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Our War: The Soldiers objects
Caption & description to come
Our War: The Home Front
Our War: The Home Front objects
Images of objects + captions to come
Our War: East Lothian 1914–18 online
There are two pop-up exhibition banners that are available to borrow for display in your venue or school. Please drop in or email us to make a booking.
Panels, text and images shown in the 2014 John Gray Centre Temporary exhibition are linked below.
Our War: East Lothian 1914–18
This exhibition examines East Lothian’s contribution to the campaigns of World War One, from the experience of the soldiers and local regiments that served overseas, to the effort on the home front and the effects on the landscape and towns of East Lothian.
The Lothians during World War One (III) – Mobilisation
When Lieutenant-colonel Lord Binning called the roll of the mobilised Lothians and Border Horse at Haddington at the start of August 1914, 371 officers, NCOs and troopers answered; this posed an immediate problem as the wartime establishment for the regiment was 506!
An urgent call went out for reservists and volunteers to fill in the gaps. Friends of the enlisted were appealed to and notices were posted around the rural areas where the regiment was recruited. These appeals were successful. By September a full complement was achieved and the embodied regiment, to a man, offered for foreign service. And now Lord Binning had a second problem: who would take over the regiment’s home service duties?
The process of reorganising the regiment for active service was already providing some answers. Some of those who had answered the calls were too old, too young or simply not (yet) fit enough for front line duties. New recruits were still coming forward – another 200 in September alone – and the final push in October topped out the numbers such that on the 20th November, the Haddingtonshire Advertiser was able to report the second-line regiment was complete; Lieutenant-colonel Lord George Scott commanded and the new 2/1st assembled and trained in Edinburgh. One final appeal was required: there was a need for saddlers and farriers.
An excellent opening is here presented for Border, Mid and East Lothian tradesmen. We believe that good tradesmen will have no reason to complain of the remuneration. Intending applicants should not hesitate to get into communication with the officers. (East Lothian Courier)
As the regiment assembled they had to be accommodated. Their first camp in Neilson Park, Haddington, was given up for a second in the grounds of Amisfield House nearby. Timber huts were built to accommodate 30 men (a troop) each; others served as orderly rooms and offices, stores, and all the other functions of an embodied regiment. They were complemented by stables, which each gave room to 38 horses. Plans were on foot to provide concrete floors for the stables. It was reported that both sets of buildings were going up in November and some were ready by the start of December, allowing the men to leave their tents and the horses the open grounds before winter took a deep hold.
The winter and spring were spent in building defences, working-up and other training duties and integrating the men into the new table of organisation. In May the regiment packed up again and moved down to their old stamping grounds at Hedderwick. It was there, in July, that the regiment was made aware of a change of role: they reverted to cavalry! They also learnt that the regiment would be split up for overseas service. The expansion of the number of divisions that the British Army intended to put in the field had created a need for (small) divisional cavalry units; each squadron of the Lothians was assigned to a different division. After another rapid period of readjustment the regiment was dispatched to Salisbury Plains and Aldershot to join their divisions.
A Squadron – 26th Division
B Squadron (with RHQ and the machine gun troop) – 25th Division
C Squadron – 22nd Division
During September 1915 the squadrons with their respective divisions moved to France.
Keywords: World War One, First World War, WWI, WW1
War graves and researching your WW1 ancestors – a guest blog by ‘WDYTYA?’ researcher Ruth Boreham
A hundred years ago Britain was three weeks into the First World War. The war that was to end all wars, and be over by Christmas. It is hard to understand that optimism with the hindsight we have, but it was truly believed that it would only last a few months. But this war was very different in many ways, with new weapons and ways of fighting, and the war being brought to civilians back home in the shape of Zeppelin attacks.
I have run workshops and talked about the First World War for a couple of years now, but a visit in June to the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme brought it vividly into focus for me. When people talk about trenches, I am immediately back standing in one, looking across no-man’s land to the German side, the mud sucking my feet downwards. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, soldiers got out of their trenches and walked across no-man’s land towards the Germans, with the sun beating down on them. I have walked part of that route, with the sun hot in the sky above, and seen the landscape that offered no protection. And I have seen the thousands and thousands of graves, and the immense memorials to the missing. Two cemeteries in particular stand out for me – Poelcapelle, where out of the 7,443 soldiers buried there, 84% are unnamed, known unto God. The other is Tyne Cot. It is hard to describe Tyne Cot. It is where 11,500 soldiers are buried, and records the names of 35,000 missing. The largest British military cemetery in the world, it is hard to go there and not be moved by the sheer scale of the losses.
All British war graves, both at home and abroad, are looked after by a wonderful organisation called the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Before the First World War the bodies of British soldiers who had been killed on the battlefield were usually sent home. However, in WW1 there were far too many bodies for this to be practical. Therefore the decision was taken to bury soldiers on the field of battle or nearby. Major General Fabian Ware, a Red Cross volunteer, began to record information about soldiers killed, including their name, age and date of death. It is thanks to him that so much information is known about individual soldiers today.
After the war, the makeshift wooden crosses were replaced by more permanent memorials. All British cemeteries have the same design, with every gravestone the same shape and size. No distinction was made between rank or class – all were equal in death. The gravestones are made of white Portland stone from Dorset and are generally rectangular, with a curved top. The cemeteries are laid out to resemble
a British country garden, with flowers and grass etc. The name of the individual, when known, is on the grave, along with the badge of their regiment and the date that they died. And relatives were able to pay to have an inscription put on the bottom. This cost £1 and not everyone could afford it, but where it does appear it is often a religious quote, usually from the Bible. But for me there is one grave, out of the thousands that I saw on my trip to the Continent, that sticks in my mind. It is the one in the photograph, that of Sergeant (or Serjeant, as it is spelled on the memorial) Raven. It is a very personal inscription: ‘Never forgotten by Nellie’. And I can’t stop wondering about who Nellie was, how long they had been married, how she coped with losing her husband, whether she ever did forget him or not. So I am starting to investigate who they were, and what happened to Sergeant Raven that lead to him having a grave in Tyne Cot.
War graves are not just to be found in the fields of the Western Front. Many died back home of wounds received in battle, and their graves, the white Dorset Portland Stone, can be found in local graveyards, still looked after by the CWGC.
Perhaps you have found your own relative’s grave, or are now beginning to wonder whether your family was affected by this Great War?
I am running a workshop on Family History Day (Saturday, 30 August), all about how to start your own journey into discovering your family’s war connections – and you can find out then whether I have discovered anything about Sergeant Raven and Nellie! I’ll be giving a short introductory talk first, so do pop in and join me! The talk is at 10.10 till 10.40, and the workshop is 10.55 till 11.55. Space on the workshop is limited, so please try and book a place in advance (call 01620 820 695 or email [email protected]).
Codes, rats and war … at Family History Day
Pack up your kit bags and join storytellers Angie Townsend and Nicola Wright for an action-packed World War One Family History Day. Hear the story of an ordinary family who went to war and learn how to trace your own family’s experience of that brutal conflict.
Are you fit for war? Can you deliver a message at all costs? Crack the codes hidden around the Centre to find out more about life in a trench: the food, the toilets, the lice, the rats … Discover the uses of wee on the Western Front, what chatting really means and the reason why soldiers wore ladies’ knickers. Hear the songs they sang, the poems they wrote and discover why the poppy is the symbol of remembrance. If you have kept your head down, avoided the whizz bangs and are fit enough to make that last long mile, then you deserve to get back to Blighty … Go to the craft table to create your own poppy and regimental badge.
A fitting way for families to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One.
You can see the full programme for the day here: Family History Day 2014
World War One: resources, activities and information
- Pages with articles and information about World War One and East Lothian’s part in the war
- History on the Net.com: word searches and other activities with a WWI theme
- Images with a WWI connection: Archives a, b; Museums a, b
- Sites on the map a, b, c, d
- Ask about our WWI loan box and two pop-up exhibition banners, which schools can borrow (email [email protected])
- Borrow our pop-up exhibition ‘Our War: East Lothian 1914–18’, for display in your venue.
- East Lothian at War: external website
- Check our list of events and activities linked to the World War One centenary
Grandpa Served in World War One – or, How to Trace a WWI Ancestor
Tracing an ancestor or relative who served in World War One can be quite difficult. Because of the all-encompassing nature of the war a great amount is known, but equally a great amount of the individual experience and service of any soldier is unknown.
Records are spread all over the place and it would be impossible for the John Gray Centre to be able to flesh in the details of the careers of even the East Lothian folk that served on an individual basis. So where to start?
We have begun to outline the units that originated in our county. These are elements of the:
• 1st/8th Royal Scots and its clone battalions the 2nd/8th and 3rd/8th
• 1/7th Royal Scots and its clones the 2/7th and 3/7th
• 1/1st Lothians and Border Horse Yeomanry and its clones the 2/1st and 3/1st
That’s already nine battalion-sized (around 500–1000 men each) formations! The first line of each served overseas, the second at home and often Ireland by 1918, and the third was usually a training cadre (which often disappeared or was amalgamated during the war). There are no lists or muster rolls of the units but there are regimental histories: e.g. Ewing (copy in JGC) for the Royal Scots.
Individual JGC webpages will give an account of each of these formations and their service – and our sources. We’ve made a start on these.
Tracing an individual
The single most useful fact about an individual is the service number. It went with them everywhere and can be used to track a person from unit to unit – most served in several formations. Service number is the key to finding a medal card (Ancestry or National Archives) which will begin to provide information on awards, unit and rank. If you have service medals, the name and number can sometimes be found engraved round the rim. They’re always on identity tags, and we’ve seen a few of those recently.
Surviving documents if you have them are a wonderful source; letters and documents often reveal the service number as well but can take you deeper into rank, unit and experience. Don’t neglect envelopes – franking marks can reveal where an item was posted by decoding the official sorting centres behind the lines.
In the absence of either of the above, a good photograph comes next. Uniform, rank, regimental badges, service stripes and wound stripes, and awards can all be decoded.
If you have nothing to go on apart from family stories, write them down and extract the details. Unfortunately, most tales are very general. ‘Grandpa was in the Royal Scots’ may be all you have – but there were dozens of battalions! Any places or events can help filter the possibilities. Don’t neglect the 1911 census – what was your relative doing just before the war, where were they staying. That might give you an inkling of which local paper to check for notices or events.
So what’s next? Check http://www.1914-1918.net/. There is a handy guide to unit histories (caution on detail and dates), formations and terminology. If your relative was an officer or was decorated for gallantry check the Gazette (https://www.thegazette.co.uk/).
Other useful links