ARTEFACTS from the renowned In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres, Belgium, are to form part of a series of exhibitions commemorating the remarkable human sacrifice of the Hebrides population during World War I.
Beginning later this month, the exhibitions are part of the Gairm nan Gàidheal | Call of the Gael project being run by Pròiseact nan Ealan | The Gaelic Arts Agency. The initiative aims to discover and retell the stories of the island communities who experienced the devastating impact of the First World War more than most other areas.
Opening the first event at Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway on October 31 will be distinguished historian and author, Trevor Royle, who has contributed to the curation of the exhibitions and to the overall project. The exhibitions start on the Isle of Lewis, where the impact of the war was acutely felt.
With a total population of less than 30,000, more than 6,500 Lewismen saw service between 1914 and 1919. In total, 1,151 men from the island’s four parishes who were killed on active service – around 17% of those who left for war and one of the highest proportions of any community in the United Kingdom.
The death toll was no less severe across the rest of the Western Isles, however, with small communities bearing the harshest toll of the Great War. Later in the year, exhibitions will begin in North and South Uist, a place where 367 men from the Uists and Benbecula, serving with 2nd Service Battalion of the Camerons in the 9th Division, were killed in the opening days of the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Out of a total Battalion strength of 800, only 72 men survived.
The devastating impact of war on the already small and fragile communities that were left behind – as well as recollections of what the men faced when they reached the front line – will be detailed through photos, words and memorabilia on show. Among these artefacts will be items on loan from the internationally acclaimed In Flanders Fields museum, whose research staff are supporting the Gairm nan Gàidheal | Call of the Gael project. Organisers have also worked across the islands to research the exhibitions and explore personal accounts handed down through the generations, all of which will go towards painting a picture of the effect the war had on the Hebrides.
The exhibitions are the latest stage to the Gairm nan Gàidheal | Call of the Gael project, which has already seen drama productions held across the islands as well as a series of talks from international war researcher Dominiek Dendooven held at schools and other venues in local communities.
Following on from these exhibitions, next year Pròiseact nan Ealan | The Gaelic Arts Agency are planning to stage a national World War One theatre production – Sequamur – that will tour Scotland visiting locations including Inverness, Oban and Skye as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Erica Morrison, chief executive of Pròiseact nan Ealan, said: “The exhibitions are the latest stage of our aim to tell the compelling story about the Hebrides’ sacrifices during World War One.
“Every community throughout the United Kingdom and beyond has its own story to share about the impact of the Great War but few can be as moving and as stark as that of the Western Isles. The war didn’t just have a profound effect on those who travelled to the frontline but even more so on the families left behind. The populations were already so small that the removal of so many men, who would never return, would create a huge gap that would be felt for generations. This was especially difficult in remote communities, even those that prided themselves on being so self-reliant despite significant distance from the mainland.
“When we started researching for the Gairm nan Gàidheal | Call of the Gael project, we expected to uncover many poignant stories but we have found the response to be truly remarkable.
“The exhibitions provide the perfect opportunity to share the research that has been carried out with a wider audience. We are delighted that Trevor Royle, amongst many others, has supported the project and we are looking forward to Trevor officially opening the first exhibition on October 31.
“These events are the latest stage of the Gairm nan Gàidheal | Call of the Gael project and we are looking forward to all the exhibitions over the coming months and giving people of all ages across the islands a chance to learn more about the courage shown by so many during the Great War.”
An Lanntair’s head of Visual Arts & Literature, Roddy Murray, said: “We are delighted to host this important, compelling exhibition and proud to give it the profile and the exposure within the community that it deserves in this centenary year.”
The exhibition at Lanntair will be in conjunction with the venue’s annual Hebridean Book Festival – Faclan – which will include a number of other commemorative war events. For further information, visit: www.faclan.org
The exhibition schedule is as follows:-
- Isle of Lewis (Stornoway) – Lanntair – October 25 to December 6 (Official opening: October 31)
- North Uist – Taigh Chearsabhagh (Small initial exhibition) – November to December 2014
- North Uist – Taigh Chearsabhagh (Main exhibition) – February to December 2015
- South Uist – Kildonnan Museum – April to October 2015
- Dates in Harris & Barra to be confirmed
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Image: Ypres (©In Flanders Field Museum, Ypres. ©Australian War Memorial, Canberra.)
NOTES TO EDITORS
GAIRM NAN GÀIDHEAL | CALL OF THE GAEL is a project to commemorate World War I, and the contribution of island communities, that is being run by Pròiseact nan Ealan | The Gaelic Arts Agency.
Pròiseact nan Ealan will be working in partnership with local Comunn Eachdraidh l Historical Societies and other project partners and a number of events are already scheduled during 2014 and 2015.
Funding partners for GAIRM NAN GÀIDHEAL | CALL OF THE GAEL are Awards for all Scotland, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Creative Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The Co-operative Community Fund and The Scottish Government.
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