Scotland’s newly appointed Veterans’ Commissioner has said the attitude to former servicemen and women needs to be challenged and changed.
Eric Fraser was speaking in Peebles where First Minister Alex Salmond laid a wreath on the war memorial ahead of Remembrance Sunday.
Peebles has the only county war memorial in the Borders – it bears the names of the dead from towns, villages and hamlets throughout Peeblesshire – one of 43 memorials across Scotland which have benefited from the £1million Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund. Its grant was £22,000.
On Friday local veterans were joined by pupils from the town’s Priorsford Primary School to watch the First Minister lay his wreath. He confirmed that a further 20 memorials are receiving grants totalling £160,000.
Mr Salmond commented: “Scotland’s war memorials are a lasting tribute to our fallen servicemen and servicewomen who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts. Each Scottish war memorial, such as Peebles, reminds us of the futility of war and the losses endured by our local communities. They also provide people with a place to go and pay their respects.
Commissioner Fraser said he was in no doubt that current efforts to preserve war memorials across Scotland were vital to acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many men and women during the conflicts of the past 100 years.
He said: “We owe these people – from every walk of life - an enormous debt of gratitude for the freedoms they fought for. But we also need to acknowledge the contributions made by those veterans who still live amongst us, whether they served in the Second World War or the more recent conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I believe we should challenge some of the negative and unfair perceptions of former servicemen and women, see them more readily as valued and valuable members of our community, and recognise the service they have done for our country.”
Kevin Gray, chief executive officer of Legion Scotland, said: “It’s so important to honour the fallen on our memorials. Every year Legion Scotland runs a Best Kept War Memorial competition as part of its role as guardian of remembrance in Scotland.
“We are also working with young people through our primary schools’ competition to encourage them to learn about the people on their local memorial and really bring to life what remembrance is truly about.
“The memorials help us to remember and pay our respects.
“They also give us an opportunity to reflect and remember veterans who are living in our communities whose lives are changed forever.”
Frances Moreton, the director of War Memorials Trust added: “Over the next few years it is vital efforts are made by people and communities to ensure that by 2018 Scotland’s war memorials are in a fit condition for the services and commemorative events that will see us all mark the end of World War I on November 11 that year.”