A number of Historic Scotland's properties have strong connections to the First World War, often serving as garrisons, accomodation for soldiers, recruitment depots, training centres, hospitals, prisons, and much more.
Find out how and why these historical places were used and adapted to help the war effort.
A royal residence has sat atop Castle Rock in Edinburgh since at least the 1090s. And it has been a place of strength for considerably longer than that.
Many of the medieval buildings no longer survive or have been considerably altered, although the rebuilt palace of 1615-17 remains one of the finest Jacobean buildings in the country.
As a residence for Scottish monarchs, the castle gradually lost its importance after 1603 when James VI of Scotland moved south to become James I of England. But as a place of military strength it developed and thrived.
Dominating the skyline of central Edinburgh, the castle holds an equally dominant position as an icon of Scotland. Its strength and status combined with its location in Scotland’s capital city ensured the castle would play a strong role during World War I. As a garrison, a recruiting depot, a training centre, a hospital and a prison, Edinburgh Castle would aid the British war effort.
Yet it also continued to function as a publicly accessible historic monument and it would be this role that would take precedence after the War. But so iconic is the castle that it still holds a symbolic military function, not least in the famous Military Tattoo which takes place annually on the esplanade.
More information on Edinburgh Castle
Stirling Castle was one of the major royal castles in Scotland. For hundreds of years it provided both a comfortable residence and a place of military strength for Scotland’s monarchs.
Its association with key events in the Wars of Independence such as the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314) give it an iconic status in Scottish history.
The castle’s physical presence is no less imposing, visible for many miles around, particularly since the renewal of harling on the great hall.
The recreated interiors of the great hall and more recently the Palace are testament to the lavish luxury enjoyed by successive kings and queens. But with the departure of the royal court to England in 1603, it was the military function of the castle which was to endure.
Alongside the medieval buildings stand additions of the 1700s and 1800s, demonstrating the castle’s adaptation to use as a garrison. Even the approach to the castle owes its form to military function – the Esplanade was laid out in 1809 as a space for parading. And in 1881 the castle became the depot for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
It was as a depot the castle functioned during the war, housing reservists and new recruits as they made their way to and from active service on the front. The Regimental Museum is housed within the King’s Old Building at the Castle.
More information on Stirling Castle
Fort George was established in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. It was originally designed to be a place of strength and safety from which government troops could police and subdue the Highlands of Scotland.
Instead, it became a conduit through which large numbers of Highlanders entered service in the British Army. Its function in WWI was thus much as it had been since the 1700s.
It is probably for this reason that those interested in Ancient Monuments did not show much concern for Fort George during the war. Specifically designed to house and train men for the army, the Fort provided a stark contrast to the likes of Edinburgh, Stirling or Dumbarton, where the lack of purpose built accommodation and facilities could make conditions difficult for soldiers.
Today the Fort is still an active army base, housing 3 SCOTS infantry battalion, though it is also a popular visitor attraction. It remains one of the best surviving examples of 18th century fortifications in Britain and is largely unaltered since its construction.
More information on Fort George
Inchcolm was a home to a religious community for hundreds of years prior to the Reformation of 1560. An early Christian site, possibly associated with St Columba, existed here for hundreds of years before the Augustinian canons arrived in c.1124.
In the 1600s, the abbey was converted to use as a secular residence. But only briefly in the late 1700s did it see any military use, during the Napoleonic conflict.
The military presence on Inchcolm was therefore not a continuation of a long tradition as it was at Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. Instead it was a product of the island’s strategic location in naval warfare and as part of Forth Garrsion area. Entirely new structures had to be built in order to accommodate the island’s wartime role. Concrete gun emplacements, observation and control posts, ammunition magazines, searchlight positions and accommodation huts all had to be built.
The abbey buildings were themselves converted for use as offices and accommodation. Post-war restoration of the Abbey and reoccupation during WWII have unfortunately removed most of the traces of these adaptations. Hints remain, though, and even just the journey to this little island in the Forth highlights its importance at such a pivotal moment in the country’s history.
More information on Inchcolm Abbey
Once known as Alt Clut, Rock of the Clyde, Dumbarton’s recorded history stretches back over 1500 years.
The early medieval fortress became an important royal castle in the 1200s, although the rebuilt fortifications of the early 1600s are now the earliest surviving structures.
Further new building in 1725 in response to the Jacobite threat have further disguised older structures. But sited on a volcanic rock overlooking the Firth of Clyde, the castle’s imposing location is a reminder of the strategic role it once played.
Dumbarton’s most recent role has been as a garrison fortress and prison. It was garrisoned and armed during the 1745 Jacobite Rising and afterwards housed Jacobite prisoners. It would also contain French prisoners during the Napoleonic conflict later that century.
But military use declined after this and by 1865 the regular garrison had been withdrawn, leaving only a few gunners to man the rock. Responsibility was transferred to the Office of Works, a predecessor of Historic Scotland, in 1909, only for the army to reoccupy the castle once war broke out.
Years of no investment limited Dumbarton’s war role though and within a year the 9th Territorial Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had moved elsewhere.
More information on Dumbarton Castle
Blackness Castle occupies a headland, jutting out into the Firth of Forth. Built in the mid-1400s, by the powerful Crichton family, it was soon acquired by King James II.
But it was not as a royal residence it was used. Instead it became a state prison and offered protection to the harbour that served the nearby burgh of Linlithgow. Called ‘the ship that never sailed’ from the boat-like shape of its curtain walls, Blackness Castle is a formidable structure, far removed from the elegance of Linlithgow Palace.
The adaptations made to defend the castle against artillery in the 1500s are still evident. But so too are the scars made by the bombardment by Cromwellian troops in 1650.
Repaired and further strengthened in the 1680s, the castle’s importance was recognised in the 1707 Act of Union. It was to be one of four castles in Scotland whose maintenance was guaranteed. Despite this, by the mid-1800s army use of the site had declined considerably, only to be revived when it became a key ammunition store in 1870.
This was to be the castle’s main function during WW1 though increasing demand and limitations of space adversely affected the castle’s usefulness. After the war, the Ministry of Works heavily restored the castle, removing many of the army’s adaptations in the process.
More information on Blackness Castle