Monthly Archives: May 2014


I spent today at Stirling Castle. On my own. Part proper work, part research, part sheer indulgence.

The proper work bit was to see the exhibition Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown before it closes next week. It’s fun to go along and watch people interacting with the displays.


The staff were fantastic. The man who sold me my ticket told me about the special exhibition, about these documents which are ‘the oldest thing you’ll see today, older than any part of the castle’. The guide in the room was doing a brilliant job of making 700-year-old Latin texts sound interesting to a group of schoolchildren. The running totals on the ‘who would you vote for’ between Wallace and Bruce were up in the 600s, with a narrow lead for William Wallace. The exhibition was remarkably busy.

I was in Stirling Castle about twenty years ago on a Scottish History trip from St Andrews, and then again about ten years ago. But so much restoration work has been carried out on these magnificent Stewart buildings that it was well worth another visit. It’s fabulous to see the coloured reconstructions of the Stirling heads, and so much more. I love to think that many of these depict the men and women of James V’s court – it’s like having the pictures in Hello spread out across the ceiling!IMG_2108

I wandered down the hill to the Church of the Holy Rude, which I’m not sure I’ve ever visited before but I particularly wanted to see today – that was part of the ‘research’ bit.


The infant King James VI was crowned here in 1567 when his mother Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate.

Behind the church is a graveyard which was partly laid out by the Victorians, and has some rather unexpected statues of figures from Scottish reformation history dotted around, including this truly bizarre monument to two famous Covenanting martyrs who were drowned in the Solway.


There’s a small hill in the graveyard. Climb that hill and look around, and you really are in the heartland of Scotland’s history. The surrounding landscape has been fought over again and again – Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn, Sauchieburn …..  The castle of the Stewart kings looms high, not just a strategic fortress but also a self-confident expression of dynastic power and artistic ambition. The medieval church has its own story to tell through the centuries, and then there are those figures of the Scottish reformation, interpreted through Victorian eyes. Whistlestop tour through the centuries!


© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

War Classics review in The Hindu

There’s an interesting article in The Hindu today. It groups War Classics with several books which approach the First World War from a different angle.

Witness to the truth – The Hindu.

1914 by Jean Echenoz

World War I spawned literature of various hues. One hundred years later, we still grope for meanings and explanations. Here are a few books that give us some indication of the pointless nature of the Great War, told by individuals who either experienced it firsthand or wrote about it later.

War Classics: The Remarkable Memoir of Scottish Scholar Christina Keith on the Western Front by Flora Johnston talks about a woman from upper class Scottish society, a lecturer in Classics, who went to live and struggle with common soldiers as a teacher with the army’s education scheme in France. The memoirs tell of the role played by thousands of men and women behind the lines to support the war and opens up a whole new world that lay just a few miles from the front. Keith also travelled across the devastated war zones after the Armistice and spoke of “a dream world, where everything happened… on a background of infinite horror”. She met the soldiers who had survived, saw tanks, clothing and weaponry lying littered across the battlefields of Europe and the war graves consisting of rough wooden crosses stuck in yellow mud and water.

I don’t think Christina was setting out to portray the war as pointless, but I do think her descriptions of the devastation it caused have real power – in part because they are written from a different viewpoint to most other commentators. The article concludes, We need books like these to approach the truth.

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.