Inverness 1914- the beginning of the First World War in Invernesss

WW1 Inverness mobilizationWe’re grateful to Colonel Angus Fairrie, Secretary of the Cameron Highlanders Association, for providing this brief history note about the mobilisation of the military in the Inverness area at the outbreak of World War 1. It was read by Bishop Mark Strange (Scottish Episcopal Church) at the service to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, held in the Old High on 4 August 2014

Inverness – August 1914

Many people in the modern City of Inverness take great family pride in forebears who served for King and Country in the Great War.

There are powerful reminders of the conflict, such as the elegant memorial on the south side of the Old High Church, commemorating the 61 members of the congregation who lost their lives in the war. But 100 years later, neither war memorials, nor the green farmland of Flanders, nor the immaculate cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, can give any idea of how people felt when war began: when during the first week of August 1914 over 6,000 troops concentrated in Inverness, arriving by road, railway and ship.

The British Expeditionary Force

During the years before 1914, when it became clear that the likely theatre of war was the continent of Europe, it was planned that the Regular Army would form a British Expeditionary Force for service across the English Channel. Every county of Great Britain became part of a Regimental District, with well-defined military responsibilities. Inverness and Nairn formed the Regimental District of The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Its primary task was to maintain two Regular Army battalions, with the necessary reserves. These were the 1st Battalion stationed in Edinburgh Castle, and the 2nd Battalion on foreign service in India.

When war was declared on 4 August 1914, the order to mobilize was given, and a well planned procedure began. Over 1,000 Regular Army Reservists from Inverness and all over Scotland reported to the Cameron Barracks, where they were equipped and sent off to bring the two Regular battalions up to war strength.

If hostilities began, casualties would have to be quickly replaced. These reinforcements were to come from the volunteers of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Recruited mainly from rural communities of the County of Inverness and the Western Isles, and largely Gaelic speaking, they had been trained in drill, marksmanship and fieldcraft, at annual camp. Nearly 1,000 of these Special Reservists also reported to Inverness.

The Territorial Force

Looking further ahead, Great Britain’s next line of defence was the Territorial Force. Formed in 1908 from the old Rifle Volunteers, the Territorial Force had the role of providing a duplicate Expeditionary Force for service on the Continent. It comprised infantry, artillery and engineers, and also their supporting services. It too was organized on a county basis.

Within the Town and County of Inverness the infantry element was the 4th (Territorial) Battalion The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, while the local territorials also included the gunners of the Inverness Battery Royal Horse Artillery, the mounted yeomanry of the Lovat Scouts, and were supported by the Highland Transport Column and the Highland Field Ambulance.

Seen in retrospect today, the size of commitment made so willingly by the people of the Town and County of Inverness is astonishing.

The Town and County of Inverness in 1914

In 1914 the Royal Burgh of Inverness had a population of about 22,000, about a third of the size of the City today. Although the County of Inverness was the largest county in Scotland in acreage, it was one of the least populated areas in Britain. But since the late 18th century Inverness had always had a strong tradition of military service. This was quickly apparent during the first year of the war when over 60% of the men of military age in Inverness-shire volunteered for military service.

The effect on the normal life of town and county was profound. The reservists and territorial soldiers came from every walk of life. They included skilled tradesmen and apprentices, crofters, farm workers, estate staff, mechanics, office workers, railwaymen, fishermen. Their officers included businessmen, lawyers, bankers, accountants, estate factors, hoteliers, schoolmasters, shopkeepers, excisemen and clergymen: the Minister of the Old High Church, the Reverend Donald MacLeod, became an Army Chaplain in the Territorial Force.

The Old High Church War Memorial and the War Grave in the burial ground tell their own stories. They highlight the fundamental role of the regimental structure which recruited the Expeditionary Forces, put them into the field, and provided reinforcements. Of the 62 names commemorated at the Old High Church, 31, exactly 50%, are Cameron Highlanders.

The record of the Old High Church (‘Tales of the Old High’) also gives a remarkable example of how the community of Inverness responded to the national cause. During the course of the war the Minister and 431 of his congregation, volunteered to serve their country.

1914 is a milestone in the history of both the Town and the County of Inverness. It is a reminder of public spirited response to the national need that has never been surpassed.

Reflection for the centenary of the outbreak of World War One

Reflection for World War One commemoration, 3 August 2014, Old High Church

Rev Peter W Nimmo, minister of Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness

from The Glimmering Landscape, Charles L Warr

Throughout that glorious summer of 1914 the Suffragettes became noisier and noisier, smashing windows, breaking up meetings, chaining themselves to railing and pouring acid down pillar boxes.

The crisis of Ulster darkened and deepened. Sir Edward Carson and Galloper Smith were still addressing impassioned crowds and the impassioned crowds were becoming more and more impassioned. “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right,” shouted Galloper Smith, quoting Lord Randolph Churchill, who had said it first some thirty-odd years before. The whole situation was becoming very alarming, for people were beginning to whisper that it looked like civil war.

So with all that going on, the murder of an Austrian archduke towards the end of June at some place called Sarajevo in the Balkans could hardly be expected to interest us much. Where was Sarajevo anyway, and what was an Austrian archduke but a figure of Ruritanian fun?

But a month later the country was thoroughly startled. On 28th July Sir Edward Grey made a statement of sensational gravity in the House of Commons. Austria, he said, had rejected the reply by Serbia to an ultimatum demanding satisfaction for the assassination at Sarajevo. So anyone could see that international trouble of the utmost seriousness was swiftly boiling up.

The next few days were days of utter bewilderment. Events moved with confusing rapidity. Sombre shadows were obviously falling over Europe.
It was shocking, stupefying and incredible that we, who had been nurtured on the optimistic visions of Lord Tennyson, should be on the brink of a general European War.

But by the fourth of August, though not one European ruler and hardly one European statesman wanted it to happen, the shocking, stupefying and incredible thing in fact had happened. The great Powers of Europe had stumbled and blundered into a fight to the death, and the long grey ships of the British Fleet, fortunately assembled at Spithead for the King’s Review, put silently out to sea.

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Commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War

WW1 Inverness mobilization

Across the country and around the world, events are taking place to recall the events of the outbreak of the First World War.

In Inverness,  civic service to remember the outbreak of the First World War will take place at the Old High Church, Church Street, at 2pm on Monday 4 August. Everyone is welcome to the service.

The reflective service will begin with the lighting of a memorial candle by the Provost of Inverness, and will include psalms, hymns, readings and prayers. The Inverness Handbell Ringers will play ‘In Flanders Fields’, music set by composer by Sandra Winter to a poem by John McRae.

Following the service the memorial candle will be taken in procession to St Andrew’s Cathedral, where it will burn until the centenary of the end of the war.

You can download the order of service here.

Read the Minister’s reflection at the service here.

Read an historical account of mobilzation in Inverness in August 1914 here.

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