“If a vote was taken for the most perfect town memorial in the British Isles, mine would to go the peel tower and the horseman of Galashiels,” wrote H.V. Morton in his book ‘In Search of Scotland’.
The description, referenced in ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’ (published by the Galashiels History Committee and Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council, 1983), is apt.
The impressive War Memorial, a beautiful centrepiece at the heart of Galashiels, was officially unveiled by Field Marshall Earl Haig on Sunday 4 October 1925.
It had been a long time coming.
“The question of the inadequacy of the Burgh Buildings, as they were then termed and which had been built in 1887, was first raised in 1895,” according to ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’.
A proposed extension was shelved in 1900, and although plans were approved in 1914 following a period of controversy, the outbreak of the First World War delayed progress until 1919.
Eventually, plans for both the War Memorial and extension of the Burgh Buildings, prepared by Sir Robert Lorimer (who had also designed the fountain in Corn Mill Square), were approved in 1923.
On 3 December 1924, in the presence of Edward, Prince of Wales, a commemorative corner stone, with his emblem of three ostrich feathers, was laid at the War Memorial.
The War Memorial takes the form of a tower with chiming clock, in front of which stands the bronze figure of a Borderer – the work of Thomas Clapperton (link to Great Galaleans) – armed and mounted on horseback.
A bronze panel containing the names of all those belonging to the town who gave their lives in the First World War is incorporated in the Memorial.
Above the panel is a figure – known as the Angel of Peace – carved by Galashiels sculptor David Sutherland.
The Angel of Peace holds a wreath in each hand and when the surrounding lights are lowered, gains the appearance of having wings. It is an unintentional characteristic, but a special and poignant sight which has inspired the unique Angel’s Wings service of remembrance.
The names of those who fell in the Second World War (118) are inscribed on separate panels which were added to the Memorial in 1947.
In total, the Memorial has 639 men listed on it who fought for the armed forces of six countries: UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and USA.
The Border Torch – first proposed by Galashiels town councillor George Hope Tait in 1923 (link to Great Galaleans) – is the most recent addition to the War Memorial and was unveiled on Sunday 4 October 2020.
It was originally intended to sit on the side of the Burgh building facing Cornmill Square, however, due to budgetary constraints at the time, that element of the plan was dropped.
It has taken 97 years – and the vision of the Gala Remembers 2018 committee who unanimously agreed to deliver this lasting legacy – to bring George Hope Tait’s vision to life.
The bronze torch and glass flame, crafted by Beltane Studios, Andrew Holmes Glass and James Stewart and Sons Electrical, is now located where it was originally intended.
A fitting and permanent tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during two World Wars, the Torch lights up at 8pm each day when the chimes of ‘Braw, Braw Lads’ ring out, as suggested by Hope Tait, and serves as an emotive reminder of fallen Galaleans.
The Westminster Chimes for the clock – famous because of their adoption at Westminster – were presented by the Cochrane family of Abbotshill who had two sons killed in the First World War. The special mechanism for the Braw Lads’ chimes was funded by the Galashiels Burns Club.
The Border Torch and plaque, funded by Energise Galashiels Trust and with support from the public through the Gala Remembers project, were unveiled by Valerie Gray, George Hope Tait’s granddaughter.
Alterations to the Burgh Chambers – formerly the Burgh Buildings, the administrative headquarters of the Town Council until local government reorganisation in 1975 – have also taken place over the years.
According to ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’, several Royal visits were made to Galashiels during the Council’s lifetime, including visits by King George VI in 1947 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, both of whom were accompanied by other members of the Royal Family. Their signatures, along with other distinguished visitors to the Burgh Chambers, are recorded in a visitors’ book which has been carefully preserved.