Updated: Dec 11, 2018
Alison trained as a painter graduating from Edinburgh College of Art with an MA in Fine Art/Painting. Through teaching in schools she acquired a passion for textiles and very soon discovered how the qualities of this medium could enhance her painterly way of working. She now works predominately in textiles seeking her inspiration from the Scottish landscape.
In 1993 she was invited to join The Textile Study Group, UK, and it is with this group and collaboration with members of Textil 13 that she was invited to exhibit at the “Traces of Life” exhibition at the Dalarnas Museum, Sweden from 13th June – 13th September this year.
This exhibition gave the artists the opportunity to research themes relating to past and present, family or social history, nature, things made or left by man, etc. Their work was to draw attention to the ways in which needle, thread, and conventional and non-conventional materials can be explored and used creatively today.
The piece she exhibited titled “Where is the consolation?" is what she came to speak to us about today.
A piece especially poignant at this time when we consider we are globally commemorating the centenary of the First World War and personal to Alison, as her husband's grandfather was Reverend James Black, Padre to 'McCrae's Battalion'. Her powerful piece recalls the end of WW1 when on the 12th December 1922 the survivors of “McCrae’s Battalion” marched up the mound in Edinburgh to St Giles Cathedral for a service led by Rev James Black. Where they asked “Where is the consolation, Minister?” to which he replied “It was god and country that took us to France but it was loyalty to our pals that made us fight.”
Alison has taken inspiration for her piece from Rev James Black's old trench maps, using textiles, thread and paint she artistically layers the fabric using her embellisher machine, and in places, stitches pertinent additional detail.
Her thought provoking piece can be viewed next July, fittingly, at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where it will hang for 5 weeks.
A large proportion of her talk centred around her research, sketches and background reading as she learnt more about McCrae’s Battalion and her subsequent fieldtrip to France to see ‘Contalmaison Cairn’ the memorial to the 16th Royal Scots.
To appreciate her piece fully it seems appropriate to include some background information on the 16th Royal Scots - Nicknamed "McCrae's Battalion".
This excerpt from “Life and Work” The magazine of the Church of Scotland dated Monday September 29th 2014, does so admirably.
“A Battalion with a difference” By Janice Todd
“It all started in 1914 with the tabloid press of the day targeting professional football.
The critics first attacked the men watching football on a Saturday before turning their venom on the players, calling them “shirkers and cowards, content to hide at home while better men risk their lives at the front”.
Indeed the game in Britain was on the point of being stopped by the Government until its reputation was saved by the enlistment of a group of Heart of Midlothian players in the 16th Royal Scots.
This Battalion is perhaps better known by its affectionate name, McCrae’s Battalion, after its charismatic Colonel, Sir George McCrae. It is also known as the Sporting Battalion because the example of the Tynecastle men was followed by 500 supporters and ticket holders - along with 150 followers of Hibernian.
Other professionals also volunteered from Falkirk, Dunfermline and Raith Rovers. Around 75 clubs were represented in total along with rugby players, hockey players, strongmen, golfers, bowlers and athletes of all persuasions.
This “football sensation” captured the country’s imagination and led to the Battalion being raised in record time at a meeting in the Usher Hall on Friday November 27 1914. From the meeting in the Usher Hall the men made their way, on foot, down Lothian Road, past St Cuthbert’s Church (in whose parish the Usher Hall lies), to sign up in Castle Street.
The men left to go to war from the Waverley Station, the great majority of them never to return.”
And this excerpt from McCrae’s Battalion Trust - http://www.mccraesbattaliontrust.org.uk/the-story/ explains the tragic happenings of the 1st of July 1916.
“THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME has become synonymous with slaughter. On the opening morning alone nearly 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers gave their lives. A further 40,000 were wounded. The First of July 1916 is often referred to as the blackest day in the history of the British Army; but you could easily go further. From this distance it seems like the blackest day in British history full stop. The idealistic best that the volunteer New Armies had to offer were sacrificed on the bristling German wire, halted in their tracks by an uncounted host of enemy maschinengewehre, bravely manned by gun-teams driven mad through six days and nights of relentless bombardment. It was a tragic end to a great adventure.
The 16th Royal Scots were in the worst of it. ‘Edinburgh’s Finest’, they called them – Scotland’s ‘Sporting Battalion’ and the first of the so-called ‘Footballers’ battalions. But most folk knew them simply as ‘McCrae’s’.
They were named after their charismatic founder, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae, who stood on a recruiting platform on a chill November evening in 1914 and invited the young men of the city to join him. ‘I cannot ask you to go’, he told them, ‘if I’m not prepared to share the danger at your side.’ “
The Contalmaison Cairn
A monument to the Royal Scots was considered in the aftermath of the war but the cost was considered too high and nothing came of it.
Finally in 2003 an association, the Great War Memorial Committee approached Hearts Football Club with a view to commemorating the players and the two battalions in general.
A year later with a great deal of aid from home and in France their plans came to fruition.
The cairn is constructed from Morayshire stone carried from Scotland and erected on site by Scottish craftsmen.
It was unveiled on the 7th November 2004 by Sir George’s grandsons, George McCrae and Ken Hall in the presence of Scottish and local officials with Major General Mark Strudwick, Colonel of the Royal Scots, giving the main address.
A sealed lead ‘time capsule’ lies in the heart of the cairn. It contains (among other items) a list of Royal Scots dead, a copy of McCrae’s Battalion (By Jack Alexander) and a Princess Mary tobacco-tin full of soil from the Colonel McCrae’s Edinburgh grave.
If you would like to read more about the History of McCrae’s Battalion please use this link.
or read Jack Alexander’s book “McCrae’s Battalion”