case study

Case Study: Being British, being somebody else

The CWGC memorial for H. Reid (left) and the Reid family memorial (right) to which his name has been added. Westray, orkney. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Tarlow

At St Mary's kirkyard on Rousay, Orkney, is a military memorial erected to the memory of Private H. Reid who died in 1917 at the age of 23 (see Tarlow 1999, 157-8). Most casualties of the Great War are buried in military graveyards, and this type of memorial is thus most common in those contexts. In this case, however, the individual concerned died convalescing on Orkney and the burial took place in a local graveyard.

Because Private Reid's gravestone was of a standard type issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), it follows the normal first World War pattern of having only a rank, serial number and first initial, together with the name of his regiment and a short epitaph chosen from a list (in this case 'Their memory hallowed in the land they loved'). The ornamentation on the stone is restricted to the regimental badge and a religious symbol (a cross). Private Reid is commemorated here as a soldier and his identity is tied to the wider corporate body of his regiment and of the army. The epitaph further emphasises this corporate identity ('Their memory . . .') and links Reid to those others who have died at war and to the nation for which they fought ('the land they loved').

There is no information on this memorial about Private Reid's home, his personality, his family and their feelings, their hopes for his eternal life or for meeting him again. These sentiments are common on civilian monuments of the period but absent from this military memorial, with its corporate and national focus. In Private Reid's case, the family attempted to make up for this by adding his name to the adjacent gravestone of his mother (who died in 1894, either while giving birth to him or soon afterwards). Here, 'Private H. Reid' is remembered simply as 'Harry', and his identity is that of a son. This memorial gives the names of both of his parents and his place of death.

This example shows how commemoration chooses to accentuate a particular aspect of a person's social being. In the case of CWGC monuments, like the community war memorials that exist throughout Scotland, that aspect was as a member of a large corporate and national whole, rather than an individualised person. These monuments materialise and contribute to the creation of persons as components of a national body. This was not always adequate to mourning families who preferred to individualise their dead and relate them to their family.


Return to Section 5.4 Being Scottish, or being something else


Case Study: Mobile material practices

Mobile material practices

The development of modern Scotland entailed the meshing of particular lives with wider developments.  Material histories of this process can explain the ways in which global and seemingly abstract trends interacted with and emerged through the practices of daily life in particular places.  The connections between different localities took many forms.  Below are a few examples.  

Mobile material

In 1860, a quantity of Tamar iron ore from Ilfracombe, Tasmania was shipped to Scotland; it returned home after processing and production in the form of cast iron railings.  The railings were smelted and cast in Lanarkshire by the Shotts Iron Company and, upon their return to Australia, were erected outside the government building in Launceston, Tasmania.  In 1938, the railings were taken down to help relieve congestion on the busy Launceston pavements of St. John and Paterson Streets.  They were moved to a location beside the Elphin Showground in Eastern Launceston and re-erected with a new plaque proclaiming that ‘at Edinburgh in 1860 this fence was made of the first iron ore mined in Tasmania at Ilfracombe, West Tamar'. This stands as a memorial to the first stage of the process which led to large investments in the Tasmanian iron industry in the 1870s.’For further reading see Cremin and Jack 1994 Australia's Age of Iron

Mobile practices

Govan Iron Works Lower English Buildings under excavation during the M74 project. More information can be found on the project website: ©Crown Copyright

In the 1830s, the Monklands area of Lanarkshire saw rapid industrialisation in association with the emergence of hot-blast iron smelting technologies, which allowed a ‘Scotch’ pig iron to be produced cheaply by smelting the abundant local Blackband iron ores using ‘raw’ local coal (rather than coke, for which most Scottish coals are not well-suited, see Photos-Jones et al. 2008).  The forge at the Govan Iron Works, an outlier of the Monklands industry, was one of the first forges to use this Scotch pig and, to do so successfully, it was necessary to bring in skilled iron puddlers and other forgemen from elsewhere.  Documentary research has shown that the initial workforce was largely recruited from Wales, Staffordshire (the Black Country) and Shropshire.  The large Welsh contingent may reflect a desire to develop a particular process at the Govan works: a one-stage variant of puddling (‘pig boiling’). This process had been very successful in Wales but did not work well with Scotch pig; after hints of serious problems in the early 1840s, the forge was rebuilt to use a two-stage version of puddling, more common in the West Midlands.  Census returns for 1851-1871 show considerable movement of workers between the Govan works and other works in the Monklands district, and there was some tendency for the English workers to return home, with new workers arriving (perhaps of their own volition rather than being actively recruited) from the Highlands and from Ireland.  The Govan Iron Works and its associated workers’ housing has recently been the subject of archaeological and historical investigation, in association with the M74 Completion motorway extension project.  The excavations have allowed the living conditions and material culture of this very mixed British workforce to be studied.


Return to Section 3.1 Introduction