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

Don’t forget your toothbrush or social media for museums!

Of all the facts I learned in a very insightful day at ‘Connect 4: East Lothian Council’s 8th Annual Tourism Conference’, the one that has stayed with me is this:  more people in the world today own a mobile device than own a toothbrush.

Tourism Conference bannerAs I entered the Brunton Theatre that day, clutching my notebook, I thought I was doing well embracing digital channels.  I thought I understood the impact of communicating with our visitors through social media.  I learned very quickly that I had barely scratched the surface! With 70% of visitors using websites to plan their visit, Tripadvisor alone being used by 60% , and 65% using Smartphone technology to find their way around when here, I realised we need to be on top of this if we really want to reach as many visitors as possible.

As Steve Tassell, Head of Business to Business Marketing at Microsoft UK told us (yes I am name dropping!)’ if you’re not in the conversation, people will be talking about you anyway!’ In 2016 it’s not enough to have a website; the website needs to be mobile friendly.  Pictures work much better than text on social media posts, and use every opportunity you have to drive visitors on to your website so they get to understand everything you have to offer, not just the 140 characters you are tweeting.

Tamara Lohan, Chief Technology Officer at the aspirational hotel listing brand Mr & Mrs Smith, talked about how they are no longer printing paper copies of their hotel guides, but have moved the entire operation online. Tamara also discussed the difficulty of converting online ‘likes’ and followers into actual customers. I was heartened that those who are seen to be at the top of their digital game don’t have an answer to this, but those ‘likes’ and followers all show potential visitors who are aware of what you are doing, which can only be a good thing surely!

asset_f_logo_lgSo, are we doing anything different in the wake of all this digital enthusiasm?  Well, East Lothian Museum Service now has Facebook pages for each of our core Museums, including brand new ones for John Muir’s Birthplace and Dunbar Town House Museum and Gallery in addition to the John Gray Centre and Prestongrange Museum pages already in existence, not forgetting our original East Lothian Council Museum Service page. Now we can take advantage of the fact that we have different audiences for each of our venues and direct information to those who will benefit most, however we can also attract new audiences by announcing events and exhibitions across all sites.  twitterWe also have Twitter accounts for most of the museums, @JM_Birthplace, @DunbarTownHouse, @JohnGrayCentre and @ELMuseumService, which are really useful for taking part in conversations with visitors, supporters and colleagues at other institutions.

We invite you, our ‘digital fans’, (yes, quoting Microsoft again) to not just ‘like’ our pages, but to use them to tell us about yourselves, what exhibitions and events you have enjoyed or would you like to see.  We want to have a conversation with you and not just broadcast to you.

Now, there’s my phone but where’s my toothbrush…..

Tracy Robertson, Visitor Services Officer (East)

The post Don’t forget your toothbrush or social media for museums! appeared first on John Gray Centre.


8 peterjackAs part of the First World War centenary, West Lothian Council Archives has created a real-time historical twitter feed which will offer a unique insight into life in West Lothian during the First World War. The twitter feed was launched on the official centenary of the start of the war and will run for 4 years with the project end coinciding with the end of the war on the Western Front in 1918. The tweets will be based on local newspaper coverage and records from the council’s archives.

In 2015, followers will be given a chance to glimpse beyond the home-front experience as the tweets draw in entries from Private Peter Jack’s diary which was penned in 1915-1916.

Follow @WW1WestLothian and learn about West Lothian’s war-time experience in real-time.


Would you like to help West Lothian Council Archives in its work of preserving and enabling access to its historic collections?  Anyone with spare-time and an interest in history or considering a career in the archives profession can volunteer in the Archives and Records Centre.

Volunteering provides an opportunity to work within a small friendly team, to use existing skills and learn new ones.  It offers a unique perspective of archives and allows you to get up close and personal with historical documents and photographs.

Volunteers can assist in a variety of projects such as cleaning, sorting, listing and re-housing records, or help in the digitisation of some of the thousands of photographs and negatives held in the archives.  Recent volunteers have been listing estate papers and the records of the Soroptimist Club of West Lothian; assisted with putting together exhibitions and promotional material for Livingston 50; and digitising negatives from the Bob Wallace collection and hundreds of LDC photographs.

The Archives has been awarded funding from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives to catalogue our Livingston collections. The funding award recognises these collections as being of national and international significance and the project coincides with the 50th anniversary of the new town.  Entitled “Livingston New Town, from Plan to Community, 1962-2012”, the project will involve cataloguing and preserving the records of Livingston Development Corporation; local Community Councils; Craigsfarm Community Centre; the Livingston Players; Tam Dalyell, MP; and the Reverend Dr. James Maitland.  The project archivist will begin work on the 18 month project in July and there will be opportunities for volunteers to work on a number of different tasks and types of record.  If you are interested in helping in this exciting project then please contact us by the end of July.

We also offer week-long work placements to local school pupils throughout the year, through the West Lothian work experience programme.  The pupils are shown all aspects of the work carried out at ARC and are given small pieces of digitisation, preservation and indexing work to complete.  We also encourage them (and our volunteers) to write blogs about their experience!

We consider all requests for voluntary placements or work experience, we provide basic training, and work with volunteers to develop an interesting and varied programme of work.  If you are interested in volunteering some of your time please feel free to contact or visit the Archives and Records Centre.

Surfing the New Wave

This is blog written by Stephen Thomas. It has come to the point where we here at West Lothian Council Archive could not, nay dared not, ignore the growing wave of new and exciting ways to put oneself about. These so called Social Media Sites; where information about this and that can be Uploaded to be Downloaded to be Embedded, Shared, Edited, Trolled, Commented upon, Torrented and Uploaded again in the time it takes someone of my technological knowledge to work out how to attach a file to an email.

Bearing those limitations in mind we approached, with some trepidation, the bright and shiny new worlds of Twitter, Blogger, Twitpic, Flickr, YFrog, Hootsuite and Facebook. I am man enough to admit that there were tears, oh yes. Frustrations, rending of hair, slack jawed incomprehension and even the odd curse upon the Gods of technology and all their devious ways.

But as you are no doubt aware people who work in archives are patience and perseverance personified; they will happily wait for moss to grow on a stone so as to have a comfy seat. So, given time and restorative cups that cheer, the new media mountain was climbed and conquered.

Here are the fruits of our labour: 


News, views, happenings and upcoming events. The blog is still very much in its infancy and not updated as regularly as one would like, but it’s getting there.


Various twitterings about projects as they happen. 


Tweets as if from Councillor Alexander Smith, the Poor Law Inspector for the Parish of West Calder around 1896. Some license is used in regard to his thoughts on matters, but the information regarding names, dates and outcomes are all accurate. 


 Our Flickr site where we upload pictures from projects and other more leftfield images taken around the archive.


We also have a Facebook page; just search for the group West Lothian Council Archive. 

Coming Soon – The blog of Private Peter Jack of Blackridge of the Lanarkshire Yeomanary charting a tour of duty from 1915-1916 which took him firstly to the Gallipoli Penninsula and later to Egypt.