I’m just back from a morning’s filming with the BBC up on The Cabrach, that most remote community that spans the high moors of West Aberdeenshire and Upper Banffshire. The BBC’s magazine series on rural Scotland, Landward, will broadcast a special on April 11, 2014, to explore the effects of World War I on rural Scotland.
As any self-respecting North-easter knows, The Cabrach is Scotland’s obvious testament to the waste of young life in wartime. The great numbers of tumbledown crofts and steadings you see in that triangle bounded by Dufftown, Rhynie and Lumsden happened not because of land policy or the Depression or a series of bad farming years. They happened because virtually all the fighting-age men and boys went off to war in 1914. Many did not return.
They believed politicians and newspaper leader-writers who said that the more men who joined up, and the quicker they did it, the sooner the enemy would be defeated and the earlier they could be home. It was the original “home by Christmas”.
We all know now that it didn’t happen that way. Many died either in battle or because they succumbed to measles, to which they had no immunity because they came from such a self-contained community.
The women, children and old folk they had left behind to keep the crofts ticking over for the implied four months could not survive beyond a second Cabrach winter and eventually had to find accommodation and work elsewhere. They abandoned the crofts, and what you see a century later was once described by a Dutch academic historian as “the biggest war memorial in Europe”.
• UPDATE: To see what the programme inspired 18 months later, go here.