Q&A with Colonel AK Miller

Simon Stephens, 27.03.2017
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum raising money for £4m revamp
Colonel AK Miller is the project director of the Thin Red Line Appeal, which is raising money for the £4m redevelopment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum at Stirling Castle.

Why is the museum being redeveloped?

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum moved to the King’s Old Building at Stirling Castle 30 years ago but has seen no major redevelopment since. With the withdrawal of Ministry of Defence funding in 2011, the museum’s current operating model is no longer sustainable.

It requires extensive modernisation to project the history and achievements of one of Scotland’s great Highland regiments and to preserve an important element of the nation’s military heritage for future generations.

The redevelopment will deliver a substantially improved visitor experience. We expect visitor numbers to increase from the current 184,000 a year to more than 210,000. We will improve the education and outreach programme and substantially improve returns for the shop income, let spaces and other business development opportunities.

How has the fundraising been going?

The overall cost of the project is expected to be about £4m, around £2m of which the museum needs to raise itself.

Under the patronage of HRH The Duke of Cambridge, The Earl of Strathearn, we are working to raise the balance of the funding required and in due course we will be launching a wider public appeal, enabling the project to be completed by 2019. In September 2016, the museum secured Heritage Lottery funding by achieving a “first-round” pass and a Stage 1 grant of £245,500.

Together with matched funding, this has enabled work to start on the submission of a Stage 2 application and we seek a further £1.1m. Project managers have been appointed and an exhibition designer is to be appointed in April 2017. We aim to have the development work completed by November 2017.

In parallel with this, efforts are proceeding to engage with individual donors, trusts, foundations and corporate sponsors, with the aim of achieving £2m. There have already been some valuable successes. The Guardians, the museum’s Friends organisation, is being developed and extended, with the aim of achieving support from the regimental family and across our traditional recruiting area, which extends from Argyllshire to Clackmannanshire.

Tell us a bit about The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The 91st Argyllshire Highlanders were raised at Stirling Castle in 1794. Five years later The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were raised at Strathnaver in Sutherland.

In 1881 the two regiments were amalgamated under the Cardwell Reforms to form The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s) and saw rapid expansion during the two world wars when the territorial battalions were deployed and service battalions were raised from across the regiment’s traditional recruiting area that stretched across the counties of Argyllshire, Renfrewshire, Dunbartonshire, Stirlingshire, Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire.

The regiment’s most notable battle honour is Balaklava where on 24 October 1854. The Sutherland Highlanders faced down a charge of the Russian cavalry and saved the main supply base for British forces in the Crimea. The action was immortalised by William Russell of the London Times when he described the scene as a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel of the 93rd” , which became imortalised as the Thin Red Line as depicted in Robert Gibb’s famous painting.

Over its life, the regiment saw action across the globe, from the US, South Africa, India to the Middle East and Malaya. Since the end of the second world war the regiment has been involved in virtually every conflict that the UK has been part of, including Palestine, Korea, Suez, Borneo, Aden, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The redeveloped museum will attempt to interpret the story of Scotland through the prism of The Argylls’ experience, from the Highland Clearance, through the industrialisation of Clydeside and Central Scotland, to the post-colonial era.

What do military museums offer today’s visitors?

Britain has a particularly rich military history, largely stemming from the expansion into empire in the 18th century.

That saw the growth of the British Army, a role in which the Scottish regiments – notably those from the Highlands – have played a very significant role. Their story reflects the story of the nation, from the empire and the industrialisation of the UK, through the two world wars, the withdrawal from being a colonial power, to modern-day conflicts.

Military museums have a wealth of artefacts reflecting stories of note, collections of spectacular paintings and items of silver. But perhaps of greatest significance are the archives that reflect the records and personal stories of the soldiers through diaries, letters and original paper.