Her powerful, melancholy words were not bloodied by the hell of the Somme or smeared with the mud of Loos, and the poems of Mary Symon are less familiar than the works of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. 

But Symon created poignant verse that shone a gentle light on the misery of war and its terrible impact on those at home using, as her muse, the tragedy of loss and the devastation it brought to humble families of the north-east. 

Her moving First World War poems – which are written in Scots – articulated the pain of loss and the tragedy of grieving families as they strove to rebuild broken lives, and pay their respects to loved ones who would never come marching home. 

As time passed, Symon’s heartfelt poems became overshadowed by the powerful and provocative works of others that spoke graphically of death in the trenches. 

Now, however, her contribution to understanding how the war was felt in Scotland’s rural communities of the north-east – and, in particular, her feminine perspective on its impact – will be celebrated when a plaque recognising her work is unveiled. 

HeraldScotland: Wilfred OwenWilfred Owen

The plaque, due to be unveiled today, is the latest in a network approved by the National Commemorative Plaque Scheme run by Historic Environment Scotland. It joins memorial plaques dotted around the country that pay tribute to war poets and which are designed to spark fresh interest in their vivid accounts of war, the scale of its destruction and the suffering it caused. 

While they includes two of the better-known war poets, Owen and Sassoon, who met while convalescing at Craiglockhart hospital in Edinburgh, some shed light on others whose work may be less familiar to some modern readers, such as the Aberdeen-born Captain Charles Hamilton Sorley, who was just 20 when he was killed by a German sniper at the Battle of Loos in 1915. His work was published the following year. It included his last poem, retrieved from his kit after his death and which included the lines: “When you see millions of the mouthless dead/Across your dreams in pale battalions go”. 

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Symon’s plaque will be sited at the clock tower in Dufftown, close to her former home and overshadowing the streets where sons of the town once rallied to sign up and march to war. 

It’s hoped the plaques will eventually grow in number to form a physical trail and complement an online Scottish war poets map hosted by Edinburgh Napier University


It highlights more than two dozen locations – from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides to the south of Scotland – which have links to First World War poets, many of them overshadowed by more famous writers.

The Scottish war poets project, which last year led to the unveiling of a permanent memorial at Makars’ Court in Edinburgh, has been led by Neil McLennan, a senior lecturer at Aberdeen University whose great grandfather Roderick McLennan witnessed the death of poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh. 

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The pair were 4th Seaforth Highlanders and were side by side in a trench on the second day of the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, when Mackintosh, who had earned the Military Cross for his bravery during a raid on a German trench near Arras the previous year, was shot dead.

Mr McLennan said: “The war poets’ voices still echo a century on, and each one has their own story. 

“In Mary Symon’s case, some of her poetry from 1916 – written at a time when there was a period of positivity about the war – was sent out to the troops. 

HeraldScotland: CraiglockartCraiglockart

“But after the Somme, there was a shift in her writing. For the first time people were getting letters of deaths, and there was a definite move towards a more anti-war tone. 

“She became a leading voice in anti-war sentiment, with her later poetry talking about what was largely a hidden element of the war – the rural losses.

“Often people think of the impact on towns and cities, but some rural areas lost a significant number of men who either died or came home badly wounded. For those areas, the losses were perhaps more pronounced than in towns. 
“Some places were decimated, and changed overnight. The impact is brought home in her poem The Soldiers’ Cairn, which is about the impact on rural communities in Scotland and is as much about the impact of war as traditional trench poetry.”