Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War

The atmosphere of this exhibition is a mixture of solemnity and heroism beautifully accompanied by the melancholic sound of bagpipes. The first thing we encounter is a group of photographs portraying Scots' battalions formed in five Commonwealth countries: Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the USA. Each image shows men in highland military uniform with kilts, bonnets, tartans, and bagpipes, along with faces reflecting the pride of those who volunteered to defend not one nation, but two: their home country and the country of their ancestors.

There is no in depth exploration of the historical context that surrounds this topic in the exhibition,

As part of the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, the National Museum of Scotland has put together a series of objects, videos, photographs, and stories that commemorate the valiant work of these soldiers. There is a section for every country, each exhibiting items and mementos from the war, including badges, letters, books, and sgian dubhs (a small, traditional Scottish knife). Perhaps, the most memorable part is a video where one can see Scots soldiers in action, as a voice recites a poem dedicated to them and the countries they fought for.

One can see similar traditional Scottish objects worn by every battalion, but what's fascinating is to see them combined with traditional objects from each of the Commonwealth countries. For example, the Australian rider hat worn together with a kilt. Another example, and one of the most interesting pieces in the exhibition, is a small dissected springbok with a crooked horn (a war injury) called Nancy. This gazelle-like pet, and South Africa's national animal, marched to the sound of bagpipes next to her South African battalion. She's a perfect example of how these men were as proud of being South African, as they were of their Scottish descent.

For those with some notion of Scotland's part in WWI, Common Cause is a way to celebrate those who fought and those who fell during the War. It is also a reminder that Scotland is a nation which expands far beyond its physical borders. However, there is no in depth exploration of the historical context that surrounds this topic in the exhibition, so those expecting to expand their knowledge on this particular part of Scottish history might leave the place with some questions unanswered.

Reviews by Natalia Equihua

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The Blurb

Explore the stories of the Scottish diaspora and the war experiences of Commonwealth nations during the First World War. Through poignant objects from five key Commonwealth nations (Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand and South Africa) as well as newsreel footage and photography, discover how the war was experienced and commemorated in different parts of the British Empire. Then find out how military service was related to other expressions of Scottish identity and culture, such as Caledonian societies, Presbyterianism and piping.