In 1911 the UK's population was 42,138,000 and Scotland's was 4,751,000, or a little over 11% of the UK total: yet during the First World War Scots accounted for around a fifth of the UK's war dead. At the Battle of Loos, on 25 September 1915, 36 of the 72 attacking battalions were Scottish. Of the Scots who marched away to war, over 26% did not come home. This compares with a percentage for the rest of the UK and Ireland of just under 12% and for France of 17%. Only Serbia and Turkey suffered a higher proportion of combatant losses than Scotland.
It is therefore no surprise to find that in just about every community in Scotland, however small, there is a war memorial erected in the years after the war to commemorate "the war to end all wars". That it failed to live up to the hope enshrined in that description is marked, in most cases, by an additional plaque added after the Second World War to commemorate the smaller but still very large number of combatants who lost their lives between 1939 and 1945.
Scotland's war memorials come in all shapes and sizes, with many featuring a statue of a kilted infantryman of the era. Stonehaven's war memorial is rather different, and rather larger, and stands on the top of Black Hill overlooking the town from the south.
The memorial is reached from the north, by a path between fields that leads uphill from a layby on a sharp bend on the minor coastal road that leads from Dunnottar Castle into Stonehaven, and which has been made one way to counter slippage down the cliff. As you make the final climb to the memorial, you begin to appreciate just how large it actually is. The nearby benches will be welcomed by many who have made what turns out to be a fairly steep pull up the last part of the hill. The extensive views take in Stonehaven itself, half a mile to the north west, and Dunnottar Castle, two thirds of a mile to the south.
The names of eight First World War battles are inscribed around the crown of the structure: Gallipoli, Jutland, Marne, Mons, Somne, Vimy, Ypres and Zeebrugge. The names of Second World War campaigns and battles were later added around its base. Steps and a gate lead into the heart of the memorial, and here you find a centrally placed triangular stone on which are inscribed the names of those from Stonehaven, who fell during the First World War. The names of those killed during the Second World Ware are inscribed on a series of tablets added to the inside of the temple.
The memorial was designed by local architect John Ellis, and unveiled on Sunday 20 May 1923. This made it one of the later Scottish war memorials to be completed, a fact that gave rise to considerable criticism of a Town Council who, in April 1921, seemed to have forgotten who had been appointed to the committee intended to oversee the project when it had been launched a year earlier.
The memorial that eventually emerged is in the form of a classical temple. Most sources describe it as "round", though it is actually octagonal in shape. The structure has something of the appearance of an ancient ruin. This was deliberate, and meant to signify the many shortened and ruined lives caused by the conflict. If delays in building the memorial were controversial at the time, there can be no denying that the structure that eventually emerged is extremely impressive. The sheer size is one reason for this, but another is the chosen location, which ensures it is visible from most of Stonehaven and from much of the surrounding area.
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Grid Ref: NO 878 849