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This is a commemoration not a celebration. It is an opportunity to understand the past better. And learn lessons for the future - Hew Strachan; LEADING HISTORIAN ON SHAPING HOW OUR NATION SHOULD REMEMBER THE FALLEN.

Byline: Jenny Morrison

Hew Strachan vividly remembers his first visit to the military museum at Edinburgh Castle.

He was just 13 and fascinated to learn the stories behind every medal, document, soldier's diary and photo on display.

Fast-forward 50 years and Hew, a professor at Cambridge University, says little has changed - except now he is one of the country's most respected military historians.

Hew, who is a trustee of the Imperial War Museum and has worked at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, was recently awarded a knighthood for his services to the Ministry of Defence.

Now the 63-year-old is helping the Scottish, UK and French governments with their plans to commemorate the centenary of World War I. He can't believe how lucky he is to have spent his entire working life being allowed to do something he loves so much.

Hew, who lives in the Borders, said: "My love of military history goes back to when I was a small boy. I was born and brought up in Edinburgh and, like most boys of my generation, I grew up knowing my dad had served in World War II.

"My grandfather had been involved in World War I and I remember he gave me a box of toy soldiers.

"But I don't think my interest in the military really comes from any of that. The real influence over me was a friend of my parents who worked as a keeper at what is now the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle. At 13 years old, I was probably a bit of a geek and I remember going up to the museum and being more interested in everything they had on display than was healthy.

"There were two men who worked there and my parents' friend, Nick Norman, was the number two keeper.

"He really opened my eyes that this could be a subject I could study but, even then, I don't think I ever believed that it would go on to take up most of my life.

"I think I always imagined that my love of military history would be a hobby."

After leaving school, Hew studied history at Cambridge University. While many might imagine that would involve long hours sitting in the library poring over old documents and books, Hew found the subject a lot more hands-on.

As a research fellow, he combed former battlefields in countries ranging from Jordan to Afghanistan. He examined the sites of the Anglo-Sudan wars and even helped the late King Hussein of Jordan set up a military museum.

Hew said: "Doing some of these things now might be viewed as fairly dangerous but in the 1970s, it wasn't.

"A group of us went to Afghanistan and it seemed easy to jump in the car, leave London and just drive there. In Sudan, my job was to go out with the army and look at sites."

Despite his love of the military, Hew never joined the armed services. But he worked as a senior lecturer in war studies and international affairs at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

From there, he returned to Cambridge University and taught for several years before moving to Glasgow University, where he became director of the Scottish Centre for War Studies.

He is now back at Cambridge University but his career has been far from purely academic. He has written several warrelated books and has held a number of expert posts, including specialist advisor to the UK government's Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.

His latest roles of helping three governments plan their commemorations to mark the 100th anniversar y of World War I are positions he was delighted to accept.

Hew hopes the events chosen for national commemorations in Scotland will be seen as a fitting way for the country to reflect on a war in which more than 140,000 Scottish soldiers lost their lives.

He is one of 12 experts appointed by the Scottish Government to support the Country's commemorations.

He said: "It is hoped that local communities across Scotland will organise their own individual events to mark the centenary of World War I - for which they can apply for funding - but it is also only right that we mark events nationally too.

"There are certain events which were of the same significance across the UK - things such as the outbreak of war on August 4, 1914, and the ending of the war for Britain against Germany in November 1918.

"But there were also a lot of things that happened that had a much bigger impact on Scotland than perhaps they did elsewhere and we wanted to make sure these events were marked.

"There were many battles where there was a higher concentration of Scottish battalions involved. At the beginning of the war, it was evident that Afghanistan. We in the car drove there Scottish soldiers seemed to end up at the front quicker than soldiers from elsewhere.

"That was mainly because in Scotland, people seemed to have gone to their local Territorial Army units to join up. It might have been that these TA units were more accessible. I know Biggar had three drill halls in 1914 and it was relatively easy and much more logical to just go round the corner and volunteer.

"Because these TA units already had an existing structure of officers, training and lots of other things in place, they were much quicker at getting out to battle than units that were starting from scratch.

"For that reason, Scottish battalions seemed to be taking heavy losses long before the rest of the UK was really aware of them and we need to commemorate that.

"Ship building on the Clyde meant the maritime history of the war has very deep Scottish roots so we wanted to reflect that in the events chosen to be commemorated nationally in Scotland.

"And there were also significant events that happened in Scotland itself, such as the train crash near Gretna in May 1915 when more than 200 Royal Scots on their way to Gallipoli were killed. And the loss of the HMY Iolaire, which struck rocks near Stornoway in January 1919, even though that falls outwith the 1914-1918 period."

Hew, who was a member of the Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland, added: "I do feel very honoured to be involved in helping plan commemoration events in Scotland, at UK level and in France.

"Some people talk about the events as celebrations - and there certainly are reasons to celebrate such as the fact that many people were incredibly brave and, of course, that we won the war - but I think the word commemoration seems much more the right tone.

"And, importantly, I think these four years of commemorations give us an opportunity to deepen our understanding of what actually happened in the past and what lessons we can learn about going to war."

"Scottish battalions seemed to take heavy losses long before the rest of the UK. We need to commemorate that


WAR CHILD Hew, above, and as a young boy, right, at a war memorabilia exhibition in Edinburgh. Top, Edinburgh Castle

NEVER FORGET Tam O'Shanter caps belonging to Scottish soldiers on the wall of Loos British Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 18, 2014
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