Unveiling the war memorial at Thurso, 1st September 1922 (image: Caithness Horizons)
Even before the end of the war, debates were taking place on what form the memorials to those who had fallen should take.

Even before the end of the war, debates were taking place on what form the memorials to those who had fallen should take. Some called for a 'traditional' memorial such as a monument, sculpture or cross while others argued that something more utilitarian, such as a hospital or community hall, would be more appropriate. Some larger towns and cities were able to afford both but, by and large, and certainly in rural areas, monuments such as cenotaphs and crosses were most commonly chosen by communities.

This process was aided by a War Memorial Exhibition which was held in London in late 1919. It featured examples of statues, tablets, plaques and other memorials. A catalogue was produced from which monuments could be ordered so it is unsurprising that some places share identical memorials, save for the names inscribed upon them. Ultimately, the size and scale of memorials was determined by the amount of money that could be raised and so areas of greater population density tended to be the ones to adopt grander schemes.

Communities often established war memorial committees whose jobs included selecting an appropriate memorial and deciding where to site it, fund-raising to pay for its construction, choosing a suitable inscription and, of course, compiling the list of the names of the fallen. The criteria for inclusion on a memorial varied from place to place, they didn’t necessarily simply include men who were born or resided in a particular burgh or parish. Names were generally listed alphabetically but were often divided into regiments and/or ranks.

There are well over 200 memorials in the Highlands dedicated to the memory of those who died during World War I. These include Celtic crosses, obelisks, and figures of soldiers carved in bronze or stone. Some of the more unusual monuments include a cairn at Muir of Ord, clock towers at Brora and Helmsdale, stained glass windows at Fort Augustus Abbey School and a bronze sculpture of three figures at Glenelg.

There are also memorials to private individuals, usually from wealthy families, and these were often located in churches. Some schools, such as the one at Portree, built memorials to former pupils who died as did some larger employers such as the Post Office and the Highland Railway Company.

Some memorials bear the dates 1914-1918, marking the end of hostilities, whilst others have 1914-1919, this later date denoting the signing of the peace treaties. Many memorials in the Highlands, particularly those with sculpted figures, face south-east, towards the direction of the fighting in Europe.


[Text © High Life Highland; image © Caithness Horizons]