Next of Kin: Scottish Families and the Great War

NextOfKin Next of Kin, an exhibition created by National Museums Scotland, opened on 4 July at Rozelle House. It presents a picture of Scotland during the First World War through treasured objects from official and private sources, kept by close relatives and passed down through generations.

South Ayrshire Libraries and Museums team are delighted to host Next of Kin, and to be working in partnership with National Museums Scotland. The exhibition was previously shown at the National War Museum in Edinburgh Castle, and Rozelle House will be the second of eight touring venues around Scotland.

It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Scottish Government. Each of the host venues will be adding material from their own collections to tell local stories which reflect the themes of the exhibition. The full list of partner organisations and touring venues.

The material on loan from National Museums Scotland looks in detail at eight individual stories, from throughout Scotland, which both typify and illustrate the wider themes and impact of the War on servicemen and women and their families back home. Objects include postcards and letters, photographs, medals and memorial plaques. Examples include;

  • Two autograph books in which Nurse Florence Mellor collected drawings, watercolours, verses, jokes and messages from the wounded soldiers in her care at Craiglockhart War Hospital.
  • The pocket New Testament which Private James Scouller was carrying the day he died at Cambrai in 1917, returned to his family by a German soldier on the eve of the Second World War.
  • Drawings and postcards by Henry (Harry) Hubbard, an architectural draughtsman in Glasgow who contracted illnesses so severe that he ended up spending 16 months in hospital.
  • The last letter home from George Buchanan, Seaforth Highlanders, a railway plate-layer from Bathgate who was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Loos, along with his memorial plaque and service medals.
  • The shell fragment which wounded Private William Dick. He kept the fragment after it was removed from his leg, but later died from the wound.

The exhibition at Rozelle House will tell the stories of Ayrshire born Thomas McMath, and brothers in arms, David and James Cumming.

Thomas McMath was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Arras. While in captivity he received parcels and supplies from families and friends at home. Displays include a notebook in which he meticulously recorded the package donor and content so that he might acknowledge each act of kindness.

Both Cumming brothers served and died in Palestine in the campaign against Ottoman Turkish forces. The display tells the story of their service and sacrifice on this fighting front.

In addition to ‘Next of Kin’, South Ayrshire Council Museums will be displaying local objects, artefacts and stories, including items loaned by East Ayrshire Council / Leisure Trust, families, and local collectors. From South Ayrshire Collections, we will be displaying the Caribou of Ayr, which was gifted to the people of Ayr in September 1916. Its story will be told through the perspective of James Cooper, a Newfoundlander who came to Ayr.

Cooper was one of the First 500, the name given to the first volunteers, who journeyed from the Dominion of Newfoundland, to the UK to fight in the war. On 8 August 1916 the regiment was shipped to the Dardanelles, where they saw their first action, experiencing life in the trenches under enemy fire. James himself suffered from dysentery, and was shipped back to the UK for treatment.

The Regiment then went on to Suez before heading to France. On reaching the Western front line on 1 July 1916, the Regiment was exposed to brutal fighting at Beaumont Hamel in what was to become the Battle of the Somme.

Cooper was one of only 110 who survived that day. As a result of James’ wounds at Beaumont-Hamel, he returned to Ayr, and spent the rest of the war training new recruits as a Lewis machine-gun instructor at the training camp. He married Margaret Dunlop and they had a daughter, Gladys. Demobbed in Newfoundland, James had to work his passage back to Ayr to rejoin his family. He only returned to visit Newfoundland on the death of his wife 53 years later.

For more information on the Newfoundland Regiment, please see: The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War, The Rooms and James Cooper Blog.

Also on display will be the story of Thomas Scott, whose parents ran the Tam o’Shanter public house, and whose boyhood love of horses saw him join the Royal Field Artillery where he drove horse-drawn ammunition wagons.

While researching these two stories, Pamela McIntyre, Library & Museums Development Officer, identified a short clip of a film, showing Newfoundlanders enjoying their leave, available on The Rooms, Newfoundland Provincial Museums, Gallery and Archives. Tom Barclay, Reference & Local History Librarian, confirmed that the film shows the Newfoundlanders hanging out of the upper windows of the Tam o’ Shanter Inn, in Ayr. The licensee at the time was Mrs Scott, Thomas Scott’s mother.

So three stories then, of James Cooper, Thomas Scott, and the Caribou are linked.

Larry Dohey, Manager of Collections and Projects, The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, Newfoundland, confirmed that the clip was part of a much larger one hour documentary which was screened in Newfoundland during the war. This short clip is all that survives. No one had been able to identify the whereabouts of the scene – till now. Larry said “Given that Thomas Scott’s’ family were the owners of the inn at the time of the Newfoundlander’s presence in Ayr, and that others from the area were fighting on the Western Front along with the Newfoundlanders, I can understand how they were all getting along with such ease.”

To view the short video ‘Horsing around in a window’, follow the link for ‘Leave’ on the daily life page.


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