The First World War

Known also as ‘The Great War’, and ‘The war to end all wars’, there was hardly a pocket of the world which remained unchanged by the ugliness of this conflict. The culmination of European superpowers’ imperial machinations, and a slow, grinding global arms race, the First World War went on to claim the lives of almost ten million soldiers, and over seven-and-a-half million civilians. A further twenty-one million people were left wounded. From all of the unspeakable chaos and carnage exacted by the war the Borders was not exempt.

Over one thousand men local to the Hawick area lost their lives to the war; about one life for every day it went on. The K.O.S.B. (The King’s Own Scottish Borderers) fought in many battles, but none of more ill-repute than Gallipoli, a fight at which more than one-hundred-and-twenty men from the Hawick district died, over half of those in just one day.

For Hawick on the Homefront, the war changed things in other ways, too. Stobs Military Camp, established at the turn of the century, was by the First World War being used as an internment camp for foreign civilians – to appease the paranoia of native Scots and their government – until in 1916 the internment of ‘aliens’ was moved wholesale to the Isle of Man. Stobs was also used as a POW camp, thanks to the geographical advantages of its location (situated in hilly border country, from which escape would be difficult). In fact, Stobs operated as the Headquarters POW camp for all of Scotland, due to its size. The camp was also a military training ground and barracks, and in 1915 began hosting its first military presence of the war. At its zenith, the camp was home to somewhere in the vicinity of fifteen thousand troops, on top of its civilian and POW population – the size of Stobs lending itself to the nickname: ‘the Scottish Aldershot’. Stobs remained a POW camp until late-1919, and remains one of, if not the best-preserved example of a First World War POW Camp in the UK. A cemetery on site housed the graves of those POW’s and civilians who had lost their lives in the camp, and was well-maintained by locals until Germany had all non-Commonwealth war graves exhumed and reburied in a central English location.

As was the case for much of the world, one of the more unexpected (yet welcome) effects of the war was the emancipation of women from the domestic sphere. With large swathes of the able-bodied male population either at war, or training for it, it fell to the women of the world to take up those societal roles previously reserved only for men. In Hawick, industrial centre of Scottish knitwear, this meant that women were employed on knitting frames for the first time – a foothold into the industry which showed their detractors that they were just as capable as their male counterparts. It is little surprise that British women finally gained (limited) suffrage in 1918.

The Common Riding was cancelled during the war, from 1914-18, with the Council resolving to do nothing so long as the war continued. J.E.D. Murray (who would later form the Ancient Order of Mosstroopers, and style their badge on his favourite horse), however, rode the marches on his own, each year of the war. The Common Riding of 1919 was, of course, a special occasion. On 30th August 1919, there was a ‘Welcome Home’ parade in Hawick, starting at the Drill Hall and continuing to the Volunteer Park, where participants enjoyed a fête and sports day. The Hawick War Memorial was erected in 1921 next to the town’s Museum, and there are other memorials in many of the local villages, including the striking Minto War Memorial in the grounds of Minto Church.