WWI: Marching off to war – the role the Forth played

A call-up parade in Burntisland in 1915

A call-up parade in Burntisland in 1915


When it came to planning this year’s Burntisland Summer Exhibition the choice was fairly obvious with the 100th anniversary of WW1 the main focus.

However Burntisland Heritage Trust decided to take the theme a step further, and this year’s offering covers not just WW1, but every conflict in the Forth since records began!

That has proved a huge undertaking by the trustees who have been working flat out to ensure that the exhibition was ready in time for its opening this Saturday (May 3).

‘Burntisland and the Forth at War’ which will be the Trust’s 21st annual exhibition, opens its doors to the public at 4 Kirkgate, Burntisland, at 11.00 a.m. and will be open every Saturday from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. until June 7, then from June 14 until August 30, from 1.00-4.00 p.m. Wednesdays and 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

A large chunk of the work has been done by the Heritage Trust’s convener, Ian Archibald, a retired cartographer who has dedicated a huge amount of time to recording the town’s rich heritage.

Ian explained: “We start planning the next exhibition virtually as soon as the previous one is over, and this one has been a lot more involved with a lot more work than the previous ones.

“It is a huge topic and required a lot more research work, but it was very rewarding and interesting to see it all coming together, and I learned a great deal from doing it too.

“We have had a lot of help from historians from around the country such as Geoffery Snell from Bo’ness who used to work with Historic Scotland and other historic and heritage organisations, including the Imperial War Museum, Kirkcaldy Museum, Historic Scotland and the Rosyth Garden City Association, with which we exchanged information.”

One of the main aspects of the exhibition is personal stories of Burntisland men who were involved in the conflicts, from Bill Dewar who researched the story of his grandfather in the First World War and the history of the Home Guard in the town, to Albert Gunn who joined the RAF, was shot down over Germany and spent some time as a prisoner of war before returning to Burntisland.

There is also the tale of John Bradshaw, a Falklands War veteran whose ship HMS Plymouth from Rosyth was bombed during the conflict.

The men’s stories adds an extra dimension to the display which is mainly pictorial, with dozens of old photographs and text printed on boards supplied by The Sign Company from Kirkcaldy which has helped sponsor the exhibition.

Other funding has come from the Burntisland and Kinghorn Rotary Club and the Culture and Heritage Investment Fund of Fife Council which has helped cover some of the cost involved in putting on the annual event which relies on donations to keep it going.


The exhibition begins with a timeline, plotting the various developments and conflicts the Forth was involved in, then moves from displays on The Birth of the Scottish Navy, Defending the Forth from 1500, through various conflicts, picking out some of the major incidents such as the sinking of HMS Campainia in 1918, the surrender of the German high fleet in the Firth of Forth, those who gave their lives during WW1, the role of local women during wartime and on to WW2 and its battles and casualties.

There is also a display of wartime artefacts from ornaments made from shell casings, uniform buttons and buckles, gas masks and diaries to ration books, ornaments and much more, many donated from the personal collection of James Reid from Kinghorn who began collecting the memorabilia when he was just 5 years old.

“Last year we had between 1300-1400 visitors including locals and visitors, and this year we are hoping for a much better turnout,” said Mr Archibald.

“Throughout May we will be bringing parties along from Fife primary schools in partnership with the Museum of Communication which is also putting on a WW1 exhibition, and we are hoping that the children on the school visits will learn a bit from it.

“It is the kind of exhibition that you can’t possibly take everything in in one go, so we are expecting people to maybe come back several times to learn a bit more.”




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