Caption: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders recruitment poster, 1914

Although the summer of 1914 saw tensions brewing across Europe, life in Scotland largely continued as normal, even for those already serving in the military. For the men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders based in Stirling Castle there were some notable occasions in the final weeks before the war.

On the 22 June 1914, the regiment had been appointed a new Colonel-in-Chief, Princess Louise, the Duchess of Argyll and daughter of Queen Victoria. Although a largely ceremonial position, it was nonetheless a very important part of the regiment's identity and played a significant role in regimental events.

On 11 July, the castle was visited by King George V and Queen Mary. The royal couple were entertained to lunch at the castle with the officers.

Even on 4 August the Castle’s garden party was held as usual – a last moment of normality before the horror that was to come. The order to mobilize the battalion and depot staff in the castle came that evening, reportedly just as the last of the garden party guests left.

Britain’s declaration of war on Germany followed at midnight that day. Almost immediately some of the 3rd battalion under Lieutenant Purves departed Stirling Castle for the war station at Woolwich in south-east London.

Within days the Castle, as the Regimental Depot, was crowded with reservists and new recruits, called up to serve. For many, this first introduction to army life was not a pleasant one. The already limited accommodation in the castle was stretched to its limits.

One recruit later recalled having to sleep ‘in what were almost cellars’. Supplies were also inadequate, with a slice of bread and butter and a little tea serving as breakfast for those lucky enough to scrounge it up.

Caption: Soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders take a break from training during the war. Many of those in this image may have passed through Stirling Castle on their way to war.

It may have been a relief that the stay at Stirling was short, the remainder of the 3rd battalion (around 700 in total) following the detachment under Purves and heading to Woolwich on 8 August. Such brief stays were to be common for recruits throughout the war.

They typically remained in the castle long enough to be examined, declared medically fit and receive their uniforms, before being despatched to join units on active service or Reserve Battalions stationed elsewhere in the UK.

Although for those who eventually ended up on the front lines, the cramped and poor conditions of Stirling Castle may have seemed a paradise when compared to the realities of trench warfare.

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