A Wartime Christmas Mystery

World War One Christmas CardWhen searching our collections for ‘Christmassy’ materials I was delighted to stumble upon a World War One Christmas card. The cover features five kilted soldiers gathered round a fire. A tartan bow adds a little festive flair to the austerity of the black and white image. But what really drew me to the card were the signatures inside it. While normally cards are signed by families and sent to friends but, this card was signed by soldiers and sent to a commanding officer. War altered the normality of life, taking over every part of it, even Christmas. I immediately wanted to know more about these men. I began a mission to find them.cc-interior-4

The card provided a wealth of information on the men. I had not only their names, but their ranks, the abbreviations of which had been included under their names. The inside of the card read “from Sergeants of ‘D’ coy”, so I knew they were in D company. The outside of the card proudly declares ‘Dandy Ninth’, which was the nickname of the Ninth Battalion of the Royal Scots. They were called ‘dandy’ as they were the only kilted lowland regiment, being based in Edinburgh. The inclusion of a tartan ribbon and the image of kilted soldiers display their pride in this fact. With all these facts I thought it would be easy to find them.

A key obstacle to finding these men was their hand writing. Some had a good clear hand such as G.C. Vallance, whose name can be clearly read. Others were more difficult to make out. I had particular difficulty reading this name:

Close up of signature

 Jasluluoueul? James Monueul? It was passed around the office and guesses were made, Google searches were attempted, Scottishhandwritting.com was consulted, and we could not find the answer. At last it was decided to crowdsource a translation. We took to Twitter and within the hour we had an answer!

Can you guess it….



James M. Moncur, whose loopy M’s look like ‘lu’. He was harder to find as he did not remain a Lance Sergeant in the 9th Battalion but obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 8th Battalion. But thanks to the kind folks on Twitter, it was possible to find his name and military record. Unfortunately, his story had a sad ending; he was killed in action in 17th April 1917 at age 24. He was not the only one of the ten to not make it home from the war.

William Goodfellow died in action 4 days later on 23rd April 1917, both are buried at Arras, about 10 kilometres apart. G C Vallance died the year previously on 23rd July 1916 and J F Wilson died the year after on the 7th August 1918.

The remaining six sergeants have been harder to find. My main source from searching for these men was the commonwealth war graves commission; this made it easier to find men who were killed in action. I hope my difficultly finding the remaining six means they survived the war and made it home.

If anyone knows the fate of any of these men they will share it with us in comment or @sallycarchives on Twitter. Their names are listed below:

Christmas Card Signatures

Christmas Card Signatures

D S Anderson, Sergeant

R Dalgleish, Sergeant

J Donald, Sergeant

A J Macdonald, Sergeant

J Ward, Sergeant

W Forsyth, Sergeant

Looking back, looking forward

Well it’s that time of year again. Office parties, last minute panic buying and Slade on the radio. Amongst the craziness it’s also a time to look back and reflect on the past 12 months. What a year 2016 has been! I don’t think anybody could have scripted half of whats happened this year.  In the archive however we have had a really successful year with a number of fabulous new accessions added to the collection.

The most recent of these are the records of East Linton golf club. The club was formed in 1896 and the early handwritten minute books feature in the donation. The artist Robert Noble was a founder and early captain of the club. He’ll be the focus of an exhibition at the John Gray Centre from next March.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to receive a number of business records this year. Mains the Saddlers operated as a family business in Haddington for more than a hundred years and when the business was sold on earlier this year the records – some family and some business – were deposited at the archives. Also the business of McArthurs Joiners of East Linton sadly closed this year and records including photographs and employee and apprentice lists were handed over to the archive.

Coronation of Queen Victoria

Coronation of Queen Victoria

One of the most exciting accessions of the year is the Broun Lindsay collection. Previously kept at Colstoun House it has now housed at the John Gray Centre archives. The collection is an absolute treasure trove! Dating back to the thirteenth century it includes agricultural and estate records for Colstoun, letters from the Vatican and charters (complete with seals) from Kings and Queens, marriage contracts, commemorative newspaper marking the coronation of Queen Victoria printed in gold – the list goes on and on.

Seal of James VI

Seal of James VI

The family also have a very strong Indian connection with two members of the family holding high office there, first George Ramsay as Commander in Chief in 1830 and then James Broun Ramsay as Governor General in 1848. The collection therefore contains a number of personal diaries and volumes of correspondence detailing events and experiences in India at a time of great change and upheaval in the country. Also included are some fascinating images showing what life was like during the time of the British Raj.

Unknown Indian gentleman

Unknown Indian gentleman

This year we’ve also been working on converting and cataloguing some of our audio visual collection and so have discovered some real gems. Oral histories recounting life in 1930s Tranent, footage of the open air pool at North Berwick, and a film showing the reconstruction of Garvald Church. The project will continue in 2017 so who knows what else we will find!

As well as new collections we’ve had really successful outreach events this year. Our tour of the smaller villages within the County was very well received and we really enjoyed getting out and meeting the real local historians. Our school outreach has continued on topics such as WW2 and local community history. Family history day with afternoon tea and a showing of the Nungate memories project in conjunction with Haddington History Society was a runaway success.

Looking forward to next year we have another busy one coming up. We hope to be able to have our core photograph collection available to view through our website. We hold around 80,000 images of the County but with the help of volunteers we are digitising the parish collections, around 10,500 images, which include scenes of towns and villages, people and buildings from around the county.

Macmerry pottery

Macmerry pottery

From January 21st we also have an exhibition at the centre to celebrate 100 years of the Rural. The Scottish Women’s Institute (to give it its proper title) began in Longniddry village hall in 1917. The exhibition will look at the founder of the organisation, Catherine Blair, its history and the modern SWI.

We are also planning the launch of our poor law indexing and transcription project online, a family fun day in April, a season of lunchtime talks on the Broun Lindsay collection in the summer, two film festivals and a family history day on the theme of art in August. And that’s just a sample! As ever keep your eye out on our facebook page, website and East Lothian Courier for further details and events.


Wishing you and yours all the very best for the festive season and look forward to seeing you in 2017!

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Film Appreciation Club

Clapper board for Film Appreciation ClubFilm recognises neither time nor space, only the limits of man’s imagination.”

(Nicholas Ray)

Codona's Picture House, Haddington

Codona’s Picture House, Haddington

If you love film, then why not join our film appreciation club? For a membership fee of £10 per annum, you will be able to watch six selected films from across the world and enjoy vibrant discussion that will enhance your understanding of the elements that shape cinema as we know it today.

In 2017 screenings start in February and take place in the Star Room. Screenings are usually on a Thursday evening. Doors open at 6.30 pm and the film starts at 7 pm. Each screening has a topical theme to complement events/services/exhibitions at the Centre or locally. In 2017 they are – ‘LGBTQ’; ‘Woman’; ‘Art’; ‘Archaeology’; ‘Diversity’; ‘Heritage’.

Our licence to show films prohibits us from naming the films online, so we will be writing a blog in the lead-up to each event, with clues to the title. Keep an eye open for our first FAC blog in February 2017.

Screenings are open to non-members for a donation of £3 towards costs.

There will be light refreshments, and film researcher Dr Hanita Ritchie will lead the film discussion.

Find our full, detailed programme (with titles) at any East Lothian library or museum, or check our blog and Facebook page for more information. You can also have your email address added to our distribution list and receive reminders about upcoming films straight to your inbox – please ask a member of JGC staff or email jgc@eastlothian.gov.uk.

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