World War One resources from Edinburgh Libraries

A few years ago, like so many other heritage, cultural and community organisations, we started to look at how we could mark the centenary anniversary of World War One, recognising that this momentous time would provide opportunity for research and reflection.

We delved into our collections to see what material had significance and wide appeal. After we had started making material available online, we were also contacted by individuals who had unique items and memories they wanted to share.

Here are a few of the highlights from our WW1 collections that you can browse online:

Edinburgh in World War One – 1914-1918 on Our Town Stories
This story describes the impact of World War One on the people at home. Read out about the zeppelin raid, the Gretna Rail Disaster, the city’s football heroes, recuperating war poets and pioneering female doctor, Elsie Inglis.


Ethel Moir’s diaries on Capital Collections
“We are supposed to reach Archangel in a couple of days, so I will start a letter, in hopes of getting it posted there. You will want to hear everything from the beginning; so here goes!”
And so begins the diary of Ethel Moir, a nursing orderly serving with the Scottish Women’s Hospital. Over the next two years she would record the realities of life near the battlefields of the Russian Front in two handwritten diaries and photograph album.
Ethel’s diaries are perhaps one of the most prized items in our collection, and so we were delighted when ‘Our search for Ethel’ resulted in a eureka moment and we managed to trace her family to share her wartime story and they in turn were able to tell us more about her life before and after the war.

Thomson Family scrapbooks
The Thomson Family of Glengyle Terrace in Edinburgh compiled two scrapbooks spanning the war years. Most of the items pasted into the scrapbooks are press cuttings, leaflets and adverts but there are personal ephemera too which give an indication of the impact of war on the family. Many of the letters are sent to Thomas Thomson, who was only 3 years old at the outbreak of war.
We knew nothing of how the scrapbooks had been given to the library and the scrapbooks gave few clues about the family themselves but with some dogged determination and a little luck, we managed to contact Thomas’ son in the Netherlands!
Read about the Thomson family history search on the blog.

Private Colin Rice (1880-1918)
Another exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a bundle of correspondence relating to Colin Rice, a soldier from Leith who served in World War One. The letters were kept by his family and donated to the library.
The collection tells a story of love and loss that was repeated in thousands of households across the country. You can read the official military correspondence but are left to imagine the missing side of the story, telling of the family’s enduring hope and resilience in the pursuit of answers of their missing son and brother.

Sheila Macbeth Mitchell – WW1 nurse
Sheila Macbeth was a WW1 nurse on the hospital ship Britannic, which sank in the Aegean on 21st November 1916. Her family kindly got in touch with us and offered to allow us to digitise the images and mementoes from her scrapbook so that we could share the story of this remarkable woman and her extraordinary and adventurous life.

Scars on the city: Edinburgh in World War One
Explore how Edinburgh was affected by WW1 through objects from our Museum and Galleries’ collections. Through these wartime relics, you can experience Edinburgh as a city engulfed by war. Excitement and patriotism mingle with fear and sorrow as the war touches everyone, from school children to soldiers, munitions workers to objectors.

To explore our full collection of World War One themed resources including war artist drawings, material from the Illustrated London News and images of the German raid on Scarborough in 1914, visit our dedicated page on the Your Library website:


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