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The work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

in Scotland rom Shetland to the Borders, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that the sacrifice of thousands of men and women who died during the world wars is remembered in perpetuity.

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The UK as a whole contains over 170,000 Commonwealth war graves, with over 20,000 of these found north of the border. Scotland was an important centre for both training and operational units during both world wars and war graves are to be found at over 1,200 locations. Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Orkney is one of three sites in Scotland owned by the Commission and is the largest war cemetery in Scotland, with almost 700 burials.


A screen wall memorial at Seafield Cemetery, Edinburgh. These bronze name panels list the casualties buried in the cemetery.

From the biggest concentration of graves – almost 700 burials at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on Orkney – to the numerous graveyards containing a single casualty, the Commission’s commitment varies greatly in type.

The youngest known British service casualty of the Second World War is buried at Comely Bank Cemetery, Edinburgh. Reggie Earnshaw was just 14 when the merchant ship he was aboard was attacked by German aircraft in July 1941.

Large concentrations of graves are the exception, with over 75% of cemeteries containing fewer than 10 casualties. Sometimes the graves are grouped together, but often they are scattered throughout the cemetery. The Commission also maintains screen wall memorials, upon which are inscribed the names of casualties buried somewhere in the cemetery or whose remains were cremated.

French civilians gathered around the grave of a Seaforth Highlander, killed in September 1914.

The practice of non-repatriation of the dead, established during the First World War, meant that Commonwealth personnel were buried or cremated where they fell. Those who are commemorated in the UK died at home or in hospital from their wounds, sickness or disease; in training accidents and air raids or were killed in the air or at sea and their bodies washed ashore.

The Commission’s team in Scotland includes a Regional Supervisor, who travels all over the country, inspecting each and every grave on a three yearly cycle.

IWM Q53263

Our gardeners and skilled stone technicians clean and repair headstones, memorials and walls, whilst ensuring horticulture is maintained to the highest standards. Local authorities also play a vital part, mowing grass and keeping flowerbeds looking as they should.

Commission staff introducing new turf and bedding plants at Sleepyhillock Cemetery in Montrose, Angus.


A screen wall memorial at Seafield Cemetery, Edinburgh. These bronze name panels list the casualties buried in the cemetery.

From the biggest concentration of graves – almost 700 burials at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on Orkney – to the numerous graveyards containing a single casualty, the Commission’s commitment varies greatly in type.

The youngest known British service casualty of the Second World War is buried at Comely Bank Cemetery, Edinburgh. Reggie Earnshaw was just 14 when the merchant ship he was aboard was attacked by German aircraft in July 1941.

Large concentrations of graves are the exception, with over 75% of cemeteries containing fewer than 10 casualties. Sometimes the graves are grouped together, but often they are scattered throughout the cemetery. The Commission also maintains screen wall memorials, upon which are inscribed the names of casualties buried somewhere in the cemetery or whose remains were cremated.

French civilians gathered around the grave of a Seaforth Highlander, killed in September 1914.

The practice of non-repatriation of the dead, established during the First World War, meant that Commonwealth personnel were buried or cremated where they fell. Those who are commemorated in the UK died at home or in hospital from their wounds, sickness or disease; in training accidents and air raids or were killed in the air or at sea and their bodies washed ashore.

The Commission’s team in Scotland includes a Regional Supervisor, who travels all over the country, inspecting each and every grave on a three yearly cycle.

IWM Q53263

Our gardeners and skilled stone technicians clean and repair headstones, memorials and walls, whilst ensuring horticulture is maintained to the highest standards. Local authorities also play a vital part, mowing grass and keeping flowerbeds looking as they should.

Commission staff introducing new turf and bedding plants at Sleepyhillock Cemetery in Montrose, Angus.


Scotland and the First World War Estimates vary, but it is generally agreed that over 125,000 Scots were killed in the Great War, with some estimates putting that figure at over 145,000. The UK as a whole lost some 750,000. Scotland, with around 10% of the UK population, therefore lost a far higher proportion of its people than Britain overall. This was due, in part, to the strong pre-war tradition of military service amongst Scots and because of the large numbers of Scotsmen who volunteered to serve in the opening period of the War, prior to the introduction of conscription in 1916. Scots units were also frequently used as “shock troops�, in the first wave of an infantry attack, and suffered predictably high casualty rates.

Men of the King's Own Scottish Borderers go over the top at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, on 4 June 1915 IWM Q70701

The Helles Memorial, situated on the Gallipoli Peninsula and maintained by the Commission, commemorates over 20,000 dead, including many Scots, who died during the campaign against Turkish forces.


Scotland and the First World War Estimates vary, but it is generally agreed that over 125,000 Scots were killed in the Great War, with some estimates putting that figure at over 145,000. The UK as a whole lost some 750,000. Scotland, with around 10% of the UK population, therefore lost a far higher proportion of its people than Britain overall. This was due, in part, to the strong pre-war tradition of military service amongst Scots and because of the large numbers of Scotsmen who volunteered to serve in the opening period of the War, prior to the introduction of conscription in 1916. Scots units were also frequently used as “shock troops�, in the first wave of an infantry attack, and suffered predictably high casualty rates.

Men of the King's Own Scottish Borderers go over the top at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, on 4 June 1915 IWM Q70701

The Helles Memorial, situated on the Gallipoli Peninsula and maintained by the Commission, commemorates over 20,000 dead, including many Scots, who died during the campaign against Turkish forces.


Scotland and the Second World War Scotland’s strategic importance came to the fore following Hitler’s invasion of Norway in 1940. With a multitude of Scottish air force, naval and army bases, thousands of Allied servicemen and women found themselves posted to Scotland. Places like Shetland and Orkney saw their populations increase massively as defences were constructed. Ports like Greenock, Methil, Leith and those on the Clyde were at the centre of wartime activity and the Central Belt became vital for the production of munitions, ships, aero engines and other war materiel. Grave of Private Donald MacRae of the Seaforth Highlanders, buried at Clachan Duich Burial Ground in Ross & Cromarty.

Granite headstones in Lerwick New Cemetery, Shetland, where 117 casualties from both World Wars are buried


Scotland and the Second World War Scotland’s strategic importance came to the fore following Hitler’s invasion of Norway in 1940. With a multitude of Scottish air force, naval and army bases, thousands of Allied servicemen and women found themselves posted to Scotland. Places like Shetland and Orkney saw their populations increase massively as defences were constructed. Ports like Greenock, Methil, Leith and those on the Clyde were at the centre of wartime activity and the Central Belt became vital for the production of munitions, ships, aero engines and other war materiel. Grave of Private Donald MacRae of the Seaforth Highlanders, buried at Clachan Duich Burial Ground in Ross & Cromarty.

Granite headstones in Lerwick New Cemetery, Shetland, where 117 casualties from both World Wars are buried


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the organisation responsible for the commemoration of almost 1,700,000 members of the Commonwealth forces who gave their lives in the two world wars. The graves and memorials of these men and women, who came from all parts of the Commonwealth and who were of many faiths and of none, are found around the globe in some 150 countries.

This Celtic cross, maintained by the CWGC, in Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh, pays tribute to the 226 civilians and soldiers killed in Britain’s worst rail disaster. Men of the 7th Battalion Royal Scots, from Leith, were aboard a train heading to England when it collided with a local goods train at Quintinshill, near Gretna in May 1915. An express train then ploughed into the wreckage. Many of the bodies were never recovered.

See the web site at www.cwgc.org for more information about the Commission, its work and how to search its records online. Enquiries are also welcome at the Commission’s offices: CWGC UK Office Jenton Road Sydenham Leamington Spa Warwickshire CV31 1XS United Kingdom Tel: + 44 (0) 1926 330137 Fax: + 44 (0) 1926 456595 CWGC Head Office Tel: + 44 (0) 1628 634221 E-mail: enquiries@cwgc.org Archive pictures courtesy of Imperial War Museum


CWGC in Scotland