The Mearns Connections festival has the First World War as its theme this year, which is a poignant reminder of the effect the war had on the communities of the North-East of Scotland.

With echoes of Flodden (500 years ago last year) - "The pride o' oor land lie cauld in the clay" - the Mearns will be remembering the start of WWI from 100 years ago. The larks are still singing bravely - over the Flowers of the Forest, and over the Poppies in Flanders Fields - but have they been heard yet over the sound of so many battles?  This Sunday afternoon - at 3pm on 3rd August, the Legion is holding a commemoration in the Stonehaven Market Square. Newtonhill Pipe Band is providing the music for this solemn occasion.

You don't need to look further than Sunset Song to see the pernicious effect war can have. Whether it is the loner Ewan - bullied to join up and returning drunk from his army training camp to abuse Chris.  The destruction of the old farming way of life that is the central theme of Grassic Gibbon's work.  Ewan's desertion from the front line - "it was just daft to be there" - and being shot whilst showing a sort of courage by trying to go back to his home.  Or the pacifist Rob Duncan who defied his conscription notice but, after being "ill used" in prison, signed up to die a hero.

As Siegfried Sasoon says in "How to Die"

...they've been taught the way to do it
  Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
  With due regard for decent taste.

But lets remember, if we can, without getting too morbid.  The Ballad Bus will be setting off from the Grassic Gibbon Centre at 10.30am on Saturday 9th August - travelling to memorials in Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, Inverbervie and Gourdon. In the evening, Jimmy Macgregor tells the story of John Muir at the Centre. And on Sunday 10th at 9am there is a church service in Arbuthnott.  The festival is kicked off on Friday 8th with an Oatmeal Supper.  Tickets are available from the Centre on 01561 361668. See the Centre's website for more details.