Communities from every corner of Scotland were affected by the First World War as more Scots per head enlisted and died in combat than in any other nation of the United Kingdom. The 100,000 war dead were known as ‘the Lost Generation’. For many young Scots the opportunity to sign up with their friends as part of a Pals Battalion encouraged them to go to war. Scottish troops often led from the front and are noted for their action at the Battle of Arras, Cambrai and the Somme and particularly for their action at the Battle of Loos in autumn 1915.
The Battle of Loos
The Battle of Loos began on 25th September 1915, following a four day artillery bombardment in which 250,000 shells were fired, and was referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Sir Douglas Haig led the offensive despite serious misgivings regarding the shortage of shells, lack of cover, and fatigued state of his troops.
Battalions from every Scottish regiment took part in the battle, around 30,000 Scots in total.
Haig planned to use poisonous gas on the enemy to provide the British troops with cover from the German machine gunners, however the plan backfired as the direction of the wind had changed blowing the gas back on their own men. This was the first time the British Army,used poison gas as a weapon. Although in many parts of the battlefield the Germans had been pushed back, the British attack had lost the element of surprise so the German machine gunners mowed down the men in their thousands. The battle proved indecisive and of the 21,000 killed, over 7,000 were Scottish soldiers.
The Rent Strikes
Thousands of workers migrated to munitions districts in areas of Glasgow in the early months of the First World War which meant the demand for housing rocketed. Many landlords in the area saw this as an opportune moment to increase rents in these districts. This was unpopular throughout the munitionsdistricts and so in February 1915 local women formed the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association to resist rent rises. The first rent strike took place in spring of 1915 with around 25,000 tenants joining in. With support from Lloyd-George, the government introduced the Rent Restriction Act which froze rent at 1914 levels.
Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service
The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (SWH) were founded in 1914 in response to female medical professionals having their services to the British Government rejected on the basis that the battlefield was ‘no place for women’. With an acceptance from the French Government and financial support from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and the American Red Cross the SWH opened its first Auxiliary hospital in Royaumont, France, under the French Red Cross.
Throughout the First World War the SWH arranged 14 medical units to serve in Corsica, France, Malta, Romania, Russia, Salonika (Thessaloniki) and Serbia.
Craiglockhart in Edinburgh was used as a specialist hospital to treat traumatised soldiers suffering from ‘shell shock’. Several treatment methods were used to treat the patients, such as ‘ergotherapy’ and ‘talking therapy’. Ergotherapy was an approach taken by Dr Arthur Brock which involved taking part in meaningful activities such as working in schools, and ‘talking therapy’ was advocated by Dr William Rivers who believed the best cure for psychological trauma was self-expression and social activity.
A whole cohort of well-known war poets passed through Craiglockhart including Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Charles Hamilton Sorley. Dr Brock encouraged his patients to write poems for The Hydra magazine, the hospital’s in-house publication. Around 80,000 soldiers were treated at Craiglockhart by the time the war ended in November 1918.