Tayside and Central Scotland

Stirling Castle's WW1 role remembered

Image copyright Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

Stirling Castle's well-known Renaissance history may be a magnet for tourists, but what happened there during World War One is perhaps less familiar.

As well as being a base for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the castle acted as a recruitment and transit centre with thousands of men making their way from there to trenches.

This weekend some of that atmosphere is being recreated in a series of events as part of commemorating the start of the conflict.

Local people became used to the sight of soldiers marching to and from the railway station. At the beginning they were piped out of the castle "but nearer the end of course there were no pipers left".

The Great Hall at Stirling Castle today is a vast, high-domed space with a beautiful restored roof, but a hundred years ago as World War One began the scene would have been very different.

"When you look across the length of the room for instance, there would have been subdivisions, partitions for creating offices and the accommodation areas on the three floors," says tour guide Frank Shields.

Image copyright Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum
Image copyright Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

"There's stories of soldiers being awoken at six o'clock in the morning to the sound of bagpipes. They dressed hastily and they would make their way to the Palace of King James V, built mainly for Mary of Guise, converted into a canteen and also a billiard room for the officers."

Indeed, oral histories of the time speak of the place being so busy that soldiers largely had to bed down where they could and scrounge what food they could too.

With its central location and railway station, Stirling Caste became an important recruitment centre.

Recruits generally stayed there for a few days, were medically examined, issued their equipment and then shipped off to more permanent bases.

"It really would have been a hive of activity because of the constant need to have reinforcements," says Dr Nicki Scott, a cultural resources adviser with Historic Scotland.

"It's only very recently that this period has essentially gone out of living memory so the chance to help people be aware of the fact that World War One is not just happening in France and in Flanders that it's happening on their doorstep as well. I think gives them a real chance to connect with some of that history."

Image copyright Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum

And the castle, throughout its various periods of history has always been important to Stirling more generally.

The activities at the castle during World War One would have had a "huge impact", according to Robert Layden, chief executive of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum which is based there.

He points to things such as drills and parades in the area which is now the castle car park, practice trenches in the Kings Park, and just the sheer number of soldiers going to and from the war.

"Always as a child I heard the story of how the piper piped them out of the castle on their road to war," adds Eleanor Muir, visitor experience manager at Stirling Castle.

"But nearer the end of course there were no pipers left and I thought that was one of the saddest aspects of the military history here at Stirling."

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