The World War One centenaries have ground their way to a conclusion, with commemoration events offering various ways for people to re-experience the four disastrous years of conflict, battle by battle.
There were moving memorials, along with some questionable hijacking for current neo-nationalist ends. Sometimes the voices of actual witnesses were heard while at other events celebrities oozed about “sacrifices” of which they had no real knowledge or understanding.
Imagine then the value of 59 detailed first-hand testimonies from Scots soldiers who served on the frontline, yet survived. And imagine those being gathered by a trusted member of their own communities, transcribed and later recorded, word for word as spoken over the decades following the conflict.
That is what the renowned Scottish folk singer and tradition bearer,
, gives us in the handsomely produced book,
. The truly extraordinary thing is that no-one, including Jock’s immediate family, knew that he was devoting his spare time to this lifelong venture. It was a personal decision which he has not explained and still plays down.
Yet the impact of the war on a child born in 1925, and the strong presence of that war and its consequences in the rural communities of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perthshire surely played their own part.
created a play based on the material that Jock had gathered did people realise the treasure in store, and it was a wonderful moment when TRACS Chair Gary was able to present the finished article to Jock, as pictured above.
What comes across in the pages of this collection is the complete honesty of Jock Duncan’s informants and their trust. He gives no ‘steer’ and has no agenda other than recording those direct experiences.
This is most evident in his adherence to Scots, in which his informants often spoke, and this publication goes to great efforts to sustain that authenticity while also providing a useful glossary and commentary.
There is no attempt here to either glorify or diminish, but simply to tell the truth of what “the war to end all wars” actually involved. Readers are left in awe at the resilience and hardihood of these human beings, while also wondering why such sacrifice and suffering was demanded of them – and volunteered with little questioning.
Here is testimony worth its weight in gold and a true, enduring legacy that we owe to the gentle, wise, modest and talented Jock Duncan – who chose his editor well in Gary West.
This publication does honour to the individuals who told their stories, to Jock Duncan who patiently gathered them, and by implication to all those who did not come home. All that is worth constant remembrance. Yet listening to these voices is above all a refreshing, life-enhancing experience, and an affirmation of what it means to be human.
TRACS is delighted to have given Gary West’s play its first outings and to now see this ‘graun wark’ emerge in full. I think it needs a pipe tune ‘Jock’s Jock’s’ to salute what has been achieved.
Voices of Scottish Soldiers from the First World War
Jock Duncan | Edited by Gary West | £12.99
Co-published by NMS Enterprises Ltd – Publishing & the European Ethnological Research Association, ISBN 978-1-910682-33-3