Over four hundred years of conflict, battles, wars and some very exceptional individuals were all put under the microscope at The Black Watch Castle and Museum first Book Festival on 21st and 22nd September 2019.
Entitled “Words of War” and opened in the Queen Mother Room by the Festival Patron, Professor Sir Hew Strachan, there followed some 12 sessions with some of the country’s leading academics and historians as they examined, through their recently published books, a wide range of subjects stretching from the Jacobite wars and local events in both Perth and Killiecrankie, through the First and Second World Wars to the Cold War and Scotland’s role throughout that difficult period.
The intent was to attract a range of both high-quality books and eminent authors to what, it is thought, is one of the first and certainly one of the few book festivals to take the subject of war and all that surrounds it as a theme. As Professor Strachan said in his introduction, military history is in rude health, with some two thirds of history shelf space in bookshops currently dedicated to military history; seldom has there been such a rich moment to enter the debate.
The enthusiasm, wide range and calibre of the authors who came to speak displayed why that interest is so alive; fantastic talks on how to write and publish books gave way to fascinating portraits of individuals such as Jane Haining, a Scottish lady executed in Auschwitz whilst looking after a combination of Christian and Jewish children in Budapest. Field Marshal Wavell, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, and Vice Admiral Schofield, the father of author and historian Victoria Schofield who had, like so many others of his generation, fought his way through two World Wars. The Festival also discussed individual battles such as Killiecrankie and other Perthshire battles as well as particular tragedies, such as the loss of two separate US troopships off the Island of Islay during the First World War, with the awful loss of life and some remarkable stories of survival and heroism. This talk made especially memorable as the interviewer was none other than Lord George Robertson, the grandson of the senior civil authority on the island at the time, Police Sergeant Malcolm MacNeill.
As the telescope widen further, strategic issues such as the Versailles Peace Conference and its long-term effect were meticulously investigated by both the range of authors and their interviewers. Most modern, but already moving into the realms of history, was an examination by an old friend of The Black Watch, Trevor Royle looking at the role of Scotland in the Cold War, a talk enlivened by the fact that many of the audience had, in one form or another, contributed to that period of Britain’s defence.
Throughout all this activity, there was a tremendous swell of friendly, intellectual curiosity and comradeship as a wide range of people who have seldom, if ever, visited the Castle and Museum came together to be informed about and to discuss a wide range of historical subjects.
This inaugural event was a huge success, made so by the willingness and kindness of so many of the country’s leading academics and historians to provide of their time to come and discuss their work, of their interviewers, who had prepared a fascinating range of questions and thoughts and to all those who came to listen and provide their own thoughts and input.
Arranging an event such as this is time consuming and hard work and a special thanks must go to the Friends of The Black Watch, their Chair, Sarah Riddell-Webster, Dr Paul Philippou of Tippermuir Books and the team at The Black Watch Castle and Museum.
Major General Mike Riddell-Webster, Chairman, The Black Watch Castle and Museum