On a calm September morning in 1924, a lone soldier stood gazing out the Somme battlefield towards the French village of Beaumont-Hamel. He was draped in the French Tricolour and the Union Jack.
As these flags were pulled away the crowd standing around his feet were silent, reflecting on the horror of the events that had taken place here only eight years earlier.
As a soldier involved in the conflict wrote in his diary, “It was hard to believe that human beings could live through such a whirlwind of fire”.
There were locals there, but some of those present had travelled from as far afield as Rothesay, Greenock, Dingwall and Peterhead.
They had come to France for the unveiling of a memorial to the soldiers of the 51st (Highland) Division – their sons, fathers and brothers - who had recaptured the village of Beaumont-Hamel for the Allied nations here on the 13th of November 1916.
Some had brought sprigs of heather, and one couple had brought a biscuit tin filled with soil from their garden, so that their son could “have a bit of home ground about him”.
The 51st (Highland) Division was highly-regarded within the military during the First World War, renowned for the strength and resilience of its soldiers. Recruits were drawn from Highland areas of Scotland, and bordering counties like Stirlingshire and Renfrewshire.
After the war, it was decided that a memorial to the Division’s dead should be erected, “to raise”, General Harper, appealing for funds for the memorial, wrote, “…one monument that will speak for all of them”.
The artist commissioned to produce this monument was George Henry Paulin, a Clackmannanshire-born, Glasgow-based sculptor. Like so many men of his generation, he had seen action in World War One. Unusually, he served in all three of the Armed Forces during the course of the war, initially enlisting in the army before joining the Royal Naval Air Service, which in 1918 became the Royal Air Force.
Paulin’s maquette (a small model produced by sculptors to test shapes and ideas) for the memorial was, until recently, on display at Dumbarton Castle.
The castle was taken over by the army in the First World War. Soldiers were stationed there, and members of the 51st (Highland) Division are likely to have spent time there, sleeping in huts in the castle grounds.
The maquette has recently been photographed to be added to an online catalogue, part of an ongoing effort to broaden access to Historic Environment Scotland’s collections.
While this work was taking place a souvenir booklet from the unveiling ceremony was discovered, containing transcripts of the speeches given to dedicate the memorial, as well as photographs and newspaper reports of the ceremony.
It gives us a poignant insight into the emotions that the 51st (Highland) Division memorial invoked in those who had lost loved ones in the Battle of the Somme. It is intended that in the future, both the book and the maquette will be displayed at Dumbarton Castle.
Paulin also produced war memorials for towns throughout Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland, along with the Scottish Government, fund the Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund (administered by the War Memorials Trust). Through this fund, £1 million is being made available between April 2013 and March 2018 to help communities to conserve and repair their war memorials. Find out more here.
The maquette is on loan courtesy of The Museum of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Stirling Castle.