Ken Nairn – Commonwealth War Graves Commission – 15 Nov 2022

Locally renowned speaker and historian, Ken Nairn, paid the club another visit this week. On this occasion Ken was representing the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with whom he has been a hard-working volunteer for a number of years.

The CWGC was founded more than a century ago with the purpose of commemorating, equally, all the men and women of the British Empire who fell on the former battlefields of the First and Second World Wars, on land and at sea. To do this CWGC has built cemeteries at 23,000 locations around the world and takes great pride in the principles that drove this work, which stated that the organisation would not differentiate between the dead on the grounds of social or military rank, or by religion. The work of the CGGC is only possible through the dedication of its staff, supporters and volunteers who preserve our unique cultural, horticultural and architectural heritage and ensure that the stories of those who died are told.

Ken is one of these storytellers and he held his audience’s attention confidently in his recounting just a few anecdotes from the many thousands to choose from. He began with the Ayr architect, James Archibald Morris who was educated at Ayr Academy and articled to A Lindsay Miller in Glasgow 1873-78. At the early age of 23, in September 1880, Morris set up practice on his own account at 46 Newmarket, Ayr, and was elected ARIBA the following year. His first year of practice was concerned with feuing his property at Savoy Park Ayr and his first significant commissions included the photographer Ambrose Bara’s house in Citadel Place (1882-83) and the UP Church in Prestwick (At 1884). One of Morris’s sons, George, was killed in action in 1917 with the Royal Flying Corps and his last few commissions before his practice was closed in 1920 were designing war memorials.

Another notable character, whose admirable contribution Ken briefly touched on, was Sir Fabian Ware, the founder of the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC – the forerunner to the CWGC), Ken described how, when the First World War started in August 1914, Ware attempted to join the British Army but was rejected because he was too old. With the assistance of Alfred Milner, he obtained an appointment as the commander of a mobile ambulance unit provided by the British Red Cross Society. In this role he began marking and recording the graves of those killed in action, giving rise to his lifelong commitment to the cause.

Another item of local interest is the Newfoundland memorial at Ayr cemetery which is looked after by the Scottish War Graves Commission. This commemorates the lives of some of the hundreds of Newfoundlanders who were stationed in Ayr during WW1. Newfoundland gifted a caribou head to the town of Ayr as a gesture of gratitude for how the town’s people had welcomed and treated the Newfoundlanders. The caribou head is currently held at Rozelle house, Ayr.

Ken rounded off his talk with some recollections from his working trips to the battlefields of northern France and Belgium and with a tribute to the amazing work of the CWGC and its committed army of volunteers.

Charlie Steele gave the vote of thanks to an excellent speaker.

Ken giving Charlie a history lesson