930)
  • J.B. Salmond (1891-1956)
  • J.E. Stewart (1889-1918)
  • Mary Symon (1863-1938)

Scottish War Poet Neil MunroNearly one thousand votes were made online and the lines that will appear on the monument are taken from Neil Munro’s poem ‘Lament for the Lads’.

Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying
Far though they be from the hills of their home

A popular novelist and short story writer, Munro returned to journalism in 1914 on the outbreak of war. He visited the front line several times in the capacity of war correspondent, in 1914 and 1917, and the war touched him personally when his son Hugh was killed in action. In February 1917 he was sent to Albert in France, where it is probable he visited Hugh’s grave at Millencourt.

Although ‘Lament for the Lads’ was published 12 years after the war ended, the depth of the feeling evidenced in the poem describes a pain that never fades, which must have spoken to all those who voted for the lines from his poem.

Further information about the nominated poems/poets can be accessed through the Scottish Poetry website.

Scottish War Poets

Interact with the map below to find out about War Poets from across Scotland.

About the Memorial

The memorial is a traditional hand crafted Celtic cross in light grey granite with deep carved Celtic knot work, the large base area gives solid stability and is kindly donated by Dignity Funerals Ltd Scotland in conjunction with MacIntyre Memorials Ltd.  The hand carved stone is just over 6ft tall with a base dimension of 2.5ft squared.

School Engagement Programme

The project invited S3 pupils from Tynecastle High School and George Watsons College to Edinburgh Napier University’s Craiglockhart Campus as a means to attend a series of workshops and presentations relating to World War One trauma and creativity.

Tour of the War Poets collection

Pupils learned about the intense environment of the trenches through the words of Scottish World War One poets by visiting the university’s War Poets Collection and attending a workshop delivered by the Scottish Poetry Library.

Edinburgh Napier University’s War Poets Collection comprises more than 600 unique items relating to the historic Craiglockhart Campus, formerly a military war hospital for the treatment of shell-shocked Officers during the First World War. Lizzie MacGregor, retired Assistant Librarian for the Scottish Poetry Library and editor of popular titles, including Beneath Troubled Skies: Poems of Scotland at War 1914-1918, introduced the pupils to a series of Scottish World War One poets.

Pupils had the opportunity to learn about the work of Scottish War Blinded, which supported blinded soldiers returning from the Western Front as well as participate in navigation exercises wearing spectacles which simulate visual impairment. The Personnel Recovery Unit and 51st Brigade delivered presentations which described the recovery pathways offered to wounded, injured and sick personnel as well as life in the military one hundred years on.

Dr Yvonne McEwen, Project Director of Scotland’s War, discussed the considerable impact creativity and animals had with regards to alleviating the symptoms of stress in the trenches as a well as the trauma care provided to wounded soldiers on the front line.

A creative writing workshop was delivered by the University of the Third Age Creative Writing Group which encouraged the pupils to think about writing creatively with a view to recording their thoughts/feelings when they visit the World War One battlefields later this year.

Pupils from Tynecastle High School visit the War Poets CollectionDr Andrew Frayn, from Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Literature and Writing, introduced the topic of World War One disenchantment through a comparison of the visual stimulus of recruitment posters to the reality (disenchantment) of the trenches borne out by the words of war poets.

"Thank you to all those who were involved in providing our pupils with such a stimulating and informative day. It was wonderful to hear people speak to them with such enthusiasm about poetry and the trauma of the trenches as well as creative writing, supporting wounded personnel and the history of Craiglockhart itself, it definitely helped make the events of the War, and the people involved, so much more relevant.

The sessions on army rehabilitation and the war blinded captured everyone's imagination and interest, and were thought provoking enough to spark conversation on our return to school which was fantastic. To hear from a lecturer in English to round off the day was superb, apart from the excellent content I could see the pupils beginning to envisage themselves sitting in similar seats, listening to inspiring discussion like this in a few years' time. All in all a great day and one we all feel very fortunate to have been invited to share in. A huge thank you to all concerned."

(George Watsons College)


Our partners

Dignity Caring Funeral ServicesCity of Edinburgh CouncilEdinburgh Napier UniversityNational Library of ScotlandScottish Poetry Library - Bringing people and poems togetherUniversity of AberdeenWilfred Owen's Edinburgh 1917-2017

War Poets Collection

Craiglockhart campus has a long association with the armed forces. During the First World War it was used as a hospital for the treatment of shell shocked officers. It is also where poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met in 1917. Today it is home to the War Poets Collection which contains an array of documents, photographs, film and memorabilia.