Scottish communities answered their country’s call across the length and breadth of the country and the human cost was felt keenly in lowly populated areas of the Highlands. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery are providing an insight into these impacts through a Next of Kin display telling the front line experiences of a local veteran and the medical recovery of a volunteer from the Western Isles, alongside some powerful artistic interpretations from a mental health community group.
Murdo MacRae was a 16-year-old apprentice tailor when he enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders to fight on the Western Front. MacRae received a potentially fatal liver wound during the Second Battle of Ypres but was saved by pioneering abdominal surgery administered at a field hospital.
He went on to recuperate at Oldmill Military Hospital in Aberdeen, where he participated in a ground-breaking programme of occupational therapy. A needlepoint Union Jack design from one of these sessions is on display, alongside a decorative plate MacRae collected as a souvenir.
The museum’s other local story covers the amazing military career of Inverness born George Garden. Garden served in India before travelling to the Western Front. In the same battle that Murdo MacRae was wounded, Garden successfully fought off German soldiers attempting to seize his machine gun using a forester’s axe. The Distinguished Conduct Medal and Russian Order of St George Medal awarded for this act of bravery are on display, alongside Garden’s Regular Army Certificate of Service describing him as having ‘an attractive personality’.
Earlier in the summer Inverness Museum worked with members of HUG (Action for Mental Health) to provide new perspectives on their First World War collections. Participants looked at items such as George Garden’s gallantry medals and discussed themes like conscientious objection, PTSD, family bereavement and recovery with writer John Glenday and artist Eleanor White. Their ideas were translated into creative writing, poetry and artwork which are now on display in the museum’s Community Gallery throughout the Next of Kin exhibition.
A series of lunchtime lectures over the next few months will explore a range of fascinating topics relating to the exhibition, including the role of Highland women. School engagement workshops will also take place, offering local schools the opportunity to explore the Next of Kin handling collection. Further details can be found on the Next of Kin and Inverness Museum and Art Gallery website.