Massive community effort to honour Polar explorers

Kirriemuir sculptor Bruce Walker with his finished sculpture which sits proud at the gateway to Glen Prosen.
Kirriemuir sculptor Bruce Walker with his finished sculpture which sits proud at the gateway to Glen Prosen.

IT HAS taken 18 months to plan and just over eight months to create, but on Saturday a stunning memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott and chief scientist, surgeon and artist Edward Wilson was unveiled at Glen Prosen.

The setting could not have been more apt as it was in the quiet glen that the pair spent months at the nearby Burnside Lodge ahead of the journey which was to take them to the end of the Earth and which cost them their lives.

The unveiling marked an incredible journey for members of the Kirriemuir Landward East Community Council, which had the vision to ensure the explorers were marked in a fitting and permanent way in this the centenary of the Terra Nova Expedition.

With the formation of a sub group – The Terra Nova Group – they ensured the local community, from WRI groups to pupils at Cortachy and Tannadice Primary Schools, have been included in the project.

As community council chairman Ivan Laird told the Dispatch and Herald, the entire project has been “a geography lesson right on our doorstep that has taken us to the other side of the world.”

The group set out to create a lasting memorial to Wilson and Scott, who died on their return from the South Pole in March 1912.

Prior to the expedition, Wilson was employed by the government to conduct a study into grouse. In order to help him, his publisher, Reginald Smith, offered the use of Burnside Lodge in Prosen.

Wilson spent many months, if not years, based in the lodge conducting his studies and was joined on an unconfirmed number of occasions by Captain Scott and, according to some sources, J.M. Barrie, Kirriemarian, playwright and author of Peter Pan.

Part of Scott and Wilson’s time at the lodge was spent going over the finer details of the expedition and also in testing some of the equipment for the expedition itself.

After the deaths of the polar party and the later death of Reginald Smith, his widow funded the erection of a Memorial Fountain in 1919 in Glen Prosen at a point known locally as “Scott’s View”. The inscription in the centre of the fountain read: “Given into the care of the people of Cortachy for them to hold in remembrance. Robert Falcon Scott and Edward Adrian Wilson who knew this glen: they reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912 and died together on the Great Ice Barrier March 1912. For the journey is done and the summit attained and the barriers fall.”

Sadly the fountain was destroyed in a car accident in 1979, although it was replaced by a memorial cairn in 1981. The cairn became very weathered and both inscriptions were difficult to read – so in stepped the local community council.

As the Terra Nova Group set to work, they obtained private donations and grants from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and the Angus Environmental Trust.

Renowned Kirriemuir sculptor Bruce Walker also joined the group and, through his contacts, he secured the donation of a giant slab of granite from international quarry company Breedon which was transported from a quarry near Dunecht to Bruce’s workshop in Kirriemuir in May.

Bruce told the Dispatch and Herald the last six months had taken him on his own “polar journey.”

It had taken him back to the early days of his career when he began work in the granite industry through his studies at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.

He said: “This is my biggest and most detailed granite work. It’s my favourite stone, it’s what I trained in and it gave me a break in my life.”

He was helped in his research by his wife, Deirdre, as they read numerous books and articles on the Polar expedition.

As he set to work transforming the 30-tonne slab into the 17-tonne creation that now sits at Scott’s View, Bruce met with Scott’s grandson, Falcon Scott and Wilson’s great nephew David Wilson, who unveiled the monument on Saturday.

Bruce continued: “They came to see the sculpture when it was in its early days and they have been excited about it all along.

“This it the biggest sculpture I have ever done; I don’t think there is anything like this in granite in the country in living memory.”

Bruce painstakingly drew up his plans before starting to chip away at the stone.

He continued: “This is a true monumental sculpture; I went right back to what I used to do, using proper monumental natural stone and natural techniques.”

Bruce made a special thank you to Mike Macaulay of Breedon and Alan Bruce of Fyfe Glenrock of Oldmeldrum for their “enormous help” with the project.