Leith at War
At the outset of the hostilities that became "The Great War" the port and town of Leith was still an independent community with its own town council, police force and other civic institutions. At the time the population was estimated to be some 84,000 people. The port and its associated businesses dominated the employment structure and with ships regularly arriving from across the globe there was intense activity in and around its docks. Ship building and repairs, glass making, milling and biscuit manufacture, brewing and whisky distilling and a host of other occupations provided the population with employment. Leith was a thriving community.
Many Leith men were in the regular Army, Royal Navy or Merchant Service as a career. When the war began Leith men, as with others throughout Britain, responded to the call for volunteers to fight for King and Country. By the end of the conflict some 14,200 men had joined the various services. By far the largest proportion joined up with the local regiment The Royal Scots were based in the Drill Hall in the town. It was here many were trained prior to going to “the front”. However this was not the only service to recruit Leithers during the war. Leith men were to be found in over eighty active service units during the war. Women too were attached to nursing services.
By the end of the war 2,500 Leithers or those with associations to the town (for example those who had emigrated from the town to the colonies) had made the ultimate sacrifice. In all the areas which the war was fought their graves or commemorations on war memorials are to be found. Approximately 50% have no known grave. In the Leith Roll of Honour, which was compiled in 1919, the names of 2,204 men and two women are noted in the five volumes.
Numerous others returned home with injuries and mental problems though these are not recorded. The ages of those who died vary from 15 years of age up to 69 but the largest proportion was in the 19 to 24 age group accounting for nearly 40% of the total. There was no month during the conflict in which Leithers were not killed. The local newspaper the Leith Observer, a weekly publication, records obituaries of those who fell and those posted as injured, missing or prisoners of war.