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Opinion: Gillian Mawdsley

19 May 14

As the nation marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, should we not erect a memorial to those lawyers who gave their lives for their country?

by Gillian Mawdsley

“In Memoriam of Scottish Lawyers who fell in World War 1”

Have you seen this war memorial? The answer is no. That is because no such memorial currently exists, specifically commemorating those Scottish lawyers who fell in that conflict. Should we, as lawyers of the 21st century, take time now to reflect on how best to commemorate those lawyers who died?

This year represents a significant anniversary of 100 years since that war started. I suggest that a permanent acknowledgment of the sacrifice made by our fellow professionals should be created. We see war memorials everywhere. In making out a case for such a memorial to lawyers, we might ponder why one does not currently exist.

Looking back to 1914, there was then no overall governing body for solicitors. The Law Society of Scotland, our professional body, was not created until 1949, post both world wars. One might perhaps speculate that had the Society then existed, the responsibility for any lawyers’ memorial would have been undertaken by such an organisation.

In seeking out the records of those lawyers who may have died, sources are somewhat scarce. Before 1949, lawyers were represented by local associations and faculties of procurators and solicitors, the best known of which are the Writers to the Signet (WS) and the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. The WS Society does hold records of those who served, including those who fell. The Scots Law Times from 1916 onwards does include a number of obituaries for some who died, though many are advocates, and not solicitors.

It is probably not now possible to record and count the names of all the lawyers who died. But there are other ways of remembering their contribution. Where records can be located, they speak eloquently in providing a flavour of those anonymous lawyers that a memorial would seek to commemorate:

  • Ian Galletly, Apprentice Writer to the Signet, Dundas & Wilson CS, killed in action Mametz Wood on 3/8/1916 aged 27
  • Alan Graham Thomson, Writer to the Signet, Messrs Mitchell & Baxter, killed in action on 26/9/1917 aged 35, remembered in Tyne Cot Memorial.

We are familiar with the concept of the “Pals Battalions”, such as Heart of Midlothian’s football players. Certainly, there was no equivalent Scottish lawyers’ regiment. But many lawyers no doubt served together, having trained in officers’ training corps at school and university. They served in the main as second lieutenants, junior officers, where the death toll was high. At one time survival rates were cited at as low as six weeks on the Western Front.

Post-war, the country was anxious to create memorials to those who had died. Organisations such as villages, churches, schools and universities erected memorials. Lawyers will inevitably be remembered within these communities, be it as former pupils or graduates. However, they are not recognised as lawyers in their professional capacity.

This year, much publicity is being given to events commemorating World War 1. The media bombard us with TV programmes and books. As there are no longer any survivors, keeping the memory alive is recognised correctly as being very important. The abiding refrain “Lest we forget” remembers the impact that the war had on that generation and the society that followed. Far from jumping on a bandwagon, creating a memorial to lawyers is significant for us to recall that they did indeed “Step into [their] Place” to enlist. Lawyers are depicted on the well-known poster urging people to leave their occupations and march off to war. 

What is required is, I suggest, a simple memorial. It need not be elaborate. It is important to host this in the home of our governing body, to recognise that lawyers too were part of that global conflict. Those passing, be it visitor or lawyer, can pause to reflect. That unites nearly 90% of the public who feel that this 100th anniversary should be specifically marked. The Law Society of Scotland, and we as its members, should support this view. 

We should see a memorial as providing an active link with the past, and a role in the education of current and future lawyers of what others, who faced the same academic and professional challenges as we face, did when asked by their country. The memorial would seek to inform, not to mourn, and create a lasting legacy. It recognises their role and respects their sacrifice.

To take forward any planning for a memorial, lawyers need to want to remember. Support is required. What form that memorial then takes is for all to debate and to take forward.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Gillian Mawdsley is the JP Legal Training Adviser at the Judicial Institute for Scotland and an ad hoc tutor at Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities

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