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Robert Burns and the First World War

Goldie, David (2010) Robert Burns and the First World War. International Journal of Scottish Literature, 1 (6). pp. 1-20. ISSN 1751-2808

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Abstract

The Great War of 1914-1918 was the United Kingdom’s introduction to total war – the first international war to be contested by a whole, mobilised population rather than a representative army. It was also the first European war that the nation would fight with a universally-educated and literate population. The Education Acts of 1870 (in Scotland 1872) had ensured that every British person had undergone a compulsory primary education and might reasonably be expected to be able to read and write and be on nodding terms, at least, with the literary tradition and its canon of great writers. Poetry had a particular place to play in this, especially in the early years of the war when there was a sustained effort to endow the conflict with an elevated sense of purpose and moral strenuousness. Scotland was no exception to this trend, with all newspapers, from the thundering establishment dailies like the Scotsman and Glasgow Herald to popular weeklies such as the People’s Friend and People’s Journal and local papers such as the Paisley Daily Express and Kilmarnock Standard publishing a markedly increased number of poems in response to the early-war crisis, and turning for reassurance to its traditional writers. In most practical terms this, of course, meant Robert Burns.