It pays to ‘Persevere’

One of the great features of Edinburgh Collected is that you can arrange photographs you put on the website into scrapbooks. This brings together images that are in someway related. It could be a day out, a place you have visited or as in this case, recording family history.

Photo shows Albert, George, James and John Dick images. Albert’s ‘dog-tags and ‘that’ bullet. War medals of William (left) and John (right). John’s ‘Dead Man’s Penny’

Andrew Grant started researching his wife’s family who had for many years resided in Leith.

I discovered that one of my wife’s uncles – John Dick – was killed during the First World War some four days before the Somme offensive on 26th June 1915. This intrigued me so I decided to see what I could discover about him. At first this was very little.

Andrew has created a scrapbook dedicated to John Dick’s wartime story. He has not only included photographs in the scrapbook, but medals and newspaper cuttings of articles he had been able to find while doing his research. He has even included an extract from a war diary.

John Dick’s obituary
15th July 1916

To read the full story, view Andrew’s ‘It Pays to Persevere’ scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected.

And as you can see it’s not only photographs that you can include on Edinburgh Collected. Why not try it out? Add some memories to Edinburgh Collected and create a scrapbook to tell a story in pictures.

Tower Mains Farm, Liberton

According to The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845), Liberton was one of the most important agricultural parishes in Scotland. The cultivated land was divided into thirty-four farms varying in size from 40 to 268 acres. One of these farms was Tower Mains Farm.

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a selection of images of farming life at Tower Mains Farm dating mostly from 1917.

Tower Mains Farm – Liberton

During World War One, when most of these photographs were taken, Liberton was part of Midlothian and the farm belonged to a Brigadier General Robert Gordon but had been farmed by the Monteith Family for at least two generations. In 1917, the farmer was Bryden Monteith who together with his wife Margaret lived at Tower Mains. Bryden Monteith was born in 1861 at Tower Mains when his father, also named Bryden, was the occupier.

Harvesting, Tower Mains Farm

According to Valuation Rolls from 1915, the land that Bryden Jr rented was quite substantial. Apart from Tower Mains Farm itself, which had an additional six farmhouses, Bryden was tenant of Liberton Farmhouse where there were also six farmhouses which were rented out to various people including farm workers, a teacher, and a printer.

Haystacks, Tower Mains Farm

Farming must have provided a rather comfortable life for Bryden as, according to passenger lists found on Findmypast, in 1909, he embarked from Liverpool on the S.S. Medic heading for Sydney, Australia. In 1925 he boarded the S.S. Aguila and made a round trip to Lisbon, Maderia and the Canary Islands. Finally, he is recorded in 1929 on the S.S. Patuea heading for Kingston, Jamaica. On all these trips Bryden travelled First Class.

Horse and Cart, Tower Mains Farm

We know that Margaret Monteith died in 1928 and Bryden died on 11 September 1930 at Tower Mains aged 69. What we are not sure of, is whether the farm continued under the Monteith family. A search of Valuation Rolls of 1935 and 1940 has Bryden Jr’s son, also named Bryden Monteith, at Spottiswoode Road in Marchmont.

Tower Mains is now a mixture of residential and commercial premises.

Browse the full Tower Mains Farm exhibition for a glimpse into Edinburgh’s agricultural past.

Pentlands Book Festival 2020 online

The Pentlands Book Festival kicks off tomorrow, Tuesday 13 October with the War Poets Memorial lecture given by Dr Jane Potter. She will talk about Wilfred Owen’s letters which served as his “only diary” and now also his autobiography.

Dr Potter’s talk will premiere on YouTube on Tuesday 13 October at 7.30pm.

The festival also includes virtual sessions with Jackie Kay, the art of illustration by Metaphrog, local history, local authors and a community writing project.

To see the full programme and get involved, visit the Pentlands Book Festival online.

Gie’s peace: a one woman show celebrating women’s activism for peace

As part of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines 2019 programme, Morna Burden will be performing her one woman show, Gie’s Peace.

Morna Burdon is a director, performer, writer and singer whose work ranges from creating and directing large scale international projects to performing at Glastonbury. Much of her own work has been about giving voice to those whose stories are rarely told.

Morna devised, directs and performs in Gie’s Peace, a tapestry of true stories and songs about remarkable women worldwide who have walked for peace, rebelled against war and sometimes risked everything in the process.
She says: 

“As with my previous show Bonnie Fechters , it is the strength, courage and determination of these women that is so affecting. From the Japanese girl  who inspired a movement to the astonishing bravery of a Somalian mother to the young African American who overcame fear to sing in the darkness”.

Gie’s Peace is recommended for ages 14 and upwards and it enjoyed sell-out shows during Edinburgh Fringe 2018.

An audience member commented:

“Beautifully structured……  As always, her words and music bring emotions to life….Evocative songs of protest and struggle…moving and inspirational story –telling”.

You can experience the show at Central Library for free by booking your place online.

To book for this event and to see the full line-up of events for the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival, visit the programme page online.

Harpies, Fechters and Quines – 2019

‘Aftermath – women picking up the pieces. World War One’ is the theme of this year’s Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival which runs from Monday 3 to Friday 14 June.

Women’s lives were to change again with the return of the men from the theatres of war and not always for the better. What impacts did women experience? What has the legacy of the aftermath been?

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN BRITAIN, 1914-1918 (Q 28345) Female war workers prepare filter cloths for the filter presses at the Glebe Sugar Refinery Co., Greenock, Scotland, November 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Edinburgh Libraries is pleased to be again working with local group the Bonnie Fechters, the Glasgow Women’s Library, Scottish Poetry Library and a host of individuals to deliver a diverse programme.  On offer there are talks from experts, readings, poetry, music, creative writing, discussion and a chance to meet and chat with other women on relevant issues.

Come along and enjoy informal, but informative events.

For full information and to book your tickets visit the Harpie, Fechters and Quines online programme.


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:


Leith Miscellany goes online – part 3

This blog post highlights items found in the last 5 volumes of the Leith Miscellany (volumes IX – XIII) – and there is a lot to cover!

There are images of various shops in Leith. One photo shows David Ford’s fruit and veg shop which was in the Kirkgate. Two female shopkeepers are captured standing proudly outside alongside their display of produce. In another, the Leith Walk Co-op state firmly “SCWS (Scottish Wholesale Co-Operative) Goods Are All Scottish Made”.

Ford’s shopfront – Kirkgate grocer

The Leith Hospital Pageant was held each June from the 1890s for many years to collect money for the hospital. Floats and employees representing many of the businesses in Leith took part. In the image below from around 1931, we can see Leith bakers leaving the Bakers’ Rooms in North Fort Street to join the Pageant.

Leith bakers

Trams and transport feature a lot in these five volumes. During World War One, Leith Corporation employed women as conductresses and drivers to replace men who had joined the armed services. You can view a picture of a group of wartime conductresses as well as tickets for a journey from Junction Bridge to Granton costing 1d.

Tramway Ticket Junction Bridge – Granton

The last batch of photographs are taken from various productions from the Leith Amateur Opera Company. These cards show the performers and costumes of the various productions including The Mikado.

Leith Amateur Opera Company – Mikado

We hope you have enjoyed looking at some of the material from the Leith Miscellany volumes. To see the items from all thirteen volumes visit Capital Collections.

To see more highlights from the collection catch up with the previous posts in this series:
Leith Miscellany part one, volumes I – IV
Leith Miscellany part two, volumes V – VIII

History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street

Nicolson Square is one of a collection of small garden areas on the southside of the city including St Patrick Square Garden, Hill Square, and Deaconess Garden.

Nicolson Square was built on land owned by Lady Nicolson (Elizabeth Carnegie) around 1743 as a memorial to her husband Sir James Nicolson of Lasswade Bart. The area became a sought after location attracting notable residents. In 1784, Lady Sinclair of Stevenson moved in. David, Earl of Leven and Melville, Commissioner to the General Assembly was also a resident. The Orientalist and surgeon, John Borthwick lived at number 3 for a time.

The southwest corner is occupied by the Wesleyan Methodist Church which was built in 1814. It was designed by architect Thomas Brown to replace the first octagonal chapel in Scotland. It is Scotland’s only Grade A listed Methodist Church.

Nicolson Square, Methodist Chapel c1914

In the latter part of the 19th century numbers 1-11 and 43-45 Nicolson Square began to change as properties were subdivided into flats, shops and a school. This continued into the 20th century with many buildings losing former unique architectural features.

Marshall Street is the link from Nicolson Square to Potterrow and we have focused our research on number 16. We’ve looked at census reports, valuation rolls and the Edinburgh Post Office Directories to enable us to look closer at a few of the previous inhabitants.

Nicolson Square and Marshall Street by J. R. Hamilton, 1914

In 1881 we find several tradesmen living at the property including Duncan MacDonald (57), a tailor clothier from Aberdeen, James Hayes (39), a paper cutter and bookbinder born in Edinburgh and Peter Wood (25) a fruit warehouseman from Coldstream.

Rogerson family
There is also Charles Rogerson aged 32 and a plumber who was born in London. He’s living at the property with his wife Jane and two sons Charles (4) and William (3) and his retired and widowed father, William.

Jane died in 1882 and Charles remarried in 1883 to Catherine. His family continued to live at number 16 and in the 1891 census son Charles, now 15, is a confectioner and William (6), a scholar. In addition there are three stepdaughters Elizabeth A Porter (19) working as an envelope machinist, Barbara Porter (17), a box maker and Auqusias Porter (11), a scholar.

Somerville family
Also living at number 16 was Peter Somerville, aged 32 and working as a journeyman joiner, born in Auchterarder. (Ten years earlier he was living in Auchterarder in Perthshire with his parents who were cotton weavers.) By 1881, Peter was married to Helen (28) and they had three young children Helen (7), John (5) and William (1).

The Somerville family was still living at number 16 in 1891 and the census shows daughter Helen is now a dressmaker and both sons are employed as message boys. A niece, Kate Porteous aged 21 is also listed at the address at the time of census.

By 1901, the family had moved a few streets south to Buccleuch Terrace. Daughter Helen (listed as Nellie) is still a dressmaker but John is now a joiner like his father and William is a bricklayer.

World War One zeppelin raid
During World War One, on the night of 2 April 1916, tragedy struck Marshall Street. A German Zeppelin dropped a bomb which landed outside number 16 killing 6 people, 4 of whom lived at number 16.

After the 1916 Zeppelin Raid, Marshall Street, image from The Evening Dispatch

John and William Smith
John Smith was a tinsmith married to Helen Thomson. From the 1891 Census we learn that aged 16 he lived in Marshall Street and was an apprentice tinsmith. His father William aged 50, was a plumber. John had six sisters and two brothers. One sister was a dressmaker and another a shirt maker. One brother was also an apprentice tinsmith. The other children, even down to a 3 year old, are listed as scholars.

By the time of the 1901 census, his father William has moved to 4 Melville Terrace with his wife Margaret, four daughters and one son.

John, now 26 and a qualified Tinsmith, has moved to 26 Buccleuch Place with his wife Helen and their new baby William.

By the 1911 census, John and family are living at 15 West Cross Causeway and a Victor Macfarlane is a visitor on census night.

The family move again and the valuation roll of 1915 shows them at 16 Marshall Street.

Both John and and his son, William aged 15, were victims of the bomb.

Henry Rumble
Henry Rumble was born at Roslin in 1899 when his parents were living in married quarters at Glencorse. By the 1901 census, the family had moved to 51 Drummond Street in Edinburgh. His father Alfred (49) was a tramcar driver who was born in England. His mother Mary was born in Ireland, sister Sarah (15) in Glasgow, brother William (12) in England and sisters Alice (7) and Ida (4) at Roslin. Alfred died in 1908.

The 1911 census shows his mother Mary living very near to Marshall Street at 11 Lothian Street with three children. Henry, aged 12 is by this time an inmate of the St Joseph’s Industrial School for boys at Tranent where he would have received work training in addition to classroom tuition.

The 1915 Valuation Roll lists Mary Rumble, his mother at 16 Marshall Street. Henry who may have moved back to be with her, was another victim of the bomb blast.

David T Graham
David was born in 1865 at North Sunderland. His father Alexander was carrying on the family trade as a baker and he and his wife Sarah already had three sons and three daughters. David’s occupation by the time of the 1901 census is a grocer. At that time, he was living with his mother in Northumberland but little more is known of him. His mother died in the first quarter of 1916.

David died in the bomb but we do not know how he got caught up in the blast on Marshall street. His occupation on the death certificate, verified by his brother, is Chief Cinema Attendant.

Victor Macfarlane
Victor Macfarlane was born in 1892 and was married to Jean Boyd on 29 March 1913. They lived at 16 Marshall Street and both had jobs as waiters. (Victor also had a connection with the Smith family (see above) as he appears as a visitor to their house in the 1911 Census.)

Victor was killed by the zeppelin bomb on Marshall Street.

William Ewing
William was a master hairdresser and aged 23. His usual residence was in Kirkintilloch and he must have been on a visit to Edinburgh when he was caught in the bomb blast.

Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your home? Edinburgh Libraries has many online resources and physical collections to help you.

Get in touch via if you want to find out how to get started.

Read other articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: North British Hotel
History of the house: Cammo House
History of the house: Newhailes
History of the house: Gladstone’s Land
History of the house: 4 Balcarres Street

Elsie Maud Inglis, (1864–1917)

26 November 2017 marks the 100th Anniversary of the death of one of Scotland’s most famous doctors and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, Elsie Inglis.

Dr Elsie Inglis

Elsie Maud Inglis was born in India on 16 August 1864 where her father was employed in the Indian Civil Service. When he retired they returned to their former home where Elsie studied in the Edinburgh School of Medicine. After qualifying she worked in London returning to Edinburgh in 1894 where she established a medical practice with a fellow female physician. In 1904, she set up a small maternity hospital in the High Street staffed entirely by women.

For many years Inglis had been a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and in 1906 she launched the Scottish Suffrage Federation.

When war broke out in August 1914, the people of Britain responded. Men volunteered for the army and others set about establishing relief units to help the army or provide assistance to civilians and refugees. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were one of those – yet they were also very different, because they were set up with two specific aims: to help the war effort by providing medical assistance, and to promote the cause of women’s rights and by their involvement in the war, help win those rights.

Dr Elsie Inglis – Serbia

She set up a field hospital in Serbia, where she was captured by Austrian forces in 1915, but released after the intervention of the US. On returning to the UK she raised funds for a hospital for Serbian forces in Russia and went there in 1916, but she became ill and died of cancer on her return to Britain in 1917.

Dr Elsie Inglis and “Matie”

In one of these Serbia units was nursing orderly Ethel Moir, who served 2 tours of duty as part of the SWH. As noted in one of 3 volumes of diaries and photographs in our collections and written a few months after her death, we can see how proud and honored she was to serve “The Chief” :

“Dr Elsie Inglis and some of us”

“A red-letter day in the history of the S.W.H. – & especially in the history of “The Elsie Inglis Unit”. How proud we were of our dear old Chief, as the King told us of his admiration for her, oh, to have her with us now! We carry her name forever with us & may we carry it nobly & may we work as she would have us work & do, may “The Elsie Inglis Unit”, prove itself worthy of the noble name it bears”.

To read more about Ethel Moir and her time serving in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, catch up with our earlier posts:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our Search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

On this day – HMHS Britannic, the largest ship lost in World War One

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition is a unique personal record of the sinking of HMHS Britannic during World War One.

HMHS Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line’s Olympic class of vessels. She was the sister ship of RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic and was intended to enter service as the transatlantic passenger liner RMS Britannic.

Originally the ship was to be named ‘Gigantic’, but due to the loss of the Titanic, her name was changed. The White Star Line knew if they were to keep ahead in the race across the Atlantic, the new liner would have to be more magnificent than her predecessors.

HMHS Britannic - page from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell scrapbook

HMHS Britannic – page from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell scrapbook

Britannic was launched just before the start of World War One but never operated as a commercial vessel. In 1915 this huge luxury liner, the new jewel in the White Star Line, was requisitioned, painted white with a red cross on each side, and fitted out as a hospital ship. On the morning of 21 November 1916, on her way from Naples and on only her sixth voyage, she was shaken by an explosion caused by an underwater mine. She sank 55 minutes later, killing 30 people. 1,065 people survived, rescued from the water and lifeboats.

Photograph of survivors from HMHS Britannic taken at Fort Manoel, Malta

Photograph of survivors from HMHS Britannic taken at Fort Manoel, Malta

There have been many stories surrounding the sinking of the Britannic, some saying that she was transporting weapons to allied forces and so was a legitimate target for the German authorities.

Newspaper clippings showing coverage of the Britannic sinking

Newspaper clippings showing coverage of the Britannic sinking

Mysteriously, when film-maker Jacques Cousteau first attempted to locate the wreck, he could find no trace of it in the position marked on the British Admiralty chart. Britannic’s true position was eventually found some 6.75 nautical miles north-east of the charted position and had been deliberately misplaced to prevent any further investigation of the site.

The wreck of the Britannic lies in about 400 feet of water and was first explored by Cousteau in 1976. The water is shallow enough that scuba divers can explore it, but as a listed British war grave, any expedition must be approved by both British and Greek governments.

In 1996 the wreck of HMHS Britannic was bought by maritime historian Simon Mills. When asked what his ideal vision for the wreck would be, he replied, “That’s simple – leave it as it is”.

And so HMHS Britannic has lain at the bottom of the sea, off the coast of the Greek Island of Kea undisturbed for a hundred years.

Explore Sheila Macbeth Mitchell’s scrapbook for an amazing first-hand survivor’s account of the terrible event.

Sheila Macbeth Mitchell story (part 2)

This is the 2nd installment in the Sheila Macbeth Mitchell story, from the scrapbook kindly donated for digitisation by her family. The scrapbook is available to view in its entirety on Capital Collections.

In November 1916, military nurse Sheila was in Southampton ready to join the HMHS Britannic on what was to be her sixth and final voyage. Time on board the Britannic began as normal. On returning to the hospital ship, Sheila wrote:

Leave up – so back to Southampton to join our ship. Such a relief to find the same cabin and room-mate, and to see how homely it is now looking, with my chintz cushions and our nice jar of brown beech leaves.”

They were en route to pick up wounded troops via Naples where they re-fuelled and took on more supplies. The nurses were kept busy getting ready 3,000 beds and keeping fit:

“One of the sergeants gives us a gymnastic class each morning on the boat deck, much to the amusement of the M.O.s, who come up and take snapshots of us when looking most ridiculous and unable to retaliate”.

Page from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell scrapbook (section)

Page from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell scrapbook (section)

It was on the morning of 21 November when passing near to the Greek Island of Kea, that a loud explosion echoed around the ship. Sheila recalled:

“Up late – so only managed to get two spoonfuls of porridge before: Bang!  and a shiver right down the length of the ship. Of course we all knew what it was! We had thought too much about torpedoes to be surprised to have met one at last. When the siren sounded, I went off to my cabin for my belt, and took my pillow, eider-down, and the first coat I could pick up…”.

“We were kept hanging over the side of the ship for a long while, as the Vice-Captain, who was looking after the lowering of the boats, had to dash off in the middle to call back some fourteen or fifteen firemen, who had gone off from the poop deck in a boat which should have held about eighty-four persons. They were made to come back to pick up a number of men who had jumped over-board…… We did not realize that while we were hanging over the side of the ship, the whole of the fore part of her was under water – we might have been more frightened if we had seen it. The Captain called out to hurry as she was sinking fast. In our boat, we got well away from the sinking ship and busied ourselves with the wounded, whom we picked out of the water”.

The Britannic disappeared fifty-five minutes after she had been hit. As no help had come yet in answer to the S.O.S. calls, Sheila and the rest of the medical crew waited until there was no likelihood of more explosions then sailed back to where the ship had gone down to see if they could find more survivors. After a time, they saw three trails of black smoke in the distance and knew that help was on the way. These were three British ships the Foxhound , Scourge and Heroic, and after three hours in a lifeboat, Sheila was taken on to the Scourge , a torpedo destroyer. Whilst waiting as sailors rowed around making a final search for survivors, Sheila saw a sailor pulling a chair bearing the White Star emblem from the water:

and gave me a part of the back, which I guarded safely under my coat… they gave us all the food they had – tea, dog-biscuits and oranges out of sacks…Several of them gave us their cap-ribbons as souvenirs”.

Cap ribbons belonging to sailors from the rescue boats.

Letters and cap ribbons belonging to sailors from the rescue boats.

After a few hours towing the lifeboats, they were transferred to HMS Duncan then on to a French ship Piraeus, and then transferred to the Russian Hospital in Piree [Piraeus] where after a few days they were:

hurried away to Malta on the hospital ship ‘Grandtully Castle’ as Athens was getting a little too exciting for us….. After four days, when we were very happy – knowing we were at last on our way home – we reached Valetta, where we were met by the P.M. and all put into ambulances and sent to the different Hospitals on the island”.

After seventeen days on the island, they boarded HMHS Valdivia and set sail home to England.

Telegram sent from Athens with message 'SAVED - SHEILA MACBETH'

Telegram sent from Athens with message ‘SAVED – SHEILA MACBETH’

Sheila ends her recollections:

On Boxing Day we got into Southampton at about 9 am and left the boat after lunch as she had to go off to France that afternoon. We all crowded into the Waterloo train, where we were met by Miss Becher (The Matron-in-Chief) who told us that we might proceed to our homes to await further orders.

So ended my days as a refugee – at any rated for this trip”. 

After her serving on the Britannic, Sheila nursed the wounded in France. In 1919 while on holiday in Switzerland she met her future husband John Fowler Mitchell who was home from leave from the Indian Civil Service.  They were married in 1920 and returned to India where three of their four children were born. As a memsahib during the British Raj, she had to learn how to cope with a large household of servants and their dependants. They stayed in India until 1935 when John retired.

Scrapbook page of wedding photos for Sheila and John Mitchell

Scrapbook page of wedding photos for Sheila and John Mitchell

At the age of 86 Sheila answered an appeal from Jacques Cousteau for survivors of the sinking of the Britannic, and Sheila Mitchell flew to where Cousteau had located the wrecked ship on the bed of the Aegean. She was the only survivor who ever visited the wreck. She arrived on the Calypso, using the ship’s small helicopter, determined to retrieve an alarm clock and ring she had left in her cabin! With her she had brought her scrapbook filled with photos and notes. Sheila was able to give him her clear memories of the sinking. She even descended to the seabed in Cousteau’s mini submarine to see round the wreck. As the star of the film Cousteau in Search of the Britannic, she greatly enjoyed a six week publicity tour of the United States. One American fan in her seventies wrote to her:

Mrs Mitchell, you have made me realise that I have been wasting my life”.

For many years Sheila and John, who was a founder member of the Scottish Genealogy Society, systematically recorded all the pre-1955 inscriptions in numerous Scottish kirkyards, creating an invaluable record for people tracing their ancestry. They are commemorated with a bench in the Archivists’ Garden at the National Records of Scotland. Sheila was appointed MBE for her services to genealogy in 1980.

Bench dedicated to Sheila and John Mitchell, in the Archivists' Garden

Bench dedicated to Sheila and John Mitchell, in the Archivists’ Garden

Sheila Macbeth Mitchell died on 15th February 1994, aged 103.

Read the first part of Sheila’s story and view the full scrapbook online via Capital Collections.

Sheila Macbeth Mitchell (part 1)

Back in June, when we published our series of blog posts about Ethel Moir, a nurse who had served during World War One in the Scottish Women’s Hospital, we received an intriguing comment from someone called Jonathan. He had read the story and was getting in touch to tell us about his grandmother, Sheila Macbeth Mitchell, a nurse who had been on board HMHS Britannic when she’d sunk in the Aegean in 1916. Sheila had left him a large scrapbook containing photographs and ephemera from the time  –

If Capital Collections would be interested in seeing this sometime and copying pictures to add to the special collection – get in touch”.

After meeting with Jonathan, seeing the scrapbook and hearing stories of his grandmother, we were extremely keen to take up his offer of sharing the contents and the story of another remarkable woman who led an extraordinary and adventurous life. The scrapbook is now available to discover on Capital Collections.

Sheila Macbeth was born on 12th June 1890 in Lancashire and was educated at Polam Hall in Darlington. An accomplished golfer in her youth, she wanted to become a teacher of physical education, but her family would not let her have a job. World War One, however, enabled her – like many other women of her generation – to leave home and develop her independence. She served as an auxiliary in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Hospital Nursing Services.

Page of family photos from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell's scrapbook

Page of family photos from Sheila Macbeth Mitchell’s scrapbook

Sheila’s roots however were in Scotland, her great-grandfather James Macbeth had been an Excise Officer in Port Glasgow and both her grandfather and father were born in Greenock. Her grandfather Norman was a portrait painter who, when he came to Edinburgh in 1861 gained employment as a portrait painter and was elected A.R.S.A (Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy) in 1870 and R.S.A. (Royal Scottish Academy) in 1880.

Her father’s first school was Mr Henderson’s Preparatory School in India Street where he was in the same form as Robert Louis Stevenson. He later attended The Institution (later to become Stewart’s Melville) in Queen Street and Edinburgh Academy. When he left school he went to Friedrichshafen in Germany to study engineering and was apprenticed to an engineering firm in Leith Walk. He later relocated to Lancashire where Sheila and several of her siblings were born.

In 1908 aged 18, Sheila went with her elder sister Flora to live in Paris for a year. Here she attended the Cours de Musique, a music course run by Mlle [ Miss] Yvonne Galliet.

Sheila Macbeth, Parc Monceau, in Paris, c1908

Sheila Macbeth, Parc Monceau, in Paris, c1908

Sheila also started to get interested in golf around this time. In her notes she relates:

Flora & I joined the Surrey County Golf Club as well as one at Purley Downs & until Flora married, Father let us have the use of a car & chauffeur – but when she went & I was the only golfer – I had to go by train & it made a hole in my Dress allowance of £50 per annum as I had to take caddies & have new balls when playing matches”.

When war broke out in 1914 one of her first introductions to it was cooking in the hospital of the Camp of Public Schools Battalion:

which was built high above Mother’s house in Surrey. We let soldiers use our dining room each night where we left newspapers etc. & we gave them the use of one bathroom. Many of them filtered into the drawing room with the family – & we had a dance there on occasions – & much music”.

Public School Boys Camp, 16th Middlesex Regiment, August 1914

Public School Boys Camp, 16th Middlesex Regiment, August 1914

In 1915 and with the war continuing in Europe, Sheila served as an auxiliary in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Hospital Nursing Services, noting sometime later,

In 1915, the London Hospitals were asked to take people like me for 6 months training – so that there would be enough nurses to look after the wounded. I went to Training School of London Hospital for 6 weeks in Bow – & then worked at the Hospital in Whitechapel for 6 months – after which I became a Special Military Probationer attached to Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service Q.A.M.N.S. My 1st Station was outside Nottingham”.

Sheila's timetable as a probationer at the London Hospital Training School.

Sheila’s timetable as a probationer at the London Hospital Training School.

Having completed her training, Sheila joined the crew of HMHS Britannic in November 1916 as she set off for what would be her sixth and final voyage…

Read the second part of Sheila’s story and view the full scrapbook online via Capital Collections.

Scars on the City

Scars on the City: Edinburgh in World War One was an exhibition that ran from February to June 2015 at the Museum of Edinburgh. The exhibition drew on Edinburgh Museums & Galleries’ extensive wartime collections to explore the everyday lives of Edinburgh people during the War. Objects like shrapnel from a zeppelin raid, soldiers’ knitted socks and a Red Cross nurse doll were displayed to help transport visitors to a time of terror, hardship and, sometimes, adventure.

Doll: Red Cross nurse of World War 1

Doll: Red Cross nurse of World War 1

The exhibition’s curator, Vicky Garrington, says that the wartime toys and games from the Museum of Childhood were a big hit with visitors:

“People were surprised to find out how clued up young people were about the details of the War. Cigarette cards taught them about ranks, army signals and artillery, while board games challenged them to evade mines and bombs en route to Berlin!”

Board game from World War 1: To Berlin

Board game from World War 1: To Berlin

Meanwhile, shrapnel from bombs dropped by German zeppelins bring home the reality of the first war to be fought not just overseas, but on the Home Front.

The quirky and poignant objects from the exhibition are now available to view on Capital Collections, together with the stories that bring them to life.

WW1 family history roadshows

soldier and mule photoLots of us have diaries, photographs, medals and other artefacts from World War One which were passed down through our family, and which we know very little about. These items can be really important in helping to build a picture of the contributions and sacrifices made by local people whether on the front line or the home front.

That’s why experts from the Scotland’s War Project will be coming along to Newington, Colinton and Piershill libraries to help you identify what you’ve got, and to show you how to find free information online.

No need to book – just drop in:

Newington Library, Sat 17th Sept 10.30am – 12.30pm
Tel 0131 529 5536 –

Colinton Library. Sat 24th Sept 10.30am – 12.30pm
Tel 0131 529 5603

Piershill Library.Sat 8th Oct 10.30am – 12.30pm
Tel 031 529 5685


Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Part five in our There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding Series

When war broke out in August 1914, the people of Britain clamoured to do what they could to support the war effort. Men volunteered for the army and others set about establishing relief units to help the army or provide assistance to civilians and refugees. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals were one of those – yet they were also very different, because, right from the beginning, they were set up with two very specific aims: firstly, to help the war effort by providing medical assistance and secondly, and equally importantly, to promote the cause of women’s rights and by their involvement in the war, help win those rights.

The SWH’s original idea was set up a hospital in Edinburgh to help treat the war wounded.  However this was soon abandoned in favour of setting up hospitals in the field, close to the fighting. Fundraising commenced and by the end of August 1914 more than five thousand pounds had been raised.

Scottish Women's Hospitals Fund flag day badge

Scottish Women’s Hospitals fund flag day badge

The SWH founder Dr Elsie Inglis approached the War Office with the idea of medical units being allowed to serve on the Western Front. The offer was turned down and she was told by an official “My good lady, go home and sit still”. Undeterred, the hospital was offered to Britain’s allies and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals operated in France, Macedonia, Greece, Corsica, Romania and Russia, but the majority of their work was to help Serbia, all staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, orderlies and ambulance drivers.

Conditions in Serbia were dire; the army had less than 300 doctors to serve more than half a million men. By the winter of 1915 Serbia could hold out no more, and were forced to retreat into Albania. The SWH had a choice to make, stay and go into captivity or go with the retreating army into Albania. Some stayed and several including Elsie Inglis were taken prisoner and later repatriated to Britain. The army retreated over the mountains with no food, shelter or help, suffering many casualties.

Following her repatriation to Britain in February 1916, Elsie Inglis set about equipping and staffing a hospital to serve in Russia. It served in southern Russia and in Romania, providing medical help to the Serbian Division of the Russian Army. This division was made up from Serbs and Yugoslavs who had been taken prisoner by the Russians but had volunteered to fight for the allies. The SWH once again had to retreat. The hospital was withdrawn and they sailed back from Archangel to the UK. The day after they returned back, Elsie Inglis who had been ill for some time, died.

Towards the end of the war the SWH in Serbia provided medical care to soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war. A new fixed hospital was established in Vranje and by early 1919 this was handed over to the Serbian authorities bringing to an end the SWH. Most SWH members returned home and resumed their pre-war lives, others stayed behind to continue to provide medical care in Serbia.

Over 1,000 women from many different backgrounds and many different countries served with the SWH. Only medical professionals such as doctors and nurses received a salary, all others were expected to pay their own way. Some women joined because it was one of the few opportunities open to women to actively help the war effort, for others it was the rare chance for adventure.

Scottish Women's Hospitals nurses at Wilton Hotel, London. Image kindly reproduced with permission from Glasgow City Archives

Scottish Women’s Hospitals nurses at Wilton Hotel, London. Image kindly reproduced with permission from Glasgow City Archives

The women involved are known and revered in Serbia. There are statues, monuments and streets named after them, yet in their home countries they have been virtually overlooked.

In December 2015 the British Embassy teamed up with Serbian Post to celebrate the efforts of the SWH. The stamps are part of a wider campaign by the British Embassy in Belgrade aimed at highlighting more than 600 British women who contributed to the war effort in Serbia. Five Scots women who worked as doctors, nurses and drivers feature on the new stamps. A sixth English woman, Captain Flora Sandes, who was the only British female to bear arms during WW1, is also remembered.

The five Scots are:

  • Evelina Haverfield – British suffragette and humanitarian worker. She was the chief administrator of Scottish Women Hospitals in Serbia and set up one of the first local orphanages.
  • Dr Elsie Inglis – campaigner for women’s suffrage and the founder of the Scottish Women Hospitals in Serbia. Dr Inglis was one of the first female graduates at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Dr Elizabeth Ross – one of the first women to obtain a medical degree at the University of Glasgow. She travelled to Serbia as a volunteer and tragically passed away during the typhoid epidemic in 1915.
  • Dr Katherine MacPhail OBE – involved in humanitarian work in Serbia throughout WW1. She is remembered for opening the first paediatric ward in Belgrade in 1921.
  • Dr Isabel Emslie Galloway Hutton – joined the Scottish Women Hospitals as a volunteer in 1915 after she was turned away by the War Office in London. She served in France, Greece and Serbia until 1920.

Serbian stamps commemorating heroines from the Scottish Women's Hospitals

Serbian stamps commemorating heroines from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Read the previous installments in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)


Our search for Ethel

Part four in our ‘There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding’ series

Janette, Library Services Officer with the Libraries’ Digital Team tells how some genealogy research enabled us to find Ethel’s family:

Back in 2012 when we were making preparations to mark the centenary of the start of World War One, and with the help of volunteers from Glasgow Women’s Library, we started transcribing diaries in our collections which had belonged to Ethel Moir, a member of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH). The two diaries together with a photo album had been gifted to us in 1968 by a ‘Miss Moir’, presumed to be, Ethel herself. The diaries, covered in purple cloth with the initials E.M. hand sewn on the cover, contained the handwritten account of her time with a SWH Unit including drawings, photos and newspaper clippings.

Title page from Ethel Moir Diary, volume 1

Title page from Ethel Moir Diary, volume 1

Moving forward to 2014, I was tasked to work on the material to add information to the records so that the diaries could be made available online.

As I started reading the diaries, I found myself getting more and more involved in what the pages held. Whilst doing some family history research of my own at the ScotlandsPeople Centre, I typed in Ethel’s name and found that she had died here in Edinburgh aged 89, in the district of Morningside where I was brought up. A swift calculation told me that she was born in 1885, I now had two solid pieces of information, and I was hooked!  I love digging away and doing a bit of detective work, and I wanted to find out more about this 32 year old middle class doctor’s daughter from Inverness, who had given up a presumably very comfortable life and joined the SWH in war-torn Serbia. Much to the amusement of my colleagues, I was becoming a bit obsessive about ‘Our Ethel’ and thought there must be a story to discover. What had started as an information inputting task had suddenly grown much bigger!

As many who have decided at some point to research their family tree, I started with what I could find online. My initial search started in the Library and with our free access to Ancestry, I found several vital pieces of information. One of the earliest entries, was a New York Passenger List from 17 April 1884, where a 3 month old Ethel was leaving her birthplace Belize, British Honduras, on board the S.S. Loch Tay, headed for Scotland via New York! The list gave me a wee bit more information about her family. I now knew that she had travelled with her mother and father (a doctor) and sister “Nellie”.

Dr John Moir, father of Ethel

Dr John Moir, father of Ethel. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Another passenger list, this time from 1888 has the 4 year old Ethel, travelling with her mother Jessie and siblings Helen (Nellie), twin sisters Ida and Olive and a brother John en route on the S.S. Aguan from Port Antonio, Jamaica heading for Boston, Massachusetts. They were certainly getting around!

Jessie Moir, mother of Ethel.

Jessie Moir, mother of Ethel. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Census returns provide us with lots of information; they are carried out on one specific day every 10 years, the first one in Scotland was 1841.Through Census returns I was able to gather more bits and pieces. In the 1891 Census I found the family, minus father John, staying with Ethel’s grandfather, a farmer in Dairsie, Fife. I now discovered that Jessie (Ethel’s mother) had been born in Forfarshire. The 1901 Census has the family staying at Ardross Terrace in Inverness. This census gives information for Douglas, a new brother for Ethel, who had been born 6 years earlier. One interesting detail in this 1891 Census, is that for some reason all the children whose previously recorded place of birth was British Honduras, now have their birth place as Dundonald, Ayrshire! (A mystery I have still to solve).

The last available Census in 1911 finds the family still at Ardross Terrace, and contains yet more information than previous years. The Census for that year asked additional questions, the number of persons in the house (8) and “particulars as to the marriage”. Included in this was the questions how many children born alive (7) and how many still living (6), we therefore know that Ethel had another sibling who died in infancy.

Douglas Moir younger brother of Ethel, killed in World War 1

Douglas Moir younger brother of Ethel, killed in World War 1. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

At this point and with all the other information I was beginning to gather, we decided to take it a step further and see if we could find a living relative of Ethel’s. We knew the names and approximate birth dates of everyone so now the real detective work began. We knew that Ethel, her elder sister Helen and younger sister Ida had never married. Her younger brother Douglas had died in World War One aged 23, and we’d found no evidence of him marrying. That only left younger brother John Ernest and sister Olive. Now was the time to make a visit to the National Records of Scotland. In order to view any of their records you first have to join, so with a decidedly dodgy photograph, clutched in my hand I made my way up to the Historical Search Room. Membership completed and without a second glance at the aforementioned photo, I set about ordering some documents. One of them proved most helpful: Ethel’s will. Here I found confirmation that Olive was now a Mrs Calder and in handwriting that was very familiar to me, a list of bequests to a niece and nephew. This is when I roped in John one of our volunteers and while I concentrated on the Ethel trail, John was tasked with tracking down a living relative!

John takes up the story here:

Ethel’s father’s will had revealed that Olive Moir had married William Calder and their address at the time (1926) was Oxenrig, Coldstream. Ethel’s will told us that Olive and William had two children, Helen Bell and William Allan. Further searching found that William Allan had married Isobel Margaret Sturrock.

Ethel's younger twin sisters Ida and Olive Moir

Ethel’s younger twin sisters Ida and Olive Moir. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Ethel’s will also revealed a small legacy to an Allan and one to a Jill, but who were they?  We assumed that Allan was in fact William Allan Calder and found evidence to back this up. We’d found a death record for Isobel Margaret Calder, (Allan’s wife), but Jill, remained a mystery. That was until, a lucky online search for Jill Calder returned an obituary for someone (nee Sturrock) from Coldstream who had died in 2011. Finally we’d worked it out – Jill Calder was the name Isobel Margaret went by!

Another piece of information found in the death record for Isobel was to turn out to be the lead we were looking for. The informant of the death was a Maureen Calder, with an Edinburgh address. We decided to send her a letter…

Janette resumes the story:

By this time, I had been reading quite a lot of articles and books about the SWH, and had found a fascinating website, that had been created by a gentleman called Alan Cumming. I decided to contact Alan to see if he could fill me in with answers to my growing list of questions. After speaking to him at some length, it seemed that my next port of call should be The Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Alan told me that they retained all the archives for the SWH and that is where he had done most of his research. He also warned me that the SWH had kept ‘everything’. I contacted the Mitchell Archives and asked if I could get some kind of idea what they held, a few days later one of their archivists, very helpfully provided me with a list… all 96 A3 pages of it. Alan hadn’t been exaggerating!

Having ordered in advance some of the documents I was interested in, I set out on the train to Glasgow. The Mitchell Library is perfectly situated, just across the road from the train station. I headed up to the Archives on the 5th floor. A quick chat with the staff at the desk and the items that I had ordered were ready for me to look at. My starting point was an item listed as “correspondence – M – Z”. Expecting the box to contain a few dozen letters, I was faced with a box containing hundreds. I ploughed through them hoping to find something with a reference to Ethel, but to no avail. I then had another look at the archive list and came across personnel records. I ordered them and this time I was in luck. I started looking through a folder containing various letters from Ethel herself, and also one from her father. He had contacting the offices of the SWH saying that he had heard from Ethel in Petrograd, and was enquiring whether she had received the £10 that he had sent. A form dated 20th July 1916, showed that Ethel had filled in an expense form claiming back 5s for an inoculation and 5s for a vaccination, both required for her first trip to Salonica (Thessaloniki, Greece?). Another two page form dated 1917, gave a detailed expenses listing for the 7 weeks she had been detained in Petrograd. She had spent 8 roubles a day on board, 20 r on cabs and 30 r on tips making a total of 487 roubles which amounted to just over £30.

It was also while I was at the Mitchell Library that we had another breakthrough. The same morning I was delving into the SWH archive at The Mitchell, my colleagues received a phone call from Maureen Calder saying that not only had she been surprised to receive such an official looking letter, but even more surprised to find out about her little known great-aunt Ethel.

Maureen, we had discovered was related to Ethel through her father William Calder, son of Ethel’s younger sister Olive. Maureen told us that she could vaguely recall her great-aunt Ethel, and was really excited to discover that her diaries had ended up here in Central Library. A meeting was arranged, and at the beginning of January this year, we were able to finally meet up. Maureen brought her niece, and cousin Dave, and we spent a couple of hours showing them the diaries and exchanging information about Ethel and the Moir family. None of them had any idea that their great-aunt had been a member of the SWH or of her work with the Elsie Inglis Unit during WW1. They were fascinated to see her handwritten pages and newspaper cuttings, together with photographs she had taken during her time with the Units.

About a week later, we got an unexpected visit from Maureen. She had something she wanted to show us. She’d told us when we met, that she thought most of the Moir Family photographs had been lost over the years. However, she’d been having another look at home and made a discovery of her own. She handed over an envelope containing photographs of the complete Moir family: mother Jessie, father John, sisters Helen, Ida and Olive and brothers Douglas and John Ernest. But there were two that interested me most – one of Ethel aged about five taken in a photo studio in Aberdeen, dressed in a sailor’s tunic and one taken many years later in South Africa, of Ethel sitting in a chair, smiling for the camera with a dog on her lap and one at her feet. After all the months spent researching the family it was really nice to finally be able to put faces to names.

Ethel Mary Moir, aged about 5

Ethel Mary Moir, aged about 5. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

I haven’t been able to find out much more of what Ethel did after her time in the SWH, although I can’t believe that someone that had gone through all that she had, came home and simply did nothing. When Helen died in 1942, I found a notification that Ethel was the executor of her will, and the address given was Gogarburn Hospital. I knew that during World War Two, Gogarburn had been used by the Army and Air Force. Could she have been a volunteer?  I emailed the Lothian Health Services Archives requesting any information they might hold. Unfortunately, they were unable to find anything in their archives. The last known address I have for Ethel is the Skye Nursing Home, in Polwarth Terrace, Edinburgh.

Ethel Moir travelling in South Africa, 1930s

Ethel Moir travelling in South Africa, 1930s. Reproduced by kind permission of the Calder Family.

Ethel died in 1973 aged 89 in Edinburgh and is buried together with her elder sister Helen in the churchyard of their mother’s birthplace, Dairsie in Fife.

With still a few loose ends to tie up, I aim to continue researching Ethel and her family; after all, you never know what else I’ll find!


You can view the pictures of Ethel and her family in a special mini-exhibition on Capital Collections.

Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)


Thanks to the following for all their help in our search:

Alan Cumming of Scottish Women’s Hospital website

Lothian Health Service Archives 

The Mitchell Library 

The National Library of Scotland

The Scottish Genealogy Society


There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Ethel Moir served as a nursing orderly with the The Scottish Women’s Hospital (SWH) during World War One. At the start of the third volume of Ethel’s diary, it is February 1918, and she was once again preparing to leave Scotland and serve a second tour for the SWH.

The beginning of the diary, titled “Jottings”, follows the death of Dr. Inglis the previous year, and the now named “Elsie Inglis Unit” are staying in London and are “Back once more to the “rush & hurry” of existence, as a member of the S.W.H! And back to the dear old grey uniform & tartan facings & kit bags & ground sheets & all!”

On the 17th February she writes –

“we had “our pictures” taken & there followed a full-dress rehearsal, for the inspection at The Palace tomorrow. It was enormous fun meeting old friends again & we had great talks over the old Russian days… But very few of the “old originals” are going out again this time…… However, this crowd, look as jolly as the Past & I think we will be a v. “happy family”.

The following day the Unit “marched as a body“ to Buckingham Palace where they were inspected by King George V and Queen Mary. Ethel tells us that –

Her Majesty seemed greatly concerned at our lack of clothing! However, on being told that, we had overcoats, but that they were not “official dress” when being presented to Royalty, she seemed happier.”


The "Elsie Inglis" Corps at the Palace

The “Elsie Inglis” Corps at the Palace

“The Royal Inspection”. A red-letter day in the history of the S.W.H. – & especially in the history of “The Elsie Inglis Unit”. How proud we were of our dear old Chief, oh, to have her with us now! We carry her name forever with us & may we carry it nobly & may we work as she would have us work & do, may “The Elsie Inglis Unit”, prove itself worthy of the noble name it bears.

On 20th February the unit made their way to Victoria Station on route to Boulogne and had a rousing send off:

“friends & relations” being present to see us away. What bricks some people are, to turn up at 6.30am on a dark, cold winter morning, to see a crowd of hooligans off on “active service”!!

Travelling by train on from France, through Italy, anyone reading the diary could be mistaken in thinking that it is being written by a young lady travelling across Europe on holiday. Although at times you are made aware of the real reason she is there where –

at every little way-side station were always soldiers, – soldiers of every nationality & in every kind of dress, i.e. British in khaki Scotch, English, Australians & Canadians, all were there”. Onwards through Turin she eventually reaches Rome “the enchanting & wonderful place! It is absolutely heavenly & quite beyond description – words fail me, so no use attempting to describe it.”

From Rome on to Naples and a short detour to visit Pompeii where –

We wandered about the fine old ruins, along the narrow streets, in & out, & as we wandered, I seemed to see the little “Blind Girl” in her loneliness & sadness feeling her way along with her stick & feel “The Last Days of Pompeii” to be a “living thing”!

Rome - The Vatican

Rome – The Vatican

A few days are spent at a Rest Camp in Taranto “where all the troops are shoved, going & coming from the war zone in the Near East. It’s a bright spot! However, cheerio!”

Finally on March 8th nearly 3 weeks after leaving London the Unit arrived at their destination, S.W.H Salonique. Here days waiting for equipment to arrive were spent visiting churches, and surrounding areas. There were invitations to visit the homes of villagers and taste the local sweet Turkish coffee and freshly made maize cake…..

“our host & hostess were both most charming & it was quite astonishing how we all succeeded (& quite successfully, too!) in carrying on a conversation by means of signs & gesticulations & a mixture of English, French & Serbian words thrown in!” 

Setting up camp at Verbliani

Setting up camp at Verbliani

After a delay due to a snow blizzard the Unit arrived at S.W.H. “Elsie Inglis” Camp in Verbliani. Here a hospital which was on the “direct route” from the trenches was to be built comprising of a whole camp of tents. One day Ethel went  “up the line”  as an attendant on one of the ambulances and describing on arrival –

the dozens & dozens of poor suffering creatures we found waiting for us”. They ferried the wounded to a dressing station for over twelve  hours and “got the last of the wounded in at 9 p.m. & then got off for “home”. In spite of this”, it was a v. interesting day nevertheless & if we’re not too busy, I hope for another day in a ambulance before long.”

 At the beginning of July, Ethel notes of being a bit “off colour” and the diary skips a few months, resuming in September. She states:

that it’s like starting another diary; it’s so long since my last entry! Exactly 2 months I think! Two months since I was “knocked out” – well, all I can say is, I’m very disgusted with myself! I see my last date was July 12th – the day before I took ill”.

The reason for the break was that she had contacted paratyphoid and had been cared for at the hospital, though she mentions no details of her illness. She was obviously still not fit for returning back to duty and was transferred to a Convalescent Camp in Horliack.

C. Douglas and Ethel Moir in Verbliani

On October 14th 1918, Ethel was transported by ambulance to the Hospital ship “Goorkha” … “here I am homeward bound! Is it possible? But, alas, it’s “finish Johnnie” with Macedonia for me!”

Accompanying her on the boat were … 7 “sick sisters”, 126 officers & 380 “tommies”. The boat was headed for Malta where Ethel was to spend the rest of the war in the Imtarfa Hospital. It was here that the diary proclaims on 11th November    –   “Armistice Day” –  “God Save the King”!

“The news was received with ringing cheers, & wild scenes of enthusiasm followed, the Tommies gong mad with excitement. I could see it all from my verandah – where my bed is”.

Back on the “Goorkha” she left Imtarfa on 4th January 1919 on her way to France and still obviously convalescing, remarks….

“By the way, German prisoners carried my stretcher!!”

Ethel and the other sisters finally arrived back in London on 15th January. The last entry in the diary reads…. “Blighty, good old Blighty at last!!”

“We arrived here at a very late hour last night. We came up in a beautiful hospital train from Southampton to Waterloo, then on here by ambulance. I am told I may be some weeks here before they let me home – but as it’s Blighty no more diary!!”

       “Long live Blighty” & “God Save The King!”

You can read full transcripts of the pages from the third volume of the diaries and see all the pictures and clippings from it, on Capital Collections.

Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

Alongside Ethel Moir’s two handwritten diaries from her time serving as a Scottish Women’s Hospital nursing orderly, there is also a photo album full of black and white images. Some of the photographs were presumably taken by Ethel herself, each one telling its own story.

The handwritten title page reads simply:

“Scottish Women’s Hospital”

Dr Elsie Inglis’ Serbian – Russian Unit

Rumania – Russia

August 1916 – April 1917

(and in the corner) E. M. Moir S.W.H

All the photos and cuttings have written descriptions, the very first is of “The Chief” Dr. M. Elsie Inglis. There is no doubt that this is what Ethel and her fellow SWH colleagues thought of her. In another, Dr. Inglis is surrounded by a group of nurses and orderlies and pride of place in the middle of the group is one of the camp’s pet dogs!

 Dr Elsie Inglis & "some of us"

Dr Elsie Inglis & “some of us”

Turning over the pages, we scrutinised each photo, hoping to find a photo of Ethel. We had been doing so much research into her story and background; we now really wanted to see what she looked like. Unfortunately as with most photographers, they seldom, if ever feature in any….oh for the advent of selfies!

It would only be much later, that we discovered what this woman, looked like. We had found a couple of photos in one of the diaries, but none that were really clear. It was only when Ethel’s great-niece Maureen handed in the photos she had found, there among them some ten odd years after her time with the SWH, was Ethel smiling happily at the camera.

Murphy, Fawcett & camp followers

Murphy, Fawcett & camp followers

The first few pages are taken up with photos of the journey to Russia, group photos taken on board the troopship all posing together at the start of their long journey. Others in the camp introduce us to her fellow “campers”. There’s “Murphy” and “Fawcett” holding aloft two dogs that they had presumably adopted, another showing a more serious task, kit inspection, everyone lined up alongside their meagre belongings.

Market day- Izmail

Market day- Izmail

Some of the photos in the album could have been taken by a tourist. They show a market day where children sit in among piles of vegetables for sale, others the true reality of war. Halfway through the album there are some photographs of history in the making, taken in Odessa, they show the first days of the Russian Revolution, with troops piled on the roofs of trains and marching through the city, rifles and bayonets at the ready.

Revolutionary soldiers

Revolutionary soldiers marching through Odessa

These were all memories that Ethel brought back home to Scotland with her and carefully pasted into the album, perhaps to take out and look at now and again.

You can see all the pictures from Ethel’s scrapbook on Capital Collections.

Read the other posts in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital:

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 1)

Sept 5th 1916

“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!”

So starts the diaries of Ethel Mary Moir, a real gem from Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections.

The diaries were kept by Ethel during her time with The Scottish Womens Hospital (SWH) during World War One. In the first volume, covered with purple cloth and bearing large letters E M embroidered  in black, Ethel records in very precise, neat handwriting her “adventures” serving with the hospital in Roumania (Romania) and Russia. Inside the pages are her own drawings, postcards collected and photographs taken, all documenting the time she spent with the SWH unit.

Aboard the river steamer The George

Nurses travelling with Ethel aboard the river steamer The George on the Danube River en route to Russia

This was a very different life from which she had been used to. Born in 1885, in British Honduras, the daughter of a doctor, she spent most of her life in Inverness. Not much is known of Ethel’s early life. The 1901 Census return finds her aged 19, a scholar, and her four siblings at Ardross Leas with their parents and three servants. By the 1911 census the family are still residing there. It doesn’t give the profession of 27 year old Ethel, but seems to suggest she lived at home helping the family.

We don’t know how Ethel came to be involved in the SWH, but it’s possible that she was drawn to it from an interest in the emerging women’s suffrage movement. As a young, single middle-class woman in the early 1900s she may have been involved in several organisations and societies. When Elsie Inglis returned to Britain after her initial trip to Serbia during 1914-15, she embarked on a tour of cities to gain additional funds for equipping a hospital in Russia, meeting and inspiring women to her cause along the way. In August 1916, the London Suffrage Society financed Inglis and eighty women to support Serbian soldiers fighting the allies.

We do know that Ethel, together with her friend Lilias Grant enlisted with the SWH in 1916. They set sail for war-torn Serbia on the troopship “Hanspiel” from Liverpool heading for Archangel in Russia, via Ireland and Lapland describing the boat as  …”quite a small boat, & a fiend of a tub, very narrow in her bottom & in consequence rolls like fun! She’s filthy too; at present, I hate her like nothing on earth!” The ship had been escorted part of the way by a D70 destroyer, but this was unable to weather the storm and so The Hanspiel continued onwards to Archangel alone. In the end the journey took 5 days.

Once they arrived at Archangel, they were moved 5 miles further up the river to Bacheridza. Here they were visited on board by dignitaries from the British Consul and the Russian Governor of Archangel who “all displayed an extraordinary amount of interest in us & they seemed highly amused at us!”

The Chief [Elsie Inglis] and some of her sisters

Dr Elsie Inglis with nurses from Ethel’s Scottish Women’s Hospital unit, Medgidia, Romania

On snatched hours off Ethel and Lilias Grant had the chance to visit a local village where she describes how to get along with the locals…”There are two words, which will cover a lot of other deficiencies in “the lingo”- the one is, “pozháluista” -“please”; the other, “spacibo” [spasibo] – “thank you”!

 “I have discovered here in Russia, the national equivalent for the American “institution” of chewing-gum. At all the street corners are hawkers offering sunflower-seeds for sale. ..folk everywhere persistently engaged in the not over-picturesque occupation of splitting up these seeds with their teeth, munching the soft kernels within, & spitting out the empty husks”

 Just over 2 weeks after her departure from Liverpool Ethel is writing in her diary –

“..we’ve been 2 days on the train & it has been terrifically hot….but are we downhearted? No! ….soldiers & civilians cheered and cheered. Russian & English alike have been simply splendid to us & never will we forget all the kindness we received ….Dr Inglis has just been telling me that we are to be in the very thick of things, as we are to be with the 1st Serbian Division which is right up at The Front. “

Once there, a makeshift hospital was made from a barn which was converted into 2 wards each holding 100 patients on each side, the only bedding, straw mattresses on the floor.

“ we have no water, lighting or any such luxuries – all the water we have to fetch from a pump up on the hill, some considerable distance away, then after it has been carted down it has to be boiled, so you see the conveniences are not great – but it’s wonderful how soon we’ve got it to look like a hospital”.

 After moving camp to Boul-boul-mic [Bulbul Mic, now Ciocârlia] the candid entries in the diary continue to tell of the harsh realities of life in a field hospital –

” I fear the life of our present dressing-tent will be very short, as the news is very bad. There is a certain sense of strain about the life up here – uncertainty. The booming of the guns goes on day & night. There seems to be no panic among the inhabitants (the few who are left in the village) but certainly a very fixed determination to get away. The ceaseless stream of motor ambulances tearing along the dusty road never stops, the tooting of horns never ceases, while the sense of hurry & stress goes on all the time”.

No 7 Ambulance car

Ambulance car used to carry Ethel and fellow nurses from their camp

Food, or lack of it was obviously never far away in her thoughts, when writing about the distribution of food “we take round the rations in a sack first thing in the morning – 6 different people every day- a chunk of black bread for each, a hard boiled egg & a slice of jam…I mean – ham – everyone is talking & someone at the moment mentioned how she would like some jam – so down went jam on paper!! ……and later –

“ We “looted” a goose en route the other day & it afforded us no end of amusement preparing it “for table” & no end of joy consuming it. It lasted us for 3 days! The soldiers assisted with the plucking – but I wish you could have seen us severing the brute with the aid of one pen knife – it was “some” work of art I assure you”.

 By the end of 1916 Ethel’s unit had been moved to Odessa to set up a hospital there she writes –

“We have been very busy all week getting our Hospital in order & getting in patients. It all looks so nice now & quite professional! I’m in the theatre, it is topping. I’m most awfully pleased I’ve got that job & am quite happy & in my element. The theatre is perfectly ripping; it might just have been specially designed for an operating theatre. I hope we get plenty of “ops” – just heaps & heaps! Blood thirsty? Yes.”

Grant & I aloft on our cart

Lilias Grant and Ethel Moir aboard a hospital cart

The diary entry for 5th January 1917 says that, “Since writing last, everything is changed & after the cable I talked things over with Dr. Chesney & am going home as soon as Mrs. Bagge can secure a place on the train”. We know that Ethel’s mother died on 31st December 1916, and that she started her journey back home to Scotland with her good friend Lilias Grant for company, a journey that she hoped would take 12-14 days. In fact things were changing in Russia and it was to be nearly 3 months before she arrived back in Scotland. Her first stop was Petrograd where –

“there are rumours of a Revolution on all sides …. things are becoming very serious – thanks to the Tsarina & her party. They seem to be doing their best to starve the people & the troops in to making peace. The people in Petrograd are dying of starvation… They can’t get bread & the prices are simple [simply] impossible. It can’t go on. Of course Rasputin’s death is still the talk. It’s a blessing they’ve got rid of him”.

By 22nd March they have finally made it to Scotland, although this was not their intended destination. The boat that they were on had been headed for Liverpool, but because its cargo,  600 tons of valuable zinc-spelter for munitions, the Germans were aware of their movements and so were detoured to the Shetland Isles arriving at Lerwick Harbour the diary proclaims….“ “Scotland for ever!” – so near & yet so far! We’ve got so far, but can’t get no further!! We’re “interned” here. The 31st March entry… “It’s “Ireland for ever” this time & I don’t think!! I wonder if we will ever reach home!? I hae ma doots!”

The last entry in the diary, dated 1st April is headed N.B [North British] Hotel, Edinburgh. It starts with  “Three cheers for “Auld Reekieand ends with “we simply cannot believe that we are really back in Scotland! Our excitement is beyond words! Good old Scotland!!  So long!!!    (not long now!)   

Cheers!!             (from 4 “Scottish Widows!)

You can read full transcripts of the pages from the first volume of the diaries and see all the pictures and clippings from it, on Capital Collections.

Read the further installments in this series about Ethel Moir and the Scottish Women’s Hospital

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 2)

There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding (part 3)

Our search for Ethel (part 4)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals (part 5)

Dazzle the Library this Easter!

During the First World War, the artist Norman Wilkinson was stationed on minesweepers in the Mediterranean. He came up with a clever idea to confuse and misguide U-Boat crews who wanted to sink ships.

© Imperial War Museum (Art IWM PST 4624)

© Imperial War Museum (Art IWM PST 4624)

Using striking patterns and clashing colour schemes, Dazzle camouflage was put on thousands of ships, many of them stationed at Leith. The Dazzle Unit, stationed at the Royal Academy of the Arts, was composed mostly of women who were students at the RA and who produced designs on paper and onto models.

This Easter, Edinburgh Libraries want to see your Dazzle ideas. Why not come along and try out your ideas on one of our specially designed templates!

We will have events in Central Library, Fountainbridge, Balgreen, Muirhouse, Granton, Sighthill, Wester Hailes, Stockbridge, Ratho and South Queensferry.

Keep an eye on local library Facebook pages and our events calendar for details of what’s happening, there’s something for everyone so get involved!

This is the start of an experiment about doing more with art and design in Edinburgh Libraries.

How could we make Dazzle bigger and better? How could we scale up your designs? What would you like to do once you’ve created your pattern, selected your technique, where will your Dazzle lead you?

Dazzle the Forth has been made possible by partnership between Edinburgh Libraries and City of Edinburgh Council Arts and Creative Learning. The partnership aims to sustain work undertaken on the Heritage Lottery funded Project Kitbag which encouraged young people to respond creatively to the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War using objects and documents from the period as a stimulus.

The template has been designed by local designer Ellis McKenzie and printed using the RISO print studio at Out of the Blueprint, sustaining work Edinburgh Libraries have been doing with #artcore.

For more details about Dazzle in Edinburgh Libraries contact Colm Linnane, Service Development Leader, Edinburgh City Libraries.