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The Covering Party by Joseph Donovan Adam

First World War centenary

The First World War affected millions of Scots, both at home and in service, and touched the lives of people of Scottish descent all over the world. Our Centenary programme of exhibitions and events shares the Scottish memory of these world-changing events with national and international visitors.

Next of Kin

Date: 18 April 2014 – 20 May 2017

Venue: National War Museum and nine Scottish museums

1914 brought war to Scotland on what would prove to be an unprecedented scale. The impact of the conflict would be felt in every part of the country through a range of experiences. Among these was the profound personal experience of separation and loss, an ordeal which Scottish families and communities went through in common with their counterparts among all the combatant nations.

Next of Kin was a touring exhibition that showcases First World War material preserved in collections across Scotland, revealing how families coped with the absence and loss of their loved ones and kept objects as a way of remembering. Through a selection of these family treasures, the exhibition presented a portrait of Scotland at war, where the private lives of Scottish families will introduce some of the major themes and events of the conflict across the fighting fronts.

The exhibition was first displayed at the National War Museum and went on to tour nine venues around Scotland, with each partner contributing new, local stories. A suite of digital and learning resources travelled with the display, and venues offered a wide range of events associated with the themes of the exhibition.

This project was supported by the Culture Division, Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is part of WW100 Scotland and the IWM Centenary Partnership.

Inside the exhibition

The slideshow below shows the Next of Kin display at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle.

Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War

Date: 11 July – 12 October 2014

Venue: National Museum of Scotland

4th South African Infantry (South African Scottish), France, 19184th South African Infantry (South African Scottish), France, 1918 © Ditsong National Museum of Military History.

This exhibition explored the stories of the Scottish diaspora and the war experiences of the nations of the Commonwealth during the First World War.

In 1914, as the world prepared for war, thousands of men enlisted in Scotland. But thousands more Scots and those of Scottish descent joined up across the world, and the exhibition shows how they emphasised, adapted or in some cases downplayed their Scottish identities within the context of the armed forces of their home countries.

The exhibition was built around key objects borrowed from the UK and international partners in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, some of the main destination countries of the Scottish diaspora. Through contemporaneous newsreel and photography and the words of participants, the exhibition explored how the war was experienced and commemorated in different parts of the British Empire, and how military service was related to other expressions of Scottish identity and culture such as Caledonian societies, Presbyterianism and piping.

Artefacts from the collections of National Museums Scotland associated with individual war experiences reinforced the main themes of migration, dual identity and loss, and extended the geographical scope of the exhibition.

Find out more about the exhibition

This exhibition was supported by the International Division, Scottish Government and is part of the Year of Homecoming 2014.

National Memory – Local Stories

Date: November 2013 – Summer 2014

A black and white photograph of Stanley Cubiss in military wear.

Stanley Cubiss, from a photograph preserved by his widow Flo. © Orkney Library & Archive.

As the Centenary of the outbreak of the Great War approaches, the stories and knowledge of this conflict are no longer in living memory, contributing to the history being perceived as distant and disconnected from many individuals today. However, the links are still there through personal stories, objects and museum collections. We sought to develop these local stories as a way of understanding the scale and impact of the Great War at the time, its on-going legacy today and its effect on current conflict throughout the world.

National Museums Scotland worked in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London on this UK-wide youth engagement project. National Museums Scotland worked with pupils from Firrhill High School, Edinburgh, along with an artist and facilitators to develop the pupil’s personal responses to the issues raised by the centenary, using objects from National Museums Scotland’s collections as a focus.  

Find out more about this project.

This project was developed in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London, and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


Stuart Allan and David Forsyth          

A richly-illustrated book to accompany the exhibition, offering an object-led exploration of the Scottish diaspora in the First World War and the impact of the war in shaping national identities among the nations of the Commonwealth.

David Forsyth and Wendy Ugolini (eds.)

This book is the outcome of a Royal Society of Edinburgh-funded collaboration between National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh’s Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies. It is based on the presentations and papers delivered for the Research Workshop “Wha Bears a Blade for Scotland?”: The construction of Scottish diasporic military identities, c1880- present day, an international research seminar held in March 2012, and a wider public engagement one-day research conference held at the National Museum of Scotland in September 2012. This book, published by Edinburgh University Press in April 2016, includes a First World War element and is complementary to Common Cause. 

Find out more about Wha' bears a blade for Scotland?

Angela McCarthy and John M MacKenzie (eds.)

This book of essays from established and emerging scholars examines the impact since 1600 of out migration from Scotland on the homeland, the migrants and the destinations in which they settled, and their descendants and ‘affinity’ Scots. Chapter eight by Stuart Allan and David Forsyth deals with the subject of Common Cause, the Scottish diaspora in the First World War.

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Silk embroidered postcard

Next of Kin: Family mementoes of the First World War

Explore treasured artefacts passed down through generations, providing a personal insight into the lives of those at home and on the front lines.

Read more

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