Military tribunals during World War 1

Posted February 11, 2015 12:09 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Guest post by Robbie Mitchell, Enquiries Assistant.

Following on from the previous post on conscientious objectors, this post provides more details on the military tribunals that many of these men had to face.

The records of the Military Service Tribunal system in Scotland – established after the Military Service Act 1916 introduced mandatory conscription – offer detailed evidence of those who objected to conscription into the armed services, whether that was on grounds of health, occupation, hardship or conscientious objection. The Military Service Act required all adult males, aged 18-41, to register for military service unless they possessed a certificate of exemption; however, by April 1918 the age range was extended, meaning men aged from 17 to 55 could be called up, and so exemptions were further restricted.

Some of the objections come from employers appealing for exemption on behalf of their employees, but they had to obtain conditional exemption to avoid service; for example, you might get exemption from a Local Tribunal which could be overturned by a National Tribunal. Most famous of those who objected to conscription were those conscientious objectors – there were 16,500 such registered conscientious objectors during the War; for example, the future Secretary of State for Scotland, Arthur Woodburn – who donated his collection of Soviet posters and ephemera to this library - was one such objector who would be imprisoned for his refusal to serve in the military. Another example was Arthur Naysmith, a Postman from Musselburgh, whose objection was refused and who reacted so angrily to the ruling that one of the Tribunal opined, “This man would make a splendid soldier. He has a fine physique and just wants the nonsense knocked out of him”!

There is an online guide available to the records of the Military Service Tribunals that are held by the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. It includes links to examples of some of the Tribunal proceedings and testimonies. The National Library of Scotland also holds a copy of a recently published book on the subject. James McDermott’s ‘British Military Service Tribunals, 1916-1918: ‘A very much abused body of men’ (2011) provides an in-depth history of these events.

Conscientious objectors in World War 1

Posted February 2, 2015 2:44 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

thomas-hannan-largeDuring the First World War approximately 16,000 men refused to fight and became conscientious objectors, usually on moral or religious grounds. There have been a number of recent publications that discuss the subject, including Ann Kramer’s ‘Conchies: conscientious objectors of the First World War’ (2014). Personal stories of those involved can be read in ‘We will not fight: the untold story of World War One’s conscientious objectors’ by Will Ellsworth-Jones (2008), ‘The courage of cowards: the untold stories of First World War conscientious objectors’ by Karyn Burnham (2014) and Felicity Goodall’s ‘We will not to go to war: conscientious objection during the World Wars’ (2010).

Joyce A Walker has written a book which focusses on the Dyce work camp in Scotland. It is titled ‘A cloak of conscience? Dyce Work Camp, conscientious objectors and the public of NE Scotland, 1916′ (2011). The camp was only open for 8 weeks in 1916 and this publication looks at its history and the opinion of the local people at the time.

A free online library resource regarding the life of the Scottish conscientious objector, Thomas Hannan of Maryhill, Glasgow, can be viewed on the Digital Gallery. This tells the story of his background, his thoughts on the war, his imprisonment and his career in the Labour Party up until his death in 1941.

Finally a contemporary document may be of interest: ‘The No-Conscription Fellowship: a souvenir of its work during the years 1914-1919′ (1920). This organisation was set up by Fenner Brockway, the editor of the anti-war newspaper ‘Labour Leader’. It was formed in the autumn of 1914 to support those who objected to taking up arms. The book contains a history of the Fellowship as well as details of those who were imprisoned or shot. Women were extensively involved in this society, which held its final meeting in November 1919.

Burns Night, 25 January

Posted January 15, 2015 4:09 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

90721297.2The anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns in 1759 is celebrated on 25 January throughout the world. These Burns Suppers, which began in 1801, have become highly ritualized, from the eating of haggis and drinking of whisky, to the music, poetry and toasts in his memory.

If you want to know how to host a Burns Supper or if you have been invited to one for the first time, then there are number of recently published books that explain what to do or what to expect. These include the ‘Burns Supper Companion’ by Nancy Marshall (2007), ‘The Ultimate Burns Supper Book’ by Clark McGinn (2010), and ‘Robert Burns Night: a freestyle guide’ by Boyd Baines (2013).

If you just want to know more about the poet and his contribution to the literature of Scotland, then a good starting point is the Robert Burns page on the library’s Digital Gallery.

University of Glasgow

Posted January 7, 2015 11:55 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

91169150Today in 1451 a Papal Bull was issued by Pope Nicholas IV which permitted the foundation of the University of Glasgow. The document was issued at the request of King James II of Scotland and Bishop William Turnbull. The university was modelled on its counterpart in Bologna, Italy and became Scotland’s second university. In 1577 a new charter, the ‘Nova Erectio’ was issued detailing the university’s revised Protestant constitution which came about due to the Reformation.

The library holds collection material that provides further information on Glasgow University and the individuals involved in its history. ‘The University of Glasgow 1451-1577′ by John Durkan and James Kirk (1977) provides details of the earliest history of the institution, as does David Murray’s ‘Memories of the Old College of Glasgow: some chapters in the history of the University’ (1927). A more comprehensive history can be found in ‘The University of Glasgow 1451-1996′ by A L Brown and Michael Moss (1996).

Transcribed early documents from the University can be viewed in Cosmo Innes’s four volume work, ‘Munimenta Alme Universitalis Glasguensis: Records of the University of Glasgow, from its foundation till 1727′ (1854). More recent information regarding the management of the organisation can be found in ‘Who, Where and When: the history & constitution of the University of Glasgow’ (2001) by Michael Moss et al. If the architecture of the university buildings is of interest then the comprehensive and lavishly illustrated ‘Building Knowledge: an architectural history of the University of Glasgow’ (2013) by Nick Haynes showcases the physical structure of the university from the medieval period to the present day.

Publications focussing on specific groups of individuals connected to the university include Donald Wintersgill’s ‘Rectors of Glasgow University 1820-2000′ (2001). This volume covers 63 former Rectors as well as providing background information on the Scottish Rectorial system. Peter Hoare has contributed an article to ‘Library Review’, volume 40, numbers 2/3 (1991) on ‘The Librarians of Glasgow University over 350 years: 1641-1991′, while A D Boney’s article ‘Servants of the Old College, University of Glasgow: Misdemeanours and Disciplinary Methods’ can be found in ‘Review of Scottish Culture’, number 14 (2001-2002).

Voluntary Aid Detachments

Posted December 11, 2014 3:08 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

VAD dressing station

Guest post by Emily Goetsch, Enquiries Assistant.

Women were an integral part of British efforts in the First World War, and Voluntary Aid Detachments were one of the main mechanisms through which women served.  The concept behind these units, which provided nursing services in Britain and abroad, emerged from a 1904 government report which documented the Japanese voluntary aid system at that time.  This report proved to be highly influential and in 1905 the Red Cross was re-organised, connected to the War Office and then later linked to the Territorial Forces Associations.

In further developing these efforts the War Office officially began its scheme of male and female Voluntary Aid Detachments to the Sick and Wounded (VADs) in August 1909. VADs were organised for Territorial Forces Associations by the Red Cross and volunteers were given both first aid and nursing training.  This structured training and organised units provided a way for women to contribute in a major way to wartime efforts, treating the wounded, healing the sick and saving lives.

The National Library of Scotland holds a range of texts, documents, drawings and photographs which attest to demands of the job and the character of these women.  P.C. Gabbett’s ‘ Manual for Women’s Voluntary Aid Detachments’ (1912), Sylvester Bradley’s ‘Voluntary Aid Detachments in Campaign’ (1913) and the pamphlet containing ‘General and Training Regulations for Voluntary Aid Detachments’ (1925) lend a sense of the rigour and responsibilities that these posts required.  The introduction to the ‘General and Training Regulations for Voluntary Aid Detachments’ indicates both the importance of the VADs and the emphasis placed on training.  It explains: ‘In all recent wars voluntary aid has played a part.  Owing to economic conditions, the medical services of the Crown will rely still more on such aid in future wars.  It is of first importance, therefore, that the members rendering it should be well trained and organised.’  Each of these aforementioned documents goes on to describe training, organisation and procedures of the VADs in great depth, providing invaluable information about the standards and approach to medicine that were embraced by volunteers.

First-hand accounts and stories about female volunteers offer a greater sense of the courage and skill required of these women.  Texts such as ‘Johnnie of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps’ (1920) and the memoirs, poems, letters, pictures, cartoons and photographs compiled by Joyce Drury in ‘We Were There’ (1997) further suggest the trials and tribulations of the volunteers. The personal narratives recounted in these texts give a voice to women from across Britain who devoted their time, care and compassion to the cause.  The stories recount an array of experiences and emotions, which range from holiday adventures with other volunteers to descriptions of bombs and other horrors of war.  The accounts are personal and individual, shedding light on the experiences of real women who served heroically.

In addition to these textual sources, the National Library of Scotland’s online resources, namely the First World War Official Photographs include images, which document different aspects of a VAD’s work.  From driving ambulances to running into action to treating soldiers, visual documents help to contextualise the rich and varied work of these women. 

While these are just three types of documents that might be used in investigating Voluntary Aid Detachments in greater detail, they suggest the type of material available in the National Library of Scotland.  Much information about the conditions, circumstances, skills and personalities of these women can be gleaned from the texts and images, which are accessible through the main catalogue and well worth consulting.

Scottish property return 1872-73

Posted December 8, 2014 11:49 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

As part of a recent enquiry, the following official publication came to our attention. It is a command paper which was compiled by the government and published in 1874 (volume LXXII Pt.III) by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The full title of this document is ‘Owners of lands and heritages, 17 & 18 Vict., cap. 91. 1872-73. Return. I. Of the name and address of every owner of one acre and upwards in extent (outside the municipal boundaries of boroughs containing more than 20,000 inhabitants), with the estimated acreage, and the annual value of the lands and heritages of individual owners; and of the number of owners of less than one acre, with the estimated aggregate acreage and annual value of the lands and heritages of such owners in each county. II. A similar return for municipal boroughs containing no more than 20,000 inhabitants.’

This volume is arranged alphabetically by county or borough, and for each county provides population statistics for 1871, the number of inhabited houses and number of parishes. The lists for each area are alphabetical by the surname of the owner and also include the owner’s address, the estimated acreage of the property and its gross annual value in pounds and shillings.

This document is not a complete listing of every property in Scotland in 1872-73 but it can be a useful resource for individuals tracing the history of their family or a particular address. The original volume can be viewed in the library but an electronic copy is also available through the House of Commons Parliametary Papers database, to which this library has a subscription.

Scottish castles

Posted December 1, 2014 10:00 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink


If you have any interest in the castles and properties owned by the landed families of Scotland, then Martin Coventry’s book ‘Castles of the Clans: the strongholds and seats of 750 Scottish families and clans’, 2010, might provide the information you seek. As well as a comprehensive index, it has an alphabetical list of surnames at the start of the publication, cross-referencing them with the relevant properties.

Each entry provides details of where the surname originated as well as the family’s history with the properties that they owned. Illustrations, photographs and maps provide extra visual information. The book also includes some useful appendices: an essay on the development of the castle; a glossary of castle terms; a glossary of titles and offices; as well as a map of Scotland.

Mortcloth and burial records

Posted November 13, 2014 11:39 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Before civil registration started in 1855 records of death and burial were poorly kept. There was no official requirement for this information to be recorded and this meant that many parishes did not bother. Often the only record that survives is the mortcloth register: this was a list of payments made to the kirk session for the hire of the mortcloth, a black cloth that was draped over the coffin or body for the duration of the funeral.

The published lists will only contain details of those who applied to the local kirk session for the use of the mortcloth. Wealthier families in the community would often have their own personal mortcloth, while trade incorporations in the towns and cities might also have a burial cloth for the use of their members.

Many of the family history societies in Scotland have published the surviving mortcloth and burial registers from parishes within their geographical area. A list of the published records that are held by the library can be found in the online catalogue by searching for ‘burial registers scotland’ or ‘mortcloth records scotland’ (use the search box at the top right hand of the page and click the ‘catalogues and resources’ option). More information on the subject can also be found on the website of the Scottish Archive Network.

Family history day: Saturday 15 November 2014

Posted November 4, 2014 9:47 am by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

On Saturday 15 November between 10.30am and 4pm, Edinburgh Central Library is hosting a Family History Day as part of ‘Previously… Scotland’s History Festival‘ programme. The National Library of Scotland will be participating in this event, along with a number of other organisations.

Giving help and advice on the day will be staff from the Edinburgh & Scottish Collection and Reference Library Collection at the Central Library. Also participating is Edinburgh City Archives, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries, Edinburgh’s War, Lothian Health Services Archive, Scotlandspeople and SCRAN. There will also be a number of talks being hosted by ‘Previously…’ on the day.

We look forward to seeing you at the event.

Soldiers’ Wills

Posted October 21, 2014 1:43 pm by Hazel Stewart | Permalink

Guest post by Robbie Mitchell.

The National Records of Scotland hold a collection of wills of soldiers who served during the First and Second World Wars, of which about 26,000 relate to the 1914-18 conflict. These wills were written by ordinary Scots – some written when they were about to go overseas, others composed on the morning of a battle – most of whom were married, and so they help form a connection with the family they left behind whilst serving during the War. The wills are normally dated from when they were called up to active service, but that is not always the case.

The wills in the collection mostly relate to those who served with Scottish Regiments – for example, there are 2,500 wills relating to Gordon Highlanders – but other services are included, such as the Machine Gun Corps, Royal Field Artillery, the Royal Army Medical Corps, and the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF). 85% of the Wills relate to soldiers who served on the Western Front, while the remainder concern those who served in other theatres of operation, such as Mesopotamia and Salonika; the wills also include those of six recipients of the Victoria Cross during World War 1. Soldiers who survived would have probably kept their own will, while their service records would have been retained by the Army.

Not everyone left a will; the authorities encouraged it but did not make the writing it compulsory. For those that did write a will, the Army encouraged them to use a standard form of text, which usually began with the words In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to…” The most common kind of soldiers’ will was the “Informal Will from his Pay Book (Army Book 64)” – this was non-witnessed, written and signed by the soldier on a form in his pay book, when under orders for active service, or during active service. He could write another will when he was issued with a new Pay Book, and if he died his most recent will would be retrieved from the pay book – if that was possible. This was also known as a “Short Form of Will”.

A more formal witnessed will, written and signed by the soldier, was on “Army Form B.243” (naming one beneficiary) or “B.244” (more than one), which allowed for the naming of executor(s) and were favoured by certain Regiments. The Scots Guards almost exclusively used Form B.243 for their Wills, retaining copies at the Regimental depot in London – this means 37% of their Wills have survived, compared to just 19% of the King Own Scottish Borderers. Another version of the formal will used was “Army Form W.3297”. This was also a witnessed will, written and signed by the soldier, for naming one or more beneficiaries but not executors. Usually on a half foolscap sheet, this type was much less common, but was used by soldiers in both World Wars.

As well as the formal Army wills, there were civil wills – informal and formal, non-witnessed or witnessed, wills written on non-Army stationery; some follow the official wording of the Army forms, but many were probably written at home. Though only a few appear to have been drafted by a lawyer, around 9,000 civil wills relating to soldiers were deposited in Sheriff Courts throughout Scotland. Many informal wills are handwritten in a style which differed from the recommended standard format, and some used this to make personal or political statements. Some were written in the style of a letter, and such letters would also be treated as documentary evidence of a Last Will & Testament. Within the National Records of Scotland, there are around 100 informal wills relating to Privates who rose through the ranks and became Officers. 

In some cases, the surviving wills are only fragments recovered from the bodies of dead soldiers prior to their burial. If a will was completely missing, the War Office accepted evidence from soldiers, family or friends concerning what a soldier had stated verbally concerning his wishes or had written in his will. This was known as a nuncupative will, and is more common for those wills from the First World War than the Second World War. Sometimes nuncupative wills came with certificates of authenticity completed by those soldiers dying from wounds or illness in hospital, while other substitute evidence might have been testimonies from comrades or family members who had seen the will being written.

Further information on how to locate soldiers’ wills can be found on the National Records of Scotland website.