Next year will see the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and much has already been made of that. There is, for instance, the Battle of Bannockburn Project, a partnership between the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Project seeks to create an innovative new visitor centre and sensitive landscaping around Bannockburn that will change the way visitors experience the site, ‘making it a truly world-class site for this defining moment in Scotland’s history’. As part of the Project the public could vote on the poem to be inscribed to the new replacement ring beam of the iconic 1960s-built Rotunda monument at the Bannockburn site, and, in 2014, there will be re-enactments of the Battle.
While there is certainly great significance in the Battle and the events planned for 2014 given the wider context of the Scottish independence referendum, the Battle of Bannockburn undoubtedly is also of great relevance to many a Scot abroad. As a result, the Battle has long since been an important event in the Scottish diaspora. Let’s look at Australia for a few historic examples.
Among the more frequent activities connected to the Battle of Bannockburn were lectures delivered to Scottish societies. In 1910, for example, the Williamstown Scottish Thistle Society had organised such a lecture for its members. Many a song would also be sung, including, for instance, ‘The Battle of Stirling’ – every line of which, as a speaker noted, ‘thrills with the patriotic feeling aroused by the struggle crossing the Forth’. Another common way by which Scots kept alive the memory of the Battle of Bannockburn was to include the topic in essay writing competitions; these were usually designed for young people. In 1918, for instance, the Perth Caledonian Society included this question in its competition: ‘The Battle of Bannockburn and What it has Meant to Scotland.’
A name often mentioned in such competitions and other activities was that of William Wallace. Although only connected to what we might call the pre-history of the Battle rather than the Battle itself, Wallace was, for many, a more suitable figurehead of the Scottish struggle for freedom than Robert the Bruce. It was, therefore, also Wallace who was memorialised in stone in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. As reported in the Advertiser (Adeleide), the statue was purchased from the ‘bequest of the late Mr. Rowell Thomson … as a present for the citizens. A special train from Melbourne conveyed members of the Caledonian Society to Ballarat to take part in the ceremony. Mr. Nimmo, the Minister of Public Works, performed the unveiling in the presence of a large crowd.’
Several bigger events took place throughout Australia in June 1914 to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. As the Register (Adelaide) reported, for example:
Scotsmen the world over celebrated yesterday the anniversary of the famous battle of Bannockburn, which was fought … between Robert Bruce, of Scotland, and Edward II. of England, on June 24, 1314. … Such a glorious achievement could not but live in the memory of all true Sons of the land o’ cakes … For months preparations have been in progress in Scotland suitably to celebrate the event, and at Stirling the festivities will continue for four days. Scotsmen in South Australia are not a whit less enthusiastic than their brethren over the seas. Accordingly, on Saturday the Chief of the Caledonian Society (Mr. R. Wemyss) cabled to the Provost of Stirling the following message: — Dinna forget. South Australian Caledonian Society sends greetings and wishes you a successful gathering.’ On Wednesday this reply came to hand from the Pro vost: — ‘Greetings; the heather is on fire.’ The latter obviously has reference to the bright-hued tartans which presumably are apparent on every side. On Wednesday evening, in the Institute Hall, North terrace, under the auspices of the society, a lantern lecture on Scotland was given by Mr. John Drummond, and Mr. G. McEwin discussed the historic battle.
Elsewhere, in Queensland, the Warwick Caledonian Society gathered in the Presbyterian School Hall for addresses and a procession of the Warwick Pipe Band.
These historic examples in mind it will be interesting to see how the Scots abroad and their descendants will engage with the anniversary of the Battle next year – some heated words have already been exchanged in New Zealand, for instance, where ‘two groups have sought promotional funding from the Cromwell Community Board for events to to mark the occasion in June 2014’, leading the Otago Daily Times to speak about Commemoration Rumblings. Uncontentious the Battle has never been – neither at home nor in the diaspora.