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

Fala and the Roosevelts: a mysterious connection

Having just started as the archives trainee for Midlothian Council Archives, I am lucky enough to have spent most of the first few weeks of my traineeship exploring the archives varied holdings. I have found a myriad of amazing things but none as surprising as a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt!


The letter was hidden amongst other correspondence in a file in our Fala and Soutra Collection. This collection was donated to us by Jean Blades (née Waterston), a keen local historian and the Fala, Soutra and District History and Heritage Society, an organisation Mrs Blades helped to establish. I was intrigued by how a letter from the first lady ended up in a local history collection about a small parish in Midlothian Scotland.

The letter was sent to Revered Daniel Blades, husband of Jean and minister for Fala and Soutra Parish by a G.C. Hunter. Hunter and Blades were corresponding about local families and the history of the Fala parish. Mr Hunter writes, “you probably read in the newspapers regarding Fala, the dog which for many years was the companion of the late president Roosevelt. I wrote to Mrs Roosevelt asking why her late husband called his dog Fala and I enclose her original reply date 22nd April.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala

I had never heard of Fala, the faithful canine companion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Fala was a favourite of the press and the public. He was called the most photographed dog in the world and stories about him and his antics often made it into the press. It was even alleged during the 1944 Presidential campaign that President Roosevelt once left Fala behind on a presidential trip and sent by a Navy ship to collect him, at the expense of the American tax payers. President Roosevelt responded to these accusations in humorous speech:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Eleanor and Fala

Fala outlived his beloved owner, passing away on April 7th 1952 only a few weeks before Eleanor penned her response to Hunter. It is likely that Fala’s death prompted Hunters curiosity about why the President seemed to have named his dog of after a small Midlothian town. Mrs Roosevelt’s reply is short but friendly. She explains that Fala’s full name was Murray of Fala Hill and he was named for an ancestor of her husband.

Hunter voices surprise that President Roosevelt had Scottish ancestors, but the President must have been proud of his Scottish connection to use the name for his beloved dog. Roosevelt’s great- great- great-grandfather on his mother’s side was James Murray, a Scot from Selkirkshire who moved to America in 1735; other sources claim Fala was named for an ancestor who was an outlaw. This could be John Murray of Fala Hill, from the Borders ballad ‘The Outlaw Murray’. Fala Hill sits just outside Midlothian in the Scottish borders, not that far from the parish of Fala and Soutra but also not far from Selkirkshire.  It is possible that James Murray was an ancestor of John Murray the Outlaw as they were from a similar part of Scotland, though Murray is a common Scottish surname. Perhaps President Roosevelt’s imagination was captured by the ballad of Outlaw Murrays daring deeds.

Roosevelt seems to have shared Revered Blades’ and G.C. Hunter’s interest in family history. Their shared passion resulted in this strange connection between a small local history collection and the President of the United States of America.

Olympics Fever!

This year, the 2016 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between 5 and 21 August – the first summer games ever to be held in South America. These international games, organised by the International Olympic Committee, occur every four years and were first held in Athens in 1896.  Out of the 18 countries that have hosted the Summer Olympics over the years, Great Britain has hosted the Games three times, the most recent being in London in 2012.

Origins of the Musselburgh Arrow, written in 1726

Origins of the Musselburgh Arrow, written in 1726

East Lothian itself has a long history of sporting tradition, most notably in terms of golf and

Royal Company of Archers, 30 July 1964

Royal Company of Archers, 30 July 1964

archery, which have been established for centuries. Others sports include bowling, curling, boxing and horse racing, to name but a few.  The county is home to the oldest sporting competition in the world, The Silver Musselburgh Arrow, the first arrow having being shot in 1603.  Every year since 1713, members of The Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard in Scotland, have shot for the Musselburgh Silver Arrow.  The existing trophy is a replacement for the Musselburgh Small Arrow and the sport of archery is still followed in the county.


East Lothian also claims what is thought to be the oldest golf club in the world and the oldest on which play has been continuous, Musselburgh Links. It is reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots herself played here in 1567.  Although St. Andrews is commonly thought to be the home of golf, East Lothian and, in particular, Musselburgh, certainly give St. Andrews a run for its money!  For instance, the rules of the Honourable Company of Golfers were drawn up in 1744, a good 10 years before any golf club at St. Andrews was established.  In 1829, a hole-cutter was acquired for Musselburgh Links Golf course which set the standard for the size of the putting hole used today.  Interestingly, there are also reports that the Musselburgh Fishwives played golf as early as 1791, long before it was a fashionable pastime for women.  Indeed, the world’s first recorded women’s tournament took place in Musselburgh in 1811.

Start of a race at Musselburgh Racecourse, c. 1985

Start of a race at Musselburgh Racecourse, c. 1985

Musselburgh, of course, is also well-known for its horse-racing and Musselburgh Racecourse is one of the town’s most famous attractions. Horse-racing has a long history in the town with The Royal Caledonian Hunt’s first races taking place in 1777.  The Racecourse forms part of Musselburgh Links which includes and was built around the golf course in 1816. Horse-racing has taken place at the Racecourse for 200 years and today boasts over 20 races a year, over both flat and jumps.

Members of Haddington Bowling Club, c. 1920

Members of Haddington Bowling Club, c. 1920

Another claim to fame comes in the form of Haddington Bowling Club, the oldest of its kind in Scotland. Haddington had its green in the 1660s, subsequently moving in 1749 to a site on the west bank of the River Tyne, near the Nungate Bridge.  The foundation of the Haddington Club in 1709 was considered by some to mark the beginnings of the modern sport.  The East Lothian Bowling Association was founded in 1883 when 11 clubs joined together to become founder members.  Lawn bowling has continued to remain a popular pastime and, over the years, a number of East Lothian bowlers have competed at various levels, most notably perhaps, Willie Wood.  Amongst his achievements are two Commonwealth Games gold medals, two World Bowls Championship runner-up medals, as well as a 2007 induction into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

East Lothian has produced more than its fair share of champion sportspersons, including golfers, footballers, rugby players and numerous other athletes. Catriona Matthews, who learned to play golf on the Children’s Course and North Berwick West Links, is due to compete in the forthcoming games in Rio.  Let the countdown to Rio 2016 commence and good luck to all the competitors!

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Film Appreciation Club: collecting and collections

The Film Appreciation Club (FAC@JGC) will be having its third screening and discussion on Thursday, June 16th 2016. As part of the John Gray Centre’s audience development initiative, the theme for this screening, ‘Collections’, aims to promote a discussion and awareness about the role of Museum Collections and resources available  to everyone.  In particular this will be linking to the Whirrs, Cogs & Thingamabobs Exhibition which will be visiting the John Gray Centre for the summer.

Do you collect something? Coins? Theatre programmes? Fossils? Why do you collect it? There are a range of reasons we are motivated to collect. I know I keep (hoard? collect?) things that remind me of people and places I like or love. For others the motivation can be knowledge, pleasure, socialising, nostalgia, competition, investment, altruism or even control. The next question is why do museums collect things, or more specifically why do local or community museums collect things? I think it is all about memory and identity. What do you think?

Edwardian Wedding Dress 1911

Edwardian Wedding Dress 1911

The collection we have in East Lothian is varied and offers an insight into our shared history, culture and values at different levels. The collection can be used in different ways, to explore stories, historical and cultural themes, for learning, creativity, information and entertainment. Many items in the collection can be used to explore generic historical themes such as this beautiful Edwardian wedding dress, modest yet feminine, subtle yet embellished. Other items have a very specific local story with wider regional and national connections, such as these bricks made at Prestongrange.

Prestongrange bricks

Prestongrange bricks

It is interesting to explore how we have come to have this collection. The bulk of the items we hold have been given to us but some have been actively collected. Some of the items we hold are reflections of how towns and regions used to be governed and organised in the past, such as a provost’s chain and medal or robe. Similarly we have numerous paintings and photographs of local dignitaries. Other parts of the collection have been acquired as representative of organisations in the region such as regalia used by Friendly Societies. Some items come with or connect to wonderfully detailed stories or personal connections, such as school or military medals. We also have a number of collections (eggs, butterflies, bottles) that have been donated as a collection & are interesting both as objects and collections.

The film that we have selected for you is a modern look at how individuals and societies interact with each other and the collections that you find in a Museum. It is directed by an American film maker who has a keen eye for urban landscapes and this film brings together people from both sides of the Atlantic.  It is a gentle exploration of these topics with the concept of friendship at the heart of it, and how the past and the present interact.  It looks at how a Canadian woman who is visiting a sick relative is befriended by a security guard working at Vienna’s Art History Museum.  Through their eyes we see both the collections and modern Vienna.

There are lots of questions raised by this film including how we explore collections, what we can understand about the past and also how we are as people in our societies – including asking us to look at what we value.

We hope to see you next week when you can explore this with us.

P.S. Because of licensing and copyright restrictions, we are not permitted to announce the film titles that we are screening on our website and social media. The titles are, however, available in the promotional posters and the FAC@JGC 2016 brochure. These can be obtained at the John Gray Centre itself, in East Lothian Council libraries and museums across the county and several other public venues. Information can also be found on the events page of our website and on Facebook.


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All Smiles in the Archive

It is all smiles in the archive today, well Smiles – as in the family.

One of the most time consuming tasks that take place when we are closed to the public is the stock check, this involves going over materials assessing their condition and ensuring that everything is where it should be.  Local History was the target of the most recent check – with the work being done by our cheerful colleagues in Libraries, as they worked through the volumes  a few oddities were discovered.  And aren’t we glad that they were!

Smiles family bibleThe best discovery from this process was that what looked like just another Bible is in fact the family Bible for the Smiles family who lived in Haddington in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Their most famous son, Samuel Smiles (born 1812), went on to be a government reformer and to write a book entitled ‘Self Help’ which was described as ‘the bible of Victorian liberalism.’

His birth can be seen here in the list of other family events.

It was a common practice for families to record Births, Marriages and Deaths in the front of their bibles as it served as a reference point for the family to show how the family changed over time and how it has been passed down through the generations.

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