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Sunday November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, a conflict in which it is estimated nine million servicemen lost their lives.
Countless more survived but returned home as shadows of their former selves. For some, the scars were all too visible but for so many the mental tortures they suffered haunted them for the rest of their lives.
The people of Arran suffered their own pain and heartbreak among the carnage of the war. Some of us will attend the Act of Remembrance at our local war memorials where the names of the dead will be read out and a solemn silence will be observed in their honour. More of us will perhaps pause as we pass the memorials as we go about our daily business and look at the names, pondering perhaps as to whom these men were and on the horrors they faced.
The Somme, Ypres, Gallipoli, Passchendaele – all places and battles which even those with the briefest of knowledge of the First World War will have heard of and places where Arran men fought and died. Add to the list Loos, Arras, Vimy, Messines and so many more, not forgetting the perils faced by the merchant seamen from the island who sailed on through minefields and the constant threat of U-boat attack. In all these theatres of war, Arran lost 98 of her sons – men who were born and bred here or those who had come to work and called Arran their home.
It was not only the men of Arran who volunteered and risked their all. though. Many Arran women left to join the ranks of nurses who were so desperately needed to care for the wounded and ill and to comfort those for whom there was no hope of recovery. Around 1,500 nurses lost their lives in the war, thankfully none was from Arran, but their contribution should not go unheralded. The bravery and dedication of medical staff during wars is always humbling.
At home on the island, everyone rallied round. The loss of the island’s best horses, requisitioned within days of the start of the war in August 1914 on top of the enlisting of so many of the island’s young men, put an added burden on those left behind – agriculture a mainstay of the island’s economy, there were no tractors and very few cars so horses were a vital part of the island’s life.
Everyone had to do more and work harder, but despite this they still found time to raise money for the troops. By the end of October 1914, the island had raised just under £700 for the National Relief Fund. They even raised money to fund a bed in one of the hospitals near the front in France where patients were tended to by one of the Arran nurses.
The women organised work parties throughout the island and would meet by the light of oil lamps and candles to knit socks, balaclavas and gloves for the sailors and soldiers. By the end of January 1915, 5,417 articles had been sent to the various units.
When the war came to an end after four long, bloody years, the returning men were welcomed with celebrations in all the villages. Some gave their returning soldiers a gift – in Pirnmill this was a cigarette case, while Lochranza gave the men a fountain pen.
A national day of celebration was held in July 1919, but thoughts had already turned to commemorating the men who had not come home to their families.
Over the next few years, war memorials were erected in many of the villages, but the island’s main memorial was the construction of a hospital – which we still use to this day. The Arran War Memorial Hospital was paid for by public subscription, the foundation stone being laid in 1921. Anyone who enters the building passes underneath the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
If you are interested in hearing more about Arran and the First World War, I will be giving a talk in Corrie and Sannox Village Hall at 2pm on Friday November 9. Entry will be by donation with all funds going to Combat Stress. If you cannot come along, then please go along to your local war memorial on Sunday November 11 and remember those men for whom there was no tomorrow.