This blog is written by Stephen Thomas
First and foremost I’d like to thank all of you who have followed the Twitter and Blog feed recording the First World War Diary of Peter Jack; (http://lothianlives.org.uk/?p=1462). This blog is simply a reflection on the things I have learnt while carrying out the project, the first time I’ve posted diary entries of any kind, and the lessons learnt for the future.
As many who have followed the whole of the diary, Peter was not the most descriptive of men and on some days wasn’t forthcoming with large amounts of information. One can only speculate as to why this was. He may have been unaccustomed to expressing himself fully at all, let alone in writing; there is very little in the way of emotion portrayed, no colourful descriptions of the sites or sounds or smells of where he was posted. He does not record any details on conversations or gossip amongst the men he fought alongside, in fact I do not believe he mentions any of the names of his fellow soldiers apart from a few regrettable deaths of officers. This could have been out of respect for the privacy of those men or to prevent, should his diary been lost, information falling into the wrong hands. Personal diaries, unlike for those fighting in Europe, though not exactly encouraged were allowed on the Mediterranean campaign. I am surprised however that Peter was allowed to record, in sketches of admirable detail, the camps and defensive positions of his squadron. Perhaps Peter’s medium of expression was in drawing, rather than the written word. As I say; one can only speculate.
I would have therefore liked to have augmented some of the less than fulsome diary entries with more maps detailing the places Peter visited and information on the campaign he was involved in. Unfortunately, as a small archive with a small number of staff, time allowed for social media projects is sadly limited and so I was restricted to simply to transcribing the diary and adding additional details when time permitted. I’ve therefore learnt that in future I need to research and prepare the project further in advance, to allow it to be a more immersive experience for those following it and to better inform and educate people about the place in history from which the material originated.
I have also learned not to try to second guess or the writer’s meaning of words or phrases; to interpret them with the speech of 1915 in mind, rather than from a perspective of 2012. There were a couple of occasions I wrongly thought that Peter had misspelled or used the wrong words, when in fact it was my modern day take on phrasing that was in error. One must take what is written at face value and trust the writer, because their voice is clearer and truer to them, than when heard many decades later.
The Private Peter Jack blog with all the transcribed entries can be found at:
The well-known calligrapher, Tom Fleming is to deposit his archive of calligraphy and other records with West Lothian Council Archives and Records Centre. The archive will come to West Lothian after a touring exhibiton which will take Tom’s calligraphy across Britain.
Tom was born in Armadale in 1921. He left school at 14, becoming a despatch clerk for United Collieries. The beautiful plans which Tom saw in the mine surveyors’ office caught his eye and he a took a job there.
Tom was also a keen member of the scouts in Armadale and saved up to go the 5th World Scout Jamboree in Holland in 1937. Tom kept a diary of this event, which forms part of the archive that will come to West Lothian.
In 1940 Tom volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps. Tom served in the Middle East and North Africa before joining the invasion of Europe and was part of the first British unit to enter Berlin. One of Tom’s fellow mine surveyors sent art material out to him and when his army unit passed through Europe in 1944-45, he made a series of pictures of people and places he encountered. He also wrote diaries documeting his experience which also form part of Tom’s rich archive.
In the 1960s, Tom began to attend evening classes in calligraphy before eventually leading his own classes. After retirement in 1979, Tom continue to develop his technique, making illustrated maps including of the Burns’ Country.
Tom now lives in the North of England although he recently came home to Armadale to give a calligraphy demonstration during an exhibition put on by our partners in Museum Services.
Excuse the absence of East Lothian posts for a couple of months please – it’s been hectic!
Our new Sporting East Lothian Exhibition is up. Featuring gems such as sporting bibs worn by George McNeill from Tranent. George McNeill was one of the fastest men in the world in the 1960s running 110m in 11 seconds. Also included are archive sketches from the BBCs ‘It’s a Knockout’ when it was held in North Berwick and an account of the shooting of the silver arrow in
Musselburgh from 1647. The shooting of the silver arrow is thought to be the oldest sporting competition in the world.
Illustrating the Archive – Lucy Roscoe
We are lucky enough to have the very talented Lucy Roscoe working with us at the moment. Lucy is taking stories and records from our collections and providing beautiful illustrations. See her first blog and illustration on our website here.
We welcomed our volunteers back now that we are settled in our new premises. They are working on various projects including providing scanned images for each of our collections to help us build up an imagedatabase and to improve the appearance of our catalogue and helping us identify and prepare material in our collections for us to use for our WW1 centenary project next year. We’re glad to have them back!
The accessions keep pouring in too. In the past 2 weeks we have had:
- a collection of log books from St Josephs School 1930-1989,
- diaries of a farmer covering the period 1913-1984,
- records of Musselburgh Merchants Association 1898-1985,
- ledger and maps relating to the former Bruntons wireworks 1916-1987,
- a raft of bound District Council minutes 1975-1995,
- diaries of a Musselburgh seamstress 1977-1983,
- papers relating to the Hope family and Luffness estate 1915-1916
- records of Musselburgh Tennis club 1924-1988
I’d better get cataloguing!
Since opening the archive searchroom has welcomed almost 200 visitors and produced almost 700 items.
With the focus at East Lothian Archives firmly on getting ready for the new John Gray Centre, I have been spending a lot of time in our archives store making sure everything in properly catalogued and ready to move. Not the most thrilling of jobs you might think but the bonus is that every so often I come across items I didn’t realise we had. The past fortnight I have found two wee gems.
One is a visitor’s book from Whittinghame Manse. The visitors came from all over the world and there are comments from as far afield as Johannesburg, Sudan and even St Andrews! Some of the more artistic guests left poems and drawings in the book. The manse was occupied at the time by Rev Lang who became Moderator of the Church of Scotland and there are many references to Auld Lang Syne by the guests as they tried to make a play on his name.
The other find is a passport issued to Thomas Todrick in 1838. The Todricks are a well known East Lothian family with several generations serving as Procurator Fiscal and working as Bankers and lawyers. The passport was issued to Thomas at The Hague and allows him “to pass freely without hindrance” while travelling on the continent. The reverse of the document is covered in the stamps of the countries and cities that he visited. These include Rotterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Bern & Geneva. Considering this piece of paper travelled around the continent over 170 years ago it’s in very good condition.
I’ll get back to my tidying – you never know what I’ll find next!
Remembrance of war plays an important part in popular appreciation of history. Yet while the history books that fill the shelves of libraries and bookshops provide a detailed insight into the First World War, they do not allow us access to the minds and psyche of the soldiers who fought for our country.
Soldier’s diaries offer a unique first-hand account of war. Perhaps because of richness of content, these diaries were forbidden on the Western Front. Fortunately for the historian, there was less censorship in the Middle East. When Private Peter Jack of Blackridge went off to fight with the Lanarkshire Yeomanry on the Gallipoli Peninsula and later in Egypt, he was able to document the tour of duty in his diary, from departure from Cupar in the September 1915, to their return in December 1916.
Combat in Gallipoli was fierce; the Allies and Turks shelled each other’s trenches and there were many casualties on both sides. While Pte Jack’s entries are descriptive, they are often understated and confrontation is never glorified. On 15th of October we had more artillery fire from the Turks and the KOSB lost a colonel and a lieutenant. A shell went right into the dug-out and blew them up in the air…Then on 17th October we shell the Turkish lines with our artillery – my word it is just a pure hell.
The diary also offers insight into just how uneventful a soldier’s life could be; on the 21st [Nov] they made another counter attack…repulsed again with losses. Things got quiet again on 22nd Nov
Ditto 23rd “
Ditto 24th “
Life remained quite until the 7th of December when a sniper was lost. Pte Jack does not use the diary to document his emotions but we can only assume that this quiet time must have been filled with reflection and boredom as well as anticipation for events that lay ahead.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Pte Jack’s diary also tells us about the sense of empathy he felt for his opponents; The Turk…has taught us to respect him for a fair and Brave fighter and a good bit better man than the fat faced Germans who are driving them on to our Trenches with their swords and revolvers. But we Bear Johnny Turk no malice for that.
Peter Jack emigrated to America in the 1920s, leaving his diary behind with his sister.
Click on the images below to see some of Private Jack’s diary entries.