Discover uniforms, insignia and equipment, medals, decorations, weapons, paintings, ceramics and silverware, all of which throw light on Scotland's military history, from world-changing events to the everyday life of Scottish servicemen.

A nation in arms

How has Scotland’s military experience influenced the nation as a whole and how has it altered the way the world sees Scotland? 

Just like any other nation, Scotland’s military history has been shaped by its terrain and its position on the map. Explore how the division between Highland and Lowland, a long coastline, and access to important sea routes have had an influence on Scotland’s strategic importance, and find out about the relationship with Scotland’s powerful neighbour, England, and the opportunity that the army represented for ordinary Scots.

Scottish standard in the National War Museum

Above: Scottish Royal Standard flown in the defence of Crete, 1941.

Take time to watch our short film, which creates the context for the rest of your visit. Explore highlights of our collection that introduce the major themes of the museum, and uncover the stories of some key figures in Scottish military history.

Personal effects in the Active Service gallery

Above: Pistol taken from a German spy arrested at Waverley station in 1940, on display in Active Service gallery.

A grand life for a Scotsman

There is a long history of Scots serving in the British armed forces. Why did thousands of individual Scots willingly spend much of their lives as sailors, soldiers or airmen? What motivated them to join up and how did military service affect them?

Recruitment posters in the National War Museum

Above: Recruitment posters line the entrance to A Grand Life for a Scotsman gallery.

In this gallery you can explore daily life of Scots servicemen from recruitment to retirement. See posters designed to attract people to join the armed forces and understand how they've changed throughout the years. Discover uniform, souvenirs, personal possessions and letters home, which help tell the story of life in the armed forces - and don't forget to say hello to Bob the dog!


Above: Bob the dog on display in a Grand Life for a Scotsman  gallery.

Tools of the trade

The equipment of war tells a story all of its own. The objects in this gallery were all developed to equip the individual for war. See the weapons, equipment and clothing developed to meet the demands of war, from Highland broadswords to modern rifles, protective suits to medical kits.

Highland soldier

The divide between the Highlands and the Lowlands has played an important part in the story of Scotland. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Highlands were often beyond the control of government and were seen as a threat to the spreading power of the British state. Yet since then, the Highland soldier has become an icon of Scottish identity.

The objects in this gallery tell the story of this dramatic change from Highland rebel to military exemplar, through paintings, iconic examples of Highland uniforms, bagpipe music and more.

The Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb, 1881

Above: Viewing The Thin Red Line oil painting by Robert Gibb.

In defence

While many Scots chose a life of military service, much of their duty lay overseas expending or defending the British empire. So who was left to defend Scotland in time of war or danger?

In this gallery you'll find medals, mementoes, souvenirs and photographs that tell the stories of the men and women who protected Scotland on the home front. Follow the story of how Scots became involved in part-time or temporary military service and find out how war gradually came to touch the lives of everyone in Scotland.

Active service

Fighting is the ultimate task of any military organisation. The extreme nature of this experience makes it difficult to imagine for those who have not gone through it themselves. Here is an opportunity to explore something of the reality of war through the eyes of Scottish servicemen.

This gallery offers a personal perspective of over 300 years of warfare through collections of medals, memorabilia and weapons relating to extraordinary individuals. Find out what it was like to face the enemy and even face up to death, and learn about leadership and morale, victory and defeat, loss and commemoration.


The Storming of Tel-el-Kebir

The battle of Tel-el-Kebir was a decisive moment in the British maintaining order in Egypt in the late 19th century and its depicted in a magnificent painting at National War Museum.

Culloden: Portrait of the Duke of Cumberland

This portrait celebrates the victory of the commander of the British government forces, Prince William Augustus, at Culloden.

The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line is one of the best known of all Scottish historical paintings and is the classic representation of Highland military heroism as an icon of Scotland.

Art at War

Discover a range of paintings, drawings and pastels from the First and Second World Wars from our military collection.
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