Monday, 31 January 2011

Meet Adam Brown - The SMRG Team

We thought it might be a good idea to publish mini "profiles" of members of the Scottish Military Research Group. That way you get to know a little more about us, what our interests are, and what we're all about. The first "volunteer" is Adam Brown, who some of you may know is one of the administrators of the Group. Together with myself we are responsible for the running of the two main Projects (War Memorials and War Graves) and here Adam explains where his interest in all things military came from.

I am the wrong side of forty and as far back as I can remember I have been interested in military history. It's a long story but I think I can trace it all back to a pack of 1/32nd Airfix British Paratroops given to me when I was about five. I'll not bore you with all the details but thanks to Airfix models, 'Commando' books, and the 'Victor' and 'Battle' comics by the time I was a ten I was daft on the Second World War.

As a teenager my horizons were broadened by 'O' Grade and Higher History topics on the First World War and Nineteenth Century European revolutions and unifications. I also started putting together my own very modest collection of reference books. Growing up in East Sutherland meant any trip to Inverness included a trip to Melven's Bookshop in Union Street which always had a selection of Osprey Men-at-Arms books which were within my pocket money budget.

My student years and the years just after that were not years of plenty so book purchases tended to be from charity shops or car boot sales but it did mean I broadened my horizons further and I would read just about anything on military subjects from the Ancients up until the Falklands and First Gulf war.

That eclectic range of military subjects continues to this day and recent books on my reading pile have included books on Robert the Bruce, the Atlantic Campaign 1939-45, Earl Haig, The Berlin Wall, US Army forts in the 'Wild' West, Maps of Europe 1789 - 1914, and for light relief - Bernard Cornwell's "The Fort". I also subscribe to the BBC History magazine so I've always got a copy of that handy to dip in to.

I can probably trace my interest in war memorials back to the early 1990s. It was then that I first transcribed the names on my local memorial in Brora and started to try and find something about them. I was living 250 miles away from the memorial so I was a regular visitor to the Edinburgh Central Library to pour through old copies of Soldiers Died in the Great War and the CWGC registers. I was young, free and single and living in the Lawnmarket at the time so could visit the library every evening. There was no electronic searches in those days, I just scanned each dusty page looking for a name or a place name. As I came across another local town or place in an entry I would note the name and details down and before I knew it I was researching all the other memorials in Sutherland too. I'm not a genealogist, that doesn't interest me greatly but I am a 'delver'. I like looking through databases and registers and spent many happy hours in the back of the Central Reference Library before home PCs, CD-Roms and the internet changed the way I approached my hobby.

It wasn't just an interest in the names on a memorial though, it was an interest in the memorials as well. Perhaps the statues remind me of the Airfix soldiers from my childhood? Who knows. I guess when it comes down to it like most British males I'm a bit of an anorak but instead of trains or birds I happen to be a war memorial spotter!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Royal Scots Club completes refurbishment

The Royal Scots Club in Abercromby Place in Edinburgh has recently completed a £1.5 million refurbishment, which was unveiled by the Princess Royal.

The Scotsman has an article about the club and the upgrade which is well worth reading.

With the recent closure of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Memorial Club, is this perhaps the only club of its kind in Scotland?

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military history - Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan of Camperdown

The Dundonian Adam Duncan is hardly known outside Angus and even there he is known mainly because his family gifted Camperdown Park to the city nearly 150 years after his death.

He really should be better known because his victory at Camperdown in 1797 was an overwhelming defeat of the Dutch Navy; which at the time was still a powerful fleet and a threat to the UK .

Duncan was born on 1st July 1731 in Lundie, a few miles from Dundee , into a prosperous local family. His father was Provost of Dundee between 1744 and 1747.

At fifteen Duncan joined the Royal Navy. Just in time for the Seven Years War which saw British ships fight for supremacy of the seas against the French and Spanish. There was a lull in his active service between the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence and then he served as a captain from 1778 to 1782 where he distinguished himself in various actions against French and Spanish ships.

In 1783 the war was over and he returned to Portsmouth and was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue. Over the next twelve years he was steadily promoted until in 1795 he was promoted Admiral and made Commander-in-Chief in the North Seas . Duncan ’s appointment was to a very important post. In the late eighteenth century the Dutch had one of the strongest navies in the world and with Holland under the control of the French it meant they were a threat to Britain and more importantly a threat to the Thames sea trade which ultimately paid for the Royal Navy and protected the country from Napoleon.

By 1797 Duncan had managed to blockade the bulk of the Dutch fleet in the port of Texel with only four ships. Keeping ninety five Dutch ships in port with only four ships pretending to be many more was a sleight of hand which would put Paul Daniels to shame. It couldn’t last though and autumn storms forced Duncan back into Yarmouth to refit.

The Dutch took the opportunity to head for the open sea. They weren’t actually going anywhere, it was just a political move to show that they were no longer trapped in port. It was a mistake they would soon regret. On 7th October 1797 Duncan left port again, this time with sixteen ships and on 11th October 1797 the two fleets met off the small Dutch fishing village of Camperduin in North Holland.

The Royal Navy took the advantage straight away and in a bold stroke Duncan ordered his sixteen ships to fight their way in between the eighteen Dutch ships and put themselves between the Dutch fleet and the coast so that the Dutch could not run away into port.

The fighting was a brutal slugging match with ship pounding ship but in the end the Royal Navy’s gunners were better than their Dutch equivalents and sunk nine ships. The rest of the Dutch fleet had been badly mauled and scattered out to sea.

In one day Duncan had effectively destroyed the Dutch Navy; a fleet which had been feared by the British for over one hundred and thirty years.

Duncan was a hero at home and was made a Viscount. His family thought he deserved an earldom (and that was granted to his son) but he was also awarded a pension of £2000 which was no trifling amount in 1797.

That was a fitting end to Duncan ’s long career but he didn’t have a long retirement. Old age and a punishing life at sea caught up with him and he died suddenly on 4th August 1804 at Cornhill in Berwickshire, and is buried in the churchyard at Lundie.

Apart from Camperdown Park in Dundee he is commemorated with a statue in his home town. It was unveiled in 1997 in Dundee , on the 200th anniversary of his most famous battle.

His name also lives on in the Royal Navy. The seventh HMS ‘Duncan’ a Type 45 Destroyer was recently launched on the Clyde. Appropriately it was launched on 11th October - the anniversary of the Battle of Camperdown.

You can see a video of that launch here:

Friday, 28 January 2011

Dumfries & Galloway Battlefield Guides

An article from the Dumfries and Galloway Standard about a new series of local battlefield guides:

As the centuries pass and ancient enemies long vanquished, the cold ground of a battlefield gives little away to the keen historian.

Dumfries and Galloway, so close to the coveted borders of England, Ireland and northern Scotland, has had its fair share of violence in the name of despots, dispute and desperation.

Invaded and counter-invaded for millennia, these lands have hosted the sites of many bloody skirmishes where clashing swords, pounding drums and the screams of the injured and dying could be heard for miles across the hills and forests.

Yet it is difficult to believe, when living and travelling in the now peaceful landscapes of Dumfries and Galloway, that so much blood had once been spilled.

Eastriggs author Stephen Maggs (pictured) has brought the region’s turbulent past to life in a series of books, the most recent being an account of the Battle of Sark on October 23, 1448, and the Battle of Dryfe Sands, December 6, 1593.

“I enjoy walking battlefields,” said Stephen, “but I get a little frustrated by a lack on information on them.

“I therefore decided to find out more by visiting local libraries (the staff at the Ewart Library in Dumfries are always a great help) and of course internet research.”

Forty-five-year-old Stephen, who is currently studying Higher Business Management at Dumfries and Galloway College, moved to Scotland from Worcestershire in 1989.

“I have always had an interest in the English Civil War, in particular the Scottish armies fighting alongside King Charles II’s royalist forces in 1650-1651.”

“In 2001, I led a campaign to erect a war memorial at Worcester near to burial pits containing the bodies of many Scottish soldiers killed in the Battle of Worcester in 1651.”

Stephen wrote a book listing the names of a few hundred Scots killed in the battle and has not stopped writing since.

Having always wanted to be an author, Stephen has had nine guides published and the current two are the first of six commissioned by Wigtown publishers GC Books.

He said: “I began writing about local battlefields and thought it would be good to see if a local publisher would be interested in them.

“I contacted GC Books via email and they were very keen.

“After reviewing my guides they asked if I’d like to write a series of six for them.

Dryfe Sands and Sark being the first two.

“Although these are less well known battles they were much more than minor skirmishes. The Battle of Dryfe Sands was Scotland's largest and bloodiest clan battle while the Battle of Sark was a great victory for the Scots and a humiliation for the English King, Henry VI,” Stephen explained.

Fought in 1448 between the Scots under Hugh Douglas and the English forces led by the powerful Percys, Earls of Northumberland, the Battle of Sark was brought about by a bitter and personal feud.

The victory put the Scots in a position of strength against the English for many years and led to such a rise in the power of the Clan Douglas that the Scottish throne came under threat.

The Battle of Dryfe Sands was also the result of a power struggle that had plagued the Borders for generations, this time between the Maxwells and the Johnstones.

In December 1593 the eighth Lord Maxwell decided to end the rivalry once and for all hoping to finally gain complete control of the Scottish West March, little knowing that his actions would lead to the biggest and bloodiest clan battle Scotland had ever known.

For his inspiration, Stephen walks the battlefields, tracing the footsteps of history to get a clearer picture of how they were lost and won and a ‘feel’ for the soldiers involved.

“I walk battlefields as often as I can,” he said. “This can be a great inspiration for it’s possible to see just what the soldiers saw when in battle: in many cases very little. In times of action soldiers really were very much alone, even though surrounded by hundreds of their comrades.”

Stephen then undertakes methodical research, trawling libraries and the internet as well as his own sources.

“I have around 1,500 books at home, on many military periods, which I get information from.”

For his knowledge on military tactics and strategy, Stephen has an unusual pastime.

He took up wargaming when at school in Worcestershire and now regularly writes articles and attends shows.

He said: “It is a fascinating hobby and helps one understand just how armies were formed and what tactics they used on the battlefield.”

Stephen puts his true inspiration for all things military down to his upbringing.

“My father was in the army when I was a child and I lived for a while on the military bases of Osnabruck and Beilefeld.

“He died in 1992 but will always be an inspiration to me.”

Stephen has already started three other guides: The Battle of Arkinholm, Langholm, 1455; The Fall of Dumfriesshire in 1651; and the well-known Battle of Solway Moss 1542.

“Once these guides are finished I will be writing a guide to Dumfriesshire’s castles, hill forts and motte and bailies etc, which could prove lengthy as the whole area is littered with them.”

“I would ultimately like to set up a local history shop to encourage battlefield tourism in Dumfriesshire,” he added.

The books Death of a King’s Man and Where True Valour is Only to be Seen are available from the GC Books’ website

West Dunbartonshire Memorial to be restored by October

From the Lennox Herald:

Vale veterans should have a new war memorial in time for this year’s Remembrance Day service.

The cenotaph at Christie Park, which is the biggest of its kind in West Dunbartonshire, is scheduled to be restored by mid-October.

The work will overhaul the dilapidated monument which has been subjected to vandalism and weather damage.

Plans include installing lights and a CCTV system, as well as erecting a new fence and gate.

And the cenotaph will also be repointed, cleaned, and new stone steps will be built around it.

The proposals have been drawn up by West Dunbartonshire Council in co-ordination with external agencies.

The work, which is set to go out to tender in the coming weeks, will cost around £120,000 in total.

A West Dunbartonshire Council spokeswoman said: “Design drawings have been produced for the restoration of the war memorial in consultation with Historic Scotland.

“Officers from the council’s architectural services section are currently developing tender documents for the scope of works.

“It is anticipated that work will start at the beginning of June 2011, with a completion date of mid-October 2011.

“Funding for this project will come from Entrust external funding.”

The Vale of Leven Remembrance Day Association has been given a copy of the masterplan and members have been asked to provide any feedback on the plans.

A report into the condition of the cenotaph, which is made from sandstone, describes the monument as being in relatively good condition but having suffered from “vandalism and weathering.”

The report reads: “The vandalism requires regular cleaning of the structure and all of this has caused loss of mortar from stone joints and loss of lettering on the slate panels.”

The memorial, which currently stands within Christie Park, was formerly known as the Bonhill war memorial and was officially unveiled in 1921. The B listed monument was designed by artist Sir David Young Cameron.

It includes the names of those from the Bonhill parish who lost their lives in both the first and second world wars.

Annually, veterans – along with local dignitaries – gather at the memorial to pay tribute to soldiers who have fallen.

The page covering this memorial on the Scottish War Memorials Project is worth a look, and features a transcription of the names.

Battle is on to commemorate Flodden on its 500th anniversary

From the Berwickshire News comes an article about plans to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Battle of Flodden.

Interest in the 500th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Flodden in 2013 is beginning to grow and the group leading the project have organised a series of workshops to update people on progress so far and give them the opportunity to add their ideas.

Over the past few months interested groups on both sides of the England/Scotland border have been meeting to discuss raising the profile of the battle area near Branxton on the English side, resulting in plans for an eco-museum - a museum without walls which will connect the built, natural and cultural threads that are part of the Flodden story across Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

This ‘eco-museum’ will link over 10 physical sites with strong associations with Flodden, including: Flodden Field (battlefield walks, interpretation, website); Norham Castle (besieged before the battle); Etal Castle (besieged/taken in 1513 complete with an exhibition of Border Warfare); Heatherslaw Corn Mill (mill working in 1513), Barmoor Castle (Surrey’s camp); Twizell Bridge (crucial river crossing point for English Army); Ladykirk Church (built by King James IV); Branxton Church (adjacent to the battle-site); Coldstream Museum; Coldstream Priory; Weetwood Bridge (river crossing point) and The Fletcher Monument in Selkirk (Selkirk monument erected in 1913 for the 400th anniversary).

EU Leader funding of £24,265 has been successfully applied for which will allow phase one of the project to get underway - establishing the web portal for the ‘Eco-museum’, signage for the initial sites connected with the battle, leaflets and other information led by project offices Chris Burgess and Jane Warcup.

The project team are also running a series of workshops to inform and encourage local people to get involved in this exciting venture and the quincentenary activities marking the Battle of Flodden in 2013.

The idea behind Flodden Eco Museum is to allow communities, projects, locations and events to retain their individual ownership but to be linked through a single brand, in this case the battle of Flodden and the 500th year commemoration in 2013.

A wide range of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sector (over 70) are already on board, such as the Coldstream 1513 Club, Coldstream Community Council etc and organisers are hoping to attract others who can offer their own perspective when it comes to marking this historical event, as part of a wider project.

The workshops scheduled to start next week will offer advice as to how this will work.

The events, which start at 5.30pm and finish around 7.30pm, will be held in locations across north Northumberland and the Borders:

Workshop dates: February 2, Glendale Gateway Trust, Wooler; February 9, Coldstream Community Centre, Coldstream; February 15, The Collingwood Arms, Cornhill on Tweed, (Cornhill/ Branxton); February 16, Black Bull, Lowick (Lowick/Ford/Barmoor); February 21, Salutation Inn, Shoreswood, Nr Norham (Duns/Ladykirk/Norham); February 22, County Hotel, Selkirk.

At each event project officers, Chris Burgess and Jane Warcup will be joined by other experts offering advice on a range of topics such as: eco-museums; funding sources; marketing and branding; interpretation and IT presentation on web portal (businesses, clubs and organisations); development workshop on new research (archaeology and history).

Coldstream & District History Society member James Bell has written a book on Flodden and has studied it for many years.

Explaining events and their historical importance he said: “The Battle of Flodden, or Branxton Moor as the English chroniclers called it, was the culmination of a short campaign by the Scots after their King, James 1V, declared war on England and its King, Henry VIII. The war became known as the Flodden war.

“At the Boroughmuir, the main Scots army were assembling, said by chroniclers of the time to number 100,000. This seems to be quite exaggerated, as the population of Scotland in 1513 was estimated to be only 500,000.

“Despite protestations from his Queen, James set off for the border, meeting the men of the Borders at Ellemford, just north of Duns.

“On August 21, James held his last Parliament on Scottish soil at Duns and on the 22nd, the Scottish army crossed the Tweed at Coldstream and Lennel.

“By invading England King James had broken the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.

“It is said King James got to within 10ft of Surrey before being killed by one of Surrey’s body guards, who fired an arrow through the King of Scots mouth.

“Around James fell almost the entire nobility of Scotland, and it is said, no household in Scotland did not feel the effects of Flodden. Darkness called a halt to the slaughter.

“Surrey berated his commanders for not winning the fight, however daylight revealed what was left of the Scots’ army had left the field, and the thousands of Scots’ dead, who had been stripped naked, littered the blood soaked ground.”

The Battle of Flodden proved a disaster for the Scots, as well as losing King James IV a whole generation of the country’s nobility was wiped out on Branxton Hill, September 9, 1513, when around 10,000 men lost their lives.

It hastened Scotland’s union with England, leaving the country exposed and leaderless.

Since the early 1950s the dead of both nations are remembered annually during the Flodden ride-out, the main event during Coldstream Civic Week when over 300 horses and riders follow the Coldstreamer and his right and left hand men across Coldstream Bridge and over to Flodden, where they lay a wreath at the Flodden memorial before galloping up Branxton Hill where it has become tradition for an oration to be given about the battle.

James Joicey of Ford & Etal Estates, has been heading the initiators group/steering group since 2008, and initial background work has been done by Peter Lewis, from Newcastle University’s International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies. Now they are widening the project out further as more individuals and groups express an interest in becoming involved.

A new documentary film about the Battle of Flodden is currently underway, as is the the acquisition of what will probably be the UK’s smallest Information Centre!

It is hoped to house the information centre in the old telephone box in Branxton. But while the telephone box may have a traditional appearance it will be high tech inside. The plan is that apps (computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks) will be downloadable from internet access, givieng information about genealogical work and other activities.

Dr. David Caldwell from the National Museums of Scotland has indicated plans for an international conference on Flodden to be held in autumn 2011, possibly in Ford Castle.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military history - Jane Haining

This is perhaps stretching the concept of someone with a "military" history, but on Holocaust Memorial Day, it is perhaps fitting to look at the life of one, and perhaps the most well-known, of the ten or so Scots who perished in the Nazi camps.

Jane Haining was born in 1897 in the small Dumfriesshire village of Dunscore. After being taught at Dumfries Academy, she gained further education in Glasgow before working at a threadmaker's in Paisley.

It was while attending a meeting about a Jewish Mission she told a friend "I have found my life's work". She subsequently worked at an orphanage for Jewish children in Hungary.

When war broke out in 1939 she was on holiday in Cornwall but she quickly went back to look after the children in her care. Despite numerous warnings by the British authorities, she refused to leave, saying "If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?"

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944 she was again told to leave, but again she refused. A month later she was arrested and charged with espionage. It is said she was also charged with weeping when sewing the yellow Star of David on to the clothing of the children.

She was imprisoned, then sent to a holding camp. Finally, she was sent to Auschwitz in May 1944 and tattooed with the number 79467. She died n the 17th July 1944, apparently from "cachexia following intestinal catarrh" - it is, however, said that she had been worked to her death.

Jane has never been forgotten for the sacrifice she made. Just last year she was added to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour register. There are also several memorials throughout Scotland.

The village of Dunscore has a small plaque which was originally in the Craig Church and is now in Dunscore Church, as well as a memorial outside next to the church. She is commemorated on the family gravestone in Irongray churchyard.

Dumfries Academy list her on a plaque of "notable pupils", and a memorial window to her is in Queen's Park Church in Glasgow.

Also in Glasgow can be found the medal presented to her half-sister when Jane was enrolled as a non-Jewish individual who is acknowledged as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It can be viewed free of charge at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life.

Jane's story has always had a personal touch for me. Jane's mother died when she was five years old. Her father then remarried a woman name Bena Maxwell. Bena was my great-great-aunt.

I was in occasional contact with Jane's half sister Agnes, or "Nan" as she was known in the family, until her death several years ago. She mentioned Jane a number of times in her letters, and I always got the impression in her words that she was immensely proud of her sister and the sacrifice she made. As am I.

Today of all days, we should take time to remember not just Jane, but all those who perished, in the hope that the events of those horrific times are never repeated.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Distinguished WW2 hero Chandos Blair dies, aged 91

From The Scotsman:

Lieutenant-general Sir Chandos Blair, the first British Army officer to return home after his Scottish regiment was imprisoned by the Germans during the Second World War, has died. He was 91 and died on Saturday.

The soldier, who was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery, later became General Officer Commanding Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle.

He was also chosen to undertake a diplomatic mission to try to secure the freedom of writer Denis

Hills who had been sentenced to death by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

As a young second lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, he was determined to escape after the original 51st (Highland) Division surrendered to Rommel's 7th Panzer Division at St Valery in northern France in June 1940.

The former fighting patrol officer managed to abscond from a work party the following year and spent eight days fraught with danger, walking 75 miles to neutral Switzerland, arriving home in January 1942.

The young soldier was later to distinguish himself again after being posted to the 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 15th (Scottish) Division which saw action during the Normandy invasion in June 1944.

He was awarded a bar to his MC after helping to repel a heavy counter-attack while wounded.

In 1959 he took command of the 4th Battalion, King's African Rifles in Uganda.

Among his troops was a young sergeant he promoted to lieutenant "because of his hard work and toughness on the battlefield". The soldier was Amin, the future dictator.

In 1975, Blair began an eight-year tenure as Colonel of the Queen's Own Highlanders, an amalgamation of his old regiment and the Camerons.

He was appointed OBE in 1962 and KCVO in 1972.

He married Audrey Travers in 1947 who predeceased him. They had a son and a daughter.

First World War Blinkers

No, I've not gone mad and splashed out on ninety five year old War Office horse furniture on e-bay. WW1 blinkers is a term I like to apply to well meaning people who research their local war memorials BUT only look into those who died between 1914 and 1918.

Don't get me wrong, I think their heart is in the right place. My problem is that on most war memorials there are also names of those who died between 1939-1945 and where is the research on them?

Can anyone help me with this? Why ignore the brave men and women who died in the Second World War when compiling a roll of honour, is it too recent or is there something more. After all, there is a pressing reason to research the Second World War now while relatives and friends of the deceased are still living.

Is it perhaps easier to research the Great War names? Certainly there are plenty of online resources to research Great War soldiers and sailors; currently far more than for the Second World War.

That leads me onto another little bugbear of mine - published rolls of honour which only use data from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died in the Great War. That may have been OK ten years ago when there were fewer online resources available but in 2010 that is just a cop out. The number of available sources is actually growing, with new books published on a regular basis, and new sources of first-hand information becoming availble - the recent release of records on both Ancestry and Find My Past has opened new doors to researchers. Projects like our own Daily Record Index are also a useful source of information - so why ignore them?

I'm starting to sound like a grumpy old man now and I really don't want to start denigrating folk who are sincere in their actions. It's just I can help get this feeling whenever I see a story like the one we posted recently about Carnoustie. With a little bit more effort by researchers the people who died beating Hitler, the Nazis and their evil Axis cronies would also get the recognition they so rightly deserve.

(Text by Adam Brown)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Memorial tribute to Fife World War II mine blast heroes

From the BBC News website:

A memorial has been unveiled in a Fife village in tribute to five people who died as they tried to save the community from disaster 70 years ago.

In January 1941, during World War II, a sea mine was spotted on the beach at West Wemyss.

It was in danger of being washed towards the village.

Peter Graham, who was just 15, and four men from a nearby pit attempted to retrieve it but the mine exploded and they were all killed.

The blast was so fierce it blew the windows out of the orangery at Wemyss Castle.

A three-and-a-half tonne granite sculpture was unveiled to remember the local heroes, 70 years to the day since their selfless action cost them their lives.

Local man Jake Drummond said it was a fitting tribute.

He said: "We've inscribed the memorial with the words of a Greek philosopher from 400 years before Christ, a man named Thucydides, who said: 'The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it'.

"We think that sums up exactly what these ordinary men did that day, which was an extraordinarily brave thing to do."

There is some discussion of this memorial on the Scottish War Memorials Project.

Monday, 24 January 2011

On this day in Scottish Military History - The Battle of Spion Kop

The Battle of Spion Kop was fought between the British Army and the forces of the Orange Free State & South African Republic, as the British attempted to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith.
The Battle was incredibly brutal, but while at the time it was remembered and commemorated, the events of 24th January 1900 were soon overtaken by bloodier events just a little over fourteen years later, and nowadays it is largely forgotten. How many football fans know the real reason that a stand at Anfield is known as "The Kop"?

The Battle is a fascinating one, and there are many personalities who were involved- both Winston Churchill and Ghandi were present at the battle, but I feel the battle is extensively covered elsewhere (the wikipedia article is quite well researched and is a good starting point) so I don’t want to dwell too much on the events as they happened.

Ghandi, pictured while serving with the Ambulance Corps in the Boer War

There were no doubt a large number of Scotsmen involved in the battle, particularly as part of the 2nd Battalion of the Scottish Rifles, who took an active part during the day.

One of the men of that battalion was a young man named Allan Lynch. He had joined the regiment five years previously, and he had received his baptism of fire at the Battle of Colenso shortly after arriving in South Africa in 1899.
Lynch, photographed circa 1904

I could go into more detail of Lynch’s life, but I will save that for another day.

Many years later, in the 1940s, Lynch wrote down the story of his time serving with the Scottish Rifles, from the date of his enlistment in 1895, right through his time in South Africa, and his time as a veteran who reinlisted and saw service in the Great War.

So, rather than go over the facts of the Battle of Spion Kop, I thought it would be better if Allan Lynch told you about the events as he saw them. I have editied this passage somewhat for reasons of space, but the words themselves are unchanged from what Lynch wrote.

His account begins at 2 o'clock on the 24th January:
When we got to the foot of Spion Kop we could see the fighting going on at the top. For about ten minutes we saw hand-to-hand fighting going on when the Boers tried to rush a British trench, and we could also see the bayonets flash in the sunlight.
The enemy, seeing reinforcements coming, made a desperate attempt to get the hill before we could get there. In our excitement we shouted and cheered to the troops on top. Had the Boers recaptured this trench, it would have been almost impossible for the Scottish Rifles and the King's Royal Rifles to fight their way on to the hill at this point.

The K.R.R.'s went up the face of the hill in extended order, and the Scottish Rifles up a trench on the hill in Indian file.

When we reached the top we got into line and extended to four paces between each man. The rifle fire, the shell and pom-pom fire were terrific, and men shouted as they were struck and fell, in many cases never to rise again. Major E. H. S. Twyford advanced us at the double for about two hundred yards and reached a small trench, where we crowded in to get cover.

The Major gave us a few seconds to regain our breath, and then he again shouted, "Advance, rush!"
We just cleared the trench in time, as a shell from the Boers landed in it and cut it up badly. We reached the firing- line and threw ourselves down behind some rocks and whatever cover we could find. The Major ordered us to fire half-company volleys at two hundred yards, where the Boers were entrenched, but it was hard to pick them out as they were so well hidden and had good cover, while we were very much exposed to their fire.

We were now lying amongst the killed and wounded - it was pitiful! Some of the poor fellows had been lying there since morning in the burning sun and they were craving for water, and we freely gave them all we had in our bottles. One poor fellow who belonged to the Middlesex Regiment was shot in the neck while lying down, and the bullet went right down through his body. I can see him now lying there, saying he would not last much longer as he felt he was dying. The poor fellow died before we left the hill. While we were firing half-company volleys, a shell struck a rock about six yards to my right and a man named Montgomery was cut to pieces. My own feelings at this time were that I should never come off that hill alive, as it seemed almost impossible to escape. We kept up firing until dark, when Major Twyford shouted to all the troops on the hill to fix bayonets, loud enough for the Boers to hear. No doubt this had some effect on the Boers, as they had learned to fight shy of steel. We had settled down to hold the hill all night when, to our surprise, an order was quietly passed along the firing line by man to man to prepare to retire. It was now pitch dark. The Boers were still firing occasional shots, and just as we were retiring a young man named Gavin Smith was shot in the back. He dropped down with a groan, and Sergeant McDonald (my section sergeant) stayed with him until he saw it was impossible to bring him off the hill then. It was afterwards ascertained...that he had died.

It was a perilous descent in the dark and we had to be very careful in some place, for, if we lost our foothold, there was every probability that we would be dashed to pieces two hundred feet below. I and three other men carried a wounded man of the Middlesex Regiment down the hill on a stretcher. When we got to the bottom we handed him over to the stretcher-bearers, who took him to the temporary hospital. It was after midnight of the 24th January when we finally reached the bottom of the hill. We collected together in companies as well as we could in the dark, when to our surprise the order was given to get re-supplied with ammunition and to retake the hill. This caused some very angry remarks from the men, myself included, as it seemed to us that some terrible mistake had been made in leaving the hill at all. This order was finally cancelled, and we returned across the River Tugela. We got as far as Spearman's Farm and stopped there till daylight. The Major called the roll to see how many men were missing. We had four killed and three wounded, but the total casualties of the regiment for the afternoon's fighting were just over 100 killed and wounded, including four officers killed and five wounded. The total casualties for the five days' fighting around Spion Kop were just on 1,700 On 26th January, we buried Major S. P. Strong under a big tree. The whole battalion paraded, and it was a sad scene. Colonel Cook, who commanded the regiment, felt the loss of his second-in-command very keenly, and I noticed tears in his eyes; in fact, I felt like it myself as the burial service was being read by the chaplain.
Greylingstad Hill, 1900. Lynch is pictured second from left.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fort George Highlanders' Museum receives cash boost

A follow-up to our story from last November about Hugh Grant fronting the campaign to raise funding for redevelopment of the Highlanders Museum, comes this article from the BBC News:

A project to redevelop the Highlanders' Museum at Fort George, near Inverness, has received £200,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

It comes just weeks after the project was awarded £924,000 by the European Regional Development Fund.

The Highlanders Museum Development scheme was launched in 2009 to bring the museum up to 21st Century standards.

The development of the attraction is expected to cost about £3m in total.

The museum will detail the history of all the regiments raised from the Highlands and surrounding islands, dating from just after the Battle of Culloden to present day operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fort was originally built to guard the approaches to Inverness after the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

It attracts more than 66,000 visitors a year, with the museum as its main attraction.

'Much improved'

The re-development aims to transform the museum into a state-of-the-art interactive education and learning facility with full disabled access.

An independent economic assessment has suggested that when complete, the museum will contribute an extra £400,000 a year into the local economy - as well as supporting the equivalent of eight new full-time jobs.

HIE has previously awarded the museum £63k towards the initial project design and planning costs.

The public launch of the fundraising began on 25 November, with actor Hugh Grant and his father Capt James Grant as guests of honour.

Maj Gen Seymour Monro, chairman of the Highlanders' Museum, said: "This endorsement of our plans has taken our fundraising appeal over the half way mark, which gives us confidence that the project will go ahead and the region will gain a much improved cultural asset."

HIE spokeswoman, Nicola Ewing, added: "The Highlanders' Museum is home to the biggest military collection outside of London.

"The link between the museum and the local community is clear, with a history dating back centuries."

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military history - Major General Sir Hector MacDonald

Today’s Who’s Who is about someone you have probably heard of - Major General Sir Hector MacDonald aka Fighting Mac. At the height of his fame he was lauded throughout the Empire as one of its most famous sons for his actions across two continents. There are too many actions to recount on a blog post so I’ll just concentrate on the end of his life.

He was the crofter’s son from Easter Ross who’d fought across Afghanistan and Africa and risen from private to general. But the fame which MacDonald had earned though his bravery and hard work also had made him powerful enemies because he was ‘stealing’ their plaudits.

MacDonald had always been an outsider in the army. He was the educated man amongst the drunken ‘squaddies’; the ex-ranker in the officers mess; and the couthy Scottish general amongst the Eton-educated staff officers. There is also speculation that he was a homosexual which of course was still a crime in the nineteenth century. No wonder McDonald felt so comfortable as an officer in the Egyptian Army where his many years in the Sudanese desert would have kept him away from the social straightjacket of the Victorian British Army.

In 1903 things came to a head. Kitchener wanted to sideline MacDonald because he was jealous of MacDonald’s reputation as the man who saved the day (and Kitchener’s back) at the Battle of Omdurman. Instead of a command on the North West Frontier amongst the type of men he knew, he was packed off to Ceylon. Perhaps it was seen as a cushy posting for a general who was exhausted and needed a good rest but MacDonald was a fish out of water. All he knew was soldiering and fighting. Diplomacy and interaction with an insular colonial community led to tensions.

Eventually matters came to a head and unsubstantiated allegations of inappropriate behaviour by MacDonald escalated into a threat of a court martial in India.

MacDonald rushed to London to see if his old friends could help him but he was cold shouldered and he quickly left to return to India. En-route he stopped off in Paris and rather improbably met up with Aliester Crowley for dinner. That fact is recorded in Crowley’s diary of the time. A fictionalised account of that meeting was turned into a novel by Jake Arnott called “The Devil’s Paintbrush”. In it Crowley is portrayed as a selfish buffoon but MacDonald comes across very sympathetically.

If it was pure fiction there may have been a happy ending with MacDonald running away to a South Sea island. But it was based on fact and so there is the unhappy ending of MacDonald killing himself in his Paris hotel room after the scandal is broken by an American newspaper.

It was a tragic end to a remarkable life but it never stopped him being remembered as a great man in his native land. His magnificent gravestone is in Edinburgh (tens of thousands of people passed his grave in the week after he was buried), and in Dingwall they built a tower. Not a monument to a man who shot himself rather than bring shame on his family; but a suitably grand tribute to one of our greatest soldiers.

Friday, 21 January 2011

History project seeks wartime memories of Gleniffer Braes

The Renfrewshire Community website has an article about a project documenting the history of Glennifer Braes and the secret role the are played in the Second World War:

A project documenting the history of Gleniffer Braes is appealing for Renfrewshire residents to come forward with their memories of the area's secret World War II role.

Between August 1941 and March 1942, an anti-aircraft battery and decoy runway were built on the Braes. The work was part of Operation Starfish – a decoy network of dummy airfields intended to lure the Luftwaffe away from industrial and military targets across the West of Scotland.

Anyone who has memories, personally or through the involvement of family or friends – is being urged to come forward by 25 January and have their recollections recorded for an oral history section of a project to document this period in the history of Gleniffer Braes.

The oral history recollections will form part of an exhibition at Paisley Museum between 26 May and 21 August 2011 about Gleniffer Braes entitled 'Walking in Tannahill’s footsteps.' The title recalls the inspiration which the weaver poet Robert Tannahill drew from the natural environment of the Gleniffer Braes, which is now a country park.

The exhibition will explore the diverse heritage of Gleniffer Braes including its natural history, social history, geology, landscape and association with WWII.

The partnership approach to preparing the exhibition is being led by the Heritage Action Team of the Gleniffer Braes Green Network.

That brings together a number of local, regional, national organisations and voluntary groups who are interested in the heritage and environment of Gleniffer Braes.

"The involvement of Gleniffer Braes in WWII is one of the most fascinating aspects of the area’s history," said Councillor Eileen McCartin, Convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Community and Family Care Policy Board.

"The physical evidence of the area’s wartime involvement is shown in the fact that Gleniffer Braes has over 32 craters from the bombs dropped by German aircraft.

"Most are now grassed over but at the time some of them were 2 metres wide.

“There will be documents and maps on this period in the exhibition but it would be great if we could get people’s memories on tape. I’d urge anyone who can contribute something to come forward."

Anyone interested should contact by 25 January the Glen Lodge Visitor Centre, Land Services team, Gleniffer Braes Country Park on 0141 884 3794 or e-mail

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Colonels-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders

A curse. Does it play a part in our lives? Did being made Colonel-in-Chief of a particular regiment ruin the lives of four Royals? It's probably a complete load of tosh I've just made up but the fact is all royal Colonels-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders seemed to be cursed after their appointment.

The first Colonel-in-Chief of the Seaforth Highlanders was appointed in 1882. He was Prince Leopold, the fourth son of Queen Victoria. He had been given the title of Duke of Albany, an old Scottish title, by his mother. He was given the Colonelcy of the Seaforths Militia in 1881 because the regiment had just been formed from the 78th Highlanders and the 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders to become the Seaforth Highlanders (Duke of Albany's, Ross-shire Buffs).

The 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders had been named after a previous Duke of Albany who was in fact the Duke of York and Albany but used his Scottish title for his Scottish regiment.

The Duke of York and Albany had been commander-in-chief of the British Army in 1823 when the 72nd Regiment regained its highland status after a gap of fourteen years. His colonelcy was short lived though, a mere four years later he was dead and the regiment was royal colonel-less for another fifty four years.

Back to the 1st Duke of Albany in 1882 again. He was not a strapping fellow and suffered from that curse of Victorian royals, haemophilia. In 1884 just three years into his colonelcy he fell down some stairs and died from internal bleeding.

His son, born just after his death became the 2nd Duke of Albany. He was to be appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Seaforths in 1905 when he was twenty one. Unfortunately for the 2nd Duke in 1900 he had to take on his grandfather's title of Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after his uncle died. Although brought up a minor British royal his new role was German Royalty. In 1914 he had to chose sides when war broke out. The loyalty and honour drummed into him since childhood forced him to chose Germany and in 1914 he renounced his Colonelcy.

The next Colonel was the 2nd Duke's cousin, the then Prince of Wales. When he was appointed in 1920 he was the darling of British society. The heir to the throne was a dashing young royal and it was quite a coup for the regiment to have him as their new Colonel. At his accession they would have the King as their colonel. As it turned out the Seaforth curse struck again and with Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 they were without a colonel again.

In 1937 the former Duke of Albany and the Duke of Windsor met up - in Germany. The former was the latter's host whilst visiting Hitler. I wonder if they discussed the Seaforths at all?

In 1961 the Seaforths merged to form half of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons). Their new Colonel-in-Chief was the Duke of Edinburgh. Luckily for him he had already been Colonel of the Camerons for eight years and he's even seen out the Queen's Own and the Highlanders and he's still Royal Colonel of 4th Bn Royal Regiment of Scotland.

(Text by Adam Brown)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Anger over vandalism to Fort William's war memorial

From the BBC News website:

CCTV footage is to be examined by police in an effort to find the vandals responsible for damaging a war memorial in Fort William.

A marble replica of an Enfield rifle has been broken in the latest in a series of attacks over recent years.

Highland councillor Brian Murphy said the incident was "deeply shocking and disturbing".

Police have urged anyone with information about the vandalism to contact them.

Mr Murphy said: "It is a sad fact of life that cemeteries and memorials across the country are subject to acts of vandalism.

"Fort William War Memorial has suffered from similar such acts of anti-social behaviour for several years.

"War memorials are symbols of remembrance to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country."

Ch Insp John Chisholm, from Northern Constabulary, added: "This is a despicable act of vandalism carried out by someone with not a shred of decency or respect for all those servicemen and women who gave their lives for this country."

Veterans return to wartime bases

This article in various forms appeared on several news websites yesterday. This version is from the Evening Times:

Two veterans have been able to return to the scenes of their wartime exploits in Egypt and the Netherlands with the help of lottery grants.

The pair benefited from the Big Lottery Fund's Heroes Return 2 scheme which provides funding to enable former servicemen to revisit locations of WW2 events.

Ben Yates, 88, from Dalmellington in Ayrshire, received £2,825 which helped him to return to Egypt, where he was based from 1941 to 1943, serving aboard the Royal Navy Destroyer, HMS Aldenham.

During this period the ship made 13 convoys to Malta to provide relief to the island, which was under attack, and struck a floating mine in December 1944, with the loss of 126 lives.

Mr Yates said: "The trip meant a lot to me as I have always wanted to go back but could never afford it before. Every year, for the last 12 years or so I have travelled to Aldenham, near Watford, to attend a memorial service.

"During the war people in the village used to knit the crew gloves and hats. Even though we couldn't use them in the Mediterranean we really appreciated that they wanted to do something to help us."

George Murray, 85, from Glasgow, was glad to have a chance to search for old friends when he travelled back to Holland after receiving an £875 grant. Towards the end of 1944 he was stationed for about eight weeks near Eindhoven preparing for the Rhine crossing.

He said: "We stayed in a town called Oisterwijk, it was a harsh winter and none of us wanted to sleep in the back of a truck. A local family put two of us up, they had eight or nine children, one was about 18, the same age as me, and I became very close to the family. After the war we lost touch and I've always wanted to go back and trace any members of the family who might still be alive.

"During my trip I wasn't able to trace anyone but I'm not giving up. I'm planning to write to the Burgermeister of the town to see if he can help me. I just know that I will go back to meet up with my friends again."

The Big Lottery Fund has committed over £1 million extra funding to the Heroes Return 2 scheme which will remain open until January 31, 2012.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - Admiral John McClure

You have probably never heard of Admiral John McClure but he's one of hundreds of Victorian Scotsmen who spent a life at sea and became ships’ masters across the globe. Before the First World War British ships made up over 40% of the world's merchant shipping but there were also many more British captains and officers in crews of the ships of other countries. You'll find references to them in charge of ships of many nations in many places and a good many of them were Scots.

It was in the waters of the South China Sea where young John McClure learnt his trade. Born in 1837 in Kirkcudbright; he was the son of an architect but he wasn't interested in following in his father's footsteps. He was taken on by the Taku Tug & Lighter Company (later part of the Hong Kong firm Jardine Matheson) and steadily rose through the ranks and in 1883 he returned home to take command of the Barrow-in-Furness built ship the 'Kow Shing' and sailed her to her home port. By the 1890’s he was one of the most experienced and respected mariners in China.

Late Nineteenth Century China was in a terrible state. The British had taken Hong Kong by force in 1842, and in 1860 the British and French ransacked Peking. Imperial power had declined within China and there was civil war between warlords and the Emperor. Any strong invader could pretty much help themselves to a piece of China. The Russians had occupied the north of the country, France and Britain had the run of the Eastern Seaboard and Japan had her eyes on the Chinese province of Korea.

By 1894 things came to a head with Japan. Japan landed troops in Korea. China responded by sending troops to the north of Korea. To do this they hired the best man in the area - John McClure, to organise a fleet of transport ships.

For his new role McClure was appointed Assistant Admiral of the Pei-Yang squadron in the Imperial Chinese Navy and a Mandarin of the highest class; not bad for a man from Kirkcudbright. Unfortunately the Chinese admirals and generals were no match for the Japanese and by late 1894 they were besieged in their home port of Wei-hai-wei. In February 1895 the Chinese attempted to break the siege with a combined attack from land and sea but it failed miserably.

The Chinese realised they had to surrender but rather than lose face all the senior officers committed suicide. That left poor old Admiral McClure as the most senior officer present and it was up to him to sign the surrender on behalf of the Chinese.

That was the end of John McClure's years in China. Taken to Japan as a prisoner of war he was then shipped back to the UK with other British nationals who had been caught up in the short war.

He retired to his home town and spent the next 23 years there. Illness forced him to move to Garlieston for the last two years of his life but he lived to the ripe old age of 83 and died on this day in 1920.

Monday, 17 January 2011

World War II Today

Thanks again to the lovely Ronnie Scott, we have another website of interest today.

Using "creative commons" material, this blog follows the course of the Second World War seventy years after it happened.

It features previously unpublished combat reports from those on the front line and diary entries from all affected by the war, and also has some fascinating photographs.

You can also use links at the top of the page to see previous entries, so you can look back on events already seventy years past such as hte Battle of Britain and the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Well worth checking it out: World War II Today.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military History - Sir John Moore

In the ‘good old days’ of Scottish education children learned about dates and battles and famous admirals and generals. They also had to learn famous poems. There may have been plenty of flaws in that way of educating kids but at least they knew about some famous Scots. One of those Scots was a Glaswegian who is widely recognised as one of the finest British generals to leave these shores, and the poem which was inspired by his death was a staple of schoolrooms across the old Empire. Here is the first verse of “The Burial of Sir John Moore” by Charles Wolfe:

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O'er the grave where our hero we buried.

Moore was famous not only for his leadership, training and tactics but also for his compassion for common soldiers. At a time when the army was seen as a refuge for ‘the scum of the earth’ Sir John Moore treated his men with respect and introduced many reforms which improved the lot of the beggar in red.

He was born in Glasgow in 1761 to a privileged life. His father was a doctor but also a tutor to young Duke of Hamilton. It was a military life which Moore wanted though and at 15 he became an Ensign in the 51st Foot. (His younger brother joined the Royal Navy and ended his career as a Vice Admiral).

Two years later with the American War of Independence in full swing his friend the Duke of Hamilton raised a regiment from Lanarkshire and Moore joined it as a junior officer.

The 82nd Foot as the regiment was numbered was sent across to America and took part in the successful Penobscot Expedition where the British managed to hold off superior land and naval forces (In fact it was America ’s worst naval defeat until Pearl Harbor).

He was lucky to serve under another Scot, Brigadier Francis McLean, who was an experienced commander but also one who looked after his men. This expedition may have been a formative experience for Moore . He would have seen McLean ’s inspiring leadership based on respect for his men (and the captured enemy) and he would also have seen at close hand the way American light troops skirmished.

At the end of the War of Independence he returned home and like many others you’ve read about in this Who’s Who series he became an MP. He was MP for Lanark Burghs for only six years from 1784-1790 but it reinforced his connection to Scotland .

He was steadily progressing through the ranks, not just because of his patronage but also his skills. He served in Corsica, the West Indies, Holland and Egypt and by 1803 he was a Lieutenant General at Shorncliffe in Kent.

Two of the most important things Moore did for his country happened at that time. The first was he introduced the Martello tower to Britain . It was a squat coastal defence tower based on one he had come across at Mortella Point in Corsica which had given the British great trouble in the early 1790s. Over the next forty years about 140 Martello towers were built around the coasts of the UK , Ireland and Imperial outposts.

The second thing Moore did was introduce a Light Infantry concept to his brigade at Shorncliffe. Moore took four regiments and volunteers from several Scottish regiments and taught them his new ideas on how to train men. It wasn’t based on bullying and learning by numbers; it was done by officers and men learning the same skills and by men being taught to use their initiative.

It was radical thinking at the time but the results soon showed for themselves when the Light Infantry of the Light Division became the elite of the British Army fighting in Portugal and Spain.

Moore himself was sent to Portugal in 1809 after the three senior officers in the Peninsula were recalled after a controversial decision by one of them (who was practically mad) allowed a trapped French army to escape on Royal Navy vessels!

Moore was soon facing impossible odds. He had advanced his army into Spain to help them drive out the French but when Napoleon himself arrived with 200,000 fresh troops the Spanish attack collapsed. Moore had to retreat north towards the protection of the Royal Navy on the coast to save his small army. They suffered terribly in the winter retreat to Corunna ( La Coruña ) but won the race to the town against Marshal Soult and managed to beat the French in battle on 16th January 1809. It was a bittersweet victory. Moore was mortally wounded and was buried under French fire in the ramparts defending the town.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down, From the field of his fame fresh and gory; We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone, But we left him alone with his glory.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The recycling way to raise monument funds

News of a memorial to Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of Radar, comes to us from the Brechin Advertiser:

The Watson-Watt Society of Brechin has teamed up with Reclaim-it to help raise money for a memorial monument to commemorate the life and work for the Brechiner, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, who invented radar which help Britian defeat the Germans in World War two.

The reclaim-it scheme requires people to recycle old mobile phone and empty ink cartridges which the company will then donate money to the Watson-Watt society.

All you need to do is put your phones or cartridges into a pre-paid envelope which can be picked up from the Brechin Advertiser’s office and post it in a post box.

It costs nothing and can help the Watson-Watt Society raise funds towards the Watson-Watt monument.

The memorial has been designed by Alan Beattie Herriot, who has produced work for The National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland as well as for organisations and individuals in Britain, Ireland, Holland, France and Norway.

Brian Mitchell, a member of the Watson-Watt Society, said: “Anyone can put the envelopes away. All you need to do it put your old phone, or empty ink cartridges in the envelope and pop it in the post-box.

“The envelopes are prepaid so you do not have to spend any money on postage.

“We get anything from 10p per ink cartridge to over a pound so it will all mount up.

“Currently members of the Watson-Watt Society are approaching companies and charitable organisation and hope to, within the next week or two, be able to announce that they have made some progress with funding.

“We are trying to raise up to £80,000. This may sound a lot but it includes all the preparations, the stone which we are getting in kind and the4 promises of help from a few other organisations.

“The land has to be prepared for the base of the concrete before the monument can be placed upon it.

“The statue, which has planning permission, will be placed at St. Ninian’s Square and will look down towards Union Street where Robert Watson-Watt was born and also towards the Damacre Centre, which used to be the Damacre School that he attended.

“The idea to have a permanent memorial for Watson-Watt was first instigated by the Guildry of Brechin but they did not want to take the project on so it died a death.

“I resurrected the idea when I heard that they were going to have statue for Bamse, the World War Two dog, in Montrose.

“I think that is great but I found it a bit strange that a man who did so much in the defence of the United Kingdom in World War Two did not have a memorial.

“There were three basic things that helped; the Royal Navy helped to stop invasions, the Royal Air Force helped to stop invasions; and Radar as developed by Watson-Watt.

“This is a community project. The idea was born in Brechin and he was born in Brechin.

“We are hoping to have the monument erected by the end of 2011 or start of 2012.

“We are hopeful that it will be 2011 but it may have to be 2012.

“We will have a better idea about the time-scale in the next month when we know more about our financial situation.

“With the help of this mobile phone and ink cartridge recycling scheme we should be in a good position.”

Envelopes can be collected from the Brechin Advertiser office; or you can telephone 01635 876 900 or visit to request envelopes which will be sent to you free of charge.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Peeblesshire militia 200-year-old uniform purchase bid

From the BBC News website:

A campaign has been launched in the Borders to save a 200-year-old uniform from ending up in a private collection.

Museum supporters have set themselves a £4,850 goal to buy the uniform of an officer serving with the Peeblesshire Local Militia.
Such units were set up to protect the population in the event of an invasion from French military leader Napoleon.

The Supporters of the Chambers Institution Peebles (SCIP) have a 6 February deadline on their rescue plan.
There are virtually no traces left of the militia group - formed in 1808 but disbanded in 1816. However, the existence of an officer's bright yellow and red coatee and white trousers has emerged.

The private dealer selling the rare outfit has agreed it would be preferable if it could remain in Peeblesshire.

SCIP - a group which tries to provide financial backing for their local museum - has until next month to come up with a rescue plan.
They have now launched an appeal with the local community to donate money so that the uniform can be returned to Peeblesshire and be exhibited at Tweeddale Museum in Peebles.

SCIP spokeswoman Amanda Clydesdale said the item was in "incredibly good condition" and would probably have been ordered and paid for by the officer himself.
It is thought the whole uniform was made by Edinburgh outfitter G Aubin.

"Our local museum does not hold any materials from Peeblesshire Local Militia, so this would be a really significant addition to the local collection," said Ms Clydesdale.

The Peeblesshire Local Militia was a separate organisation from the Peeblesshire Militia, and was created in 1808 by Act of Parliament under George III, at the height of the invasion threat from Napoleon.
The local militia was designed to protect the population but could also be used to contain riots or civil unrest. Recruiting was done by ballot with names drawn randomly from a list of all Peeblesshire men aged between 18 and 30. Men who came forward voluntarily were given two guineas and were expected to carry out up to 28 days training every year.

Hefty fine

People could only be excused from duty if they were married and had two or more children, or if they could pay someone else to take their place.
If they did not turn up, there was a hefty fine of £10 to £50 to pay.

Rosemary Hannay, curator at Tweeddale Museum, said they were very keen to acquire the uniform for the local collection.
She said: "This is a rare opportunity to acquire an item of great local interest and importance and it would be wonderful if the local community could assist in raising the funds needed to secure its future in Tweeddale Museum.

"Scottish Borders Council Museum and Gallery Service will be applying for 50% of the cost from the National Fund for Acquisitions and if we are successful it would be a great boost for the fund."

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Featured Memorials - St Cuthbert's War Memorial Chapel, Edinburgh

Hidden away, but right in the centre of our Capital is a little gem. After the First World War the congregation of St Cuthbert’s chose to make an old part of the church into a small war memorial chapel and what a magnificent job they did of it.

St Cuthbert’s is worth a visit anyway if you like churches. It’s a fine late nineteenth century Romanesque style church with stained glass and marble frieze in the chancel.

If you ask the helpful volunteers on duty they’ll unlock the chapel doors and let you see it.

There’s no point in going into more detail here because we’ve got loads of photos on the Scottish War Memorials Project.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The War Illustrated - WW2 editions online

My friend Ronnie Scott pointed me in the direction of a useful link yesterday.

The War Illustrated features an index of the issues of this famous World War Two magazine. The site has also started to make some of the articles available online. It's possible that the ultimate aim will be to make the complete run available - let's hope so!

Click here to visit the homepage: The War Illustrated

Monday, 10 January 2011

Featured Memorials - The stained glass window to Captain Alick Herries, Urr

War memorials take many shapes and forms. Many are simple in design and materials but there are some which are works of art. The most recognised 'artistic' Scottish war memorials are probably statues like Scott Sutherland's Commando memorial at Spean Bridge or Alexander Carrick's Highlander at Dornoch; but some of the most stunning can be the war memorial windows in churches up and down the country.

One which is worthy of singling out here is the memorial window to Captain Alexander 'Alick' Dobree Young-Herries, King's Own Scottish Borderers who was killed in action in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It is by Douglas Strachan and is in Urr Parish Church near Dalbeattie. Strachan's most famous commissions are the stained glass windows in the Scottish National War Memorial but he did several private commissions like this one.

The window was paid for by the dead man's father, Colonel W. D. Young-Herries of Spottes, Dalbeattie and was erected in the church in April 1921. As with many church windows the scene is biblical and this one shows the Crucifixion.

A small plaque was placed below the window by Colonel Young-Herries to commemorate his father who laid the foundation stone of the church, and his son Alexander. At the bottom is has the inscription ""Forgetting those things which are behind. I press toward the Mark"" which is taken from Philippians 3:13

Alick Herries is also commemorated on the Haugh of Urr memorial, and Springholm War Memorial, and has another memorial in St Ninian’s Episcopal Church, Castle Douglas. It is his original wooden grave marker cross which was given to his family by the Imperial War Graves Commission when it was replaced by a headstone in Dantzig Alley war cemetery in Mametz, France.

According to Paul Goodwin, Captain Herries was educated at Eton and Cambridge; he was prominent in the boy scout movement, rowing circles and was a devout churchman.

Captain Alexander Dobree Young-Herries , King's Own Scottish Borderers

The Daily Record Index Project - January 2011 Update

I thought it might be of interest if I posted an update to our Indexing of the Daily Record, as mentioned before.

The project is currently being worked on by myself and John Houston - I am working through the editions for 1915 and John is working on 1917. John had initially started from August 1914, but technical difficulties with the microfilm for the latter months of 1914 meant we had to put those months on hold for the time being. We are both putting off working on 1916 - we reckon that's going to be the hardest year to index due to the number of entries around July/August time...

So far we have indexed nine months of the First World War - there are many months still to go, but we're getting there! Already so far those nine months have yielded over 4,500 entries. This is an impressive figure, and when you consider that we haven't covered such periods as the Battles of Loos and the Somme (where the number of entries are expected to increase in number) there will clearly be a large number of entries when the project is completed.

I have been asked what exactly what information we're indexing - we take a note of the Name, Rank and Unit of the individual. If the date of his death is mentioned, we include that also. We note the date of the newspaper, and which page the entry appears on, and whether there is a photograph or not. Finally, we include any minor details such as if the man was killed/wounded/missing, or if they were awarded a decoration.

The entries we index are mostly short paragraphs giving information provided by families. We don't include either the official casualty lists or awards from the London Gazette - these are available elsewhere and there is no further information to be found in the newspaper.

The information can be found in various sections - usually there is a page containing several entries provided by families, but the sports section will also contain some entries as a local football player may enlist or be reported killed or wounded. There is also curiously a company selling a medicine which uses photographs of serving servicemen to advertise their product - since the advert has a photo and mentions the name and unit of the man, we include them!

Timescale? We haven't set one, and we don't plan to. We'll finish when we finish. Obviously, the more people working on the project would mean it was available sooner. Hint hint...

The intention at the moment is to complete the index up to and including November 1918, but we will check the next few months to see if the entries continue. If they do, we may continue until we decide to stop.

Going back to that hint from before, we are always looking for volunteers. It's not exactly exciting work, but it can be interesting, and you do get a sense of achievement when you complete a section. If you'd like to get involved, please do get in touch with us.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military history - Major General Robert ‘Roy’ Urquhart CB DSO

In our Who’s Who of Boxing Day we wrote about the actor David Niven. A name I mentioned in the text was a contemporary of Niven in 2nd Bn HLI in Malta who later went on to become a general and in 1944 was at the centre of one of the most controversial operations of the Second World War.

The man selected to command 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem was the big Scot, Roy Urquhart.

Urquhart had risen slowly but steadily through the ranks since his time with the HLI in Malta. He had held various regimental and staff appointments but 1st Airborne was his first command of a Division. He got it on the back of his impressive handling of 231 Brigade Group in Sicily.

I’m not going to go into too much detail of Arnhem here because the story of it is well known. What isn’t in doubt is Urquhart’s personal bravery and the immense respect that he earned from his airborne troops. What may be in doubt is whether Urquhart was the best man for the job.

He was picked to command the Airborne Division because of his infantry experience, not because he understood airborne tactics and some criticism levelled at him is that he shouldn’t have allowed his men to be landed so far from their targets. He also managed to get himself separated from his troops and left his division leaderless for a crucial 30 hours. He was further criticised for the location of his final perimeter which was undefendable and meant he had to evacuate his men back over the Rhine. In nine days he had lost 80% of his command. At lot of it was out of his control and he only had a few days to prepare for the battle so he was not out of favour in high circles but 1st Airborne Division never recovered from its mauling at Arnhem and Urquhart took no further part in the fighting during the war.

After VE day 1st Airborne Division was allocated to Operation Doomsday, the plan to oversee the surrender of 350,000 German troops in Norway in May 1945 and Urquhart only had 6,000 troops at his disposal and only four days to plan his arrival. The operation went smoothly and for a while Urquhart was promoted to command all British troops in Norway.

For the next few years he was involved in the TA in the UK until 1950 when he was sent to Malaya during the Emergency. At first he was there as a divisional commander but soon took over as Commander of British forces in Malaya. He only spent a relatively short time there and was succeeded by Gerald Templar in 1952. Templar is credited with beating the communist guerrillas but it was Urquhart who laid the foundations for victory with his shake up of the British and Commonwealth land forces.

He then moved to a happier command, in charge of the British occupation forces in Austria until they left in 1955. There were tensions between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union in occupied Austria and it was a diplomatic rather than military role but it was a successful and peaceful end to a career of highs and lows.

Urquhart then took the opportunity to leave the army, still a Major General, eleven years after being appointed to the rank, and took a job with British Steel until he retired in 1970. He died on 13th December 1988, aged 87.

(Text by Adam Brown)