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Home front heritage revealed in new study of WWI Scotland

9 February 2014



It reveals previously unknown details of many aspects of our wartime heritage, including top secret anti-invasion defences prepared around Edinburgh in case of enemy attack.

The audit, commissioned by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), has unearthed an enormous amount of new information which has allowed the records of 900 buildings and places to be created or updated, more than triple the number expected at the outset.

                                         Inchinnan airship shed in 1916

As Scotland prepares to commemorate the centenary of WW1, the audit of wartime assets has provided a fuller picture of the built heritage that can teach us about the country’s part in the war at a local and national level.  

Among the records that have been added to or improved in the audit are:
  • 239 hospitals - ranging from village halls to vast hospitals that are still in use today
  • 64 air stations, 30 of which had not been included in Scotland's record of sites before the audit. This is a mix of seaplane bases, fixed wing bases and airship stations
  • 39 prisoner of war camps over the period of the conflict with Scotland’s main site being at Stobs near Hawick. The others ranged from Edinburgh Castle to the more modest Miners’ Cottages on Raasay
  • anti-invasion defences in 39 places, with the majority of them located around Edinburgh and East Lothian
  • 20 firing ranges with just over half known to have remains of the original site
  • 15 barrack and military accommodation sites, the most notable being Edinburgh’s Redford Barracks, still operational today
  • 11 naval dockyards and naval bases, including sites used by the US Navy in Invergordon and Inverness

One key finding on previously unknown War Office maps is the extent of the land-based anti-invasion defences that were put in place around Edinburgh and across the Lothians and Fife in order to stop an enemy attack. A detailed study of high definition aerial photography has revealed surviving elements of the network of trenches and earthworks dating back to WW1.

The most extensive defences were located to the east of Edinburgh at Portobello and stretched from the shore of the River Forth to the south of the city. This defensive system, of barbed wire, firing trenches and strongpoints, was critical to ensuring the city was defended from a land attack.

The audit has shown that of 350 drill halls that were in use in Scotland during WW1, 189 survive today. These places were the training bases for volunteer soldiers. While the role of these buildings was similar, the varying architectural styles of the buildings is fascinating - from quite grand structures to much simpler and functional designs.

Some of these wartime heritage assets will be designated by Historic Scotland during the centenary period, to recognise and protect their significance for future generations.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, welcomed the audit’s findings. She said: “Our World War One built heritage is a vital part of our historic environment and is key to educating us about Scotland’s role in the conflict. This audit will prove invaluable to our understanding of how every community played its part during the First World War.

“As we prepare to commemorate 100 years since the start of the war, I hope people will use this research to learn more about this important period and contribute any information they have so we continue to piece together a fuller picture of Scotland’s role. I also welcome the fact that Historic Scotland will recognise the significance of some of these assets through designation, helping to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations.”

The audit’s author, Dr Gordon Barclay added: “The audit has more than tripled the number of places known to be associated with Scotland's contribution to the First World War, both military and civilian, and has revealed an extraordinary variety of structures, reflecting Scotland's importance to the war effort. The audit is only the first step, and other places no doubt remain to be identified, and the wartime role of many other places will certainly come to light during the centenary of the war.”

Allan Kilpatrick of RCAHMS  said: “Scotland was on the front line during WWI. St Kilda was bombarded by a German U-boat and Edinburgh was bombed by a Zeppelin. The naval bases on the Forth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow were essential to protect Britain's navy and her shipping.  Large parts of the landscape were transformed by structures designed to repel any invasion or attack, and it is remarkable just how many WWI remains can be still be seen today. Having these records online and in one place, provides a perfect starting point for further study.”

All of the records - which feature hundreds of modern and historical photographs of sites - are available to view online on the RCAHMS’ Canmore database: www.rcahms.gov.uk/firstworldwar

The Built Heritage of the First World War in Scotland audit is now available: The Built Heritage of the First World War in Scotland [pdf, 7mb]

Notes for editors:

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

  • RCAHMS is the National Collection of materials on Scotland’s built environment that connects people to places across time. It is the first port of call for information about the built environment of Scotland, from prehistory to the present and records the changing landscape of Scotland and collects materials relating to it. www.rcahms.gov.uk  

  • Gordon Barclay is an archaeologist, a graduate of Edinburgh University, who worked for Historic Scotland and its predecessors for 30 years, until his retirement, as Head of Policy, four years ago. Since his retirement he has written the definitive book on the anti-invasion defences of 1940-41 , If Hitler Comes. Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940 (Birlinn 2013). In his research on First and Second World War defences he has pioneered research methods combining the examination of historical documents and maps, along with contemporary and modern aerial photographs, and fieldwork


  • Scotland welcomes the world in the Year of Homecoming 2014 providing a year-long programme of events alongside the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games. The Year of Homecoming Scotland will run until 31 December 2014 throughout the length and breadth of the country. Visitors from around the world are invited to join in a celebration of the nation’s food and drink, active pursuits, cultural heritage, nature and ancestral heritage. Homecoming Scotland 2014 is a Scottish Government initiative being led by EventScotland and VisitScotland, supported by numerous partners. To find out more visit www.homecomingscotland.com

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For further information


John MacNeil
Media Relations Manager
Communications and Media
0131 668 8714 or 07854 366 827
john.macneil@scotland.gsi.gov.uk