World War 1: a grand-daughter’s research
Guest post by Alison Leslie.
The catalyst to finding out my grandfather’s World War One history was a postcard handed to my uncle five years ago. All that we knew was that grandad was hoarse as a result of being gassed. A colleague at the National Library of Scotland was able to identify my grandad’s regiment and point me in the right direction. The first stage in a fascinating and humbling journey was using the library’s resources to get some background to the 9th Seaforth Highlanders and the 9th (Scottish) Division.
The 9th Seaforths were the first Pioneer Battalion in the British Army, shown by a crossed rifle and pick-axe collar badge. This meant that as well as being infantrymen, the soldiers also built and maintained the infrastructure of war: for example, trenches, train and tram lines, and water supplies. In the ‘Pioneer Battalions in the Great War’ by K.W. Mitchison (2014), the 9th (Scottish) Division historian called these Pioneers “a shining example of pluck and endurance” and stated that “they are as notable for their fighting as for the value and quality of their work.”
A visit to London last year meant I was able to visit the National Archives at Kew to access the War Diary of the 9th Seaforths. As the writing changed in the diary, I couldn’t help but wonder if the officers had been transferred, injured or killed. A return visit this year provided the probable date for my grandad’s gassing, and the reason he is not on any casualty list. Through consulting W.G. Macpherson’s ‘Medical Services General History’ (1921-4) at NLS I had learned about the different types of gas, their effects and treatment. This led me to believe that my grandad had inhaled mustard gas. The type of gas is not mentioned in the war diary, but the entry correlates with the treatment listed in the general history: “Not included as casualties: 41 other ranks admitted to field ambulance after gas attack 21 July (1917).”
On returning from London I have widened my research to the 9th (Scottish) Division history in order to gain a broader picture, and possibly more information on the 9th Seaforths. In the meantime my uncle had found grandad’s mobilisation and demob papers, as well as a service record from the Home Guard in World War Two. This is as much personal history as we will ever get as grandad’s full service record is part of the Burnt Records collection held at Kew. These were damaged during the Blitz of World War Two.
During the first stage of my research I was honoured to attend the ‘Passing of a Generation’ service at Westminster Abbey on 11 November 2009 with my dad. This national service marked the death of the last World War One veteran earlier in the year.
We will remember them.