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

Film Appreciation – Memory and Remembrance

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today”


The final film screening and discussion by our Film Appreciation Club (FAC@JGC) will be held on Thursday, November 24th, 2016 in the Star Room. As November is usually the month to commemorate those who have fallen in war times, we thought it appropriate to screen a war themed film.

Our film this time is based on historical facts and is by an acclaimed Polish director whose films reflected his country’s turbulent history. He has won the Palme D’Or and an Oscar for lifetime achievement but sadly passed away last month. Polish cinema burst upon the world in the 1950s with his war trilogy, making this filmmaker the voice of disaffected post-war youth. He also fought communist censorship and truth-denying propaganda to produce formidable, patriotic films that illuminated Poland’s troubled past, which critics believe helped steer its history.

Nurses on the warfront

Nurses on the warfront

Many films made during the war were made for propaganda means. They were effective in stirring up patriotic feelings and a mindset of a group effort rather than individual wants and needs. World War I was the first to be fought before the motion picture camera. In the field, reconnaissance became airborne and cinematic; at home, propaganda leapt from the page to the screen. The effects were so far-reaching, argues Paul Virilio in his often-cited book War and Cinema, that the war zone itself may be thought of as a kind of film. On the front, perceptions became accelerated, discontinuous, mechanized, as if the soldiers’ eyes had turned into cameras. From this condition, there was to be no release. After 1918, cinema’s shock techniques continued wartime perception by other means.

World War I, which changed everything, had film as one of its main tools of transformation. The soldier’s sense of being hurtled through abrupt changes in landscape, as seen from strange and shifting viewpoints, finds stunning formal expression on film. This visual violence is meant to stimulate the mind as much as the eye. The war also changed the conditions of filmmaking in France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Yet the great victor of World War I in cinema, as in all else, was of course the United States. Alone among the combatants, America emerged with its society and economy intact. One immediate consequence was Hollywood’s domination of screens around the world. To a remarkable degree, today’s film industry retains the shape it was given by both World War I and World War II.

Thistle Day poster

Thistle Day poster

Apart from the many war literature in the Haddington Library, the John Gray Centre Archive & Local History collection also contains a variety of war related records ranging from photographs and databases to film. The Museum Service also holds various war related objects from costumes to loan boxes for schools and reminiscence groups. These can be accessed by members of the public during opening hours or by contacting the relevant teams via the contact details available on our website.

Licensing and copyright restrictions prevents my blog from announcing the film title on our website and social media. The selected film, however, has been made known through promotional posters and the FAC 2016 brochure which are available at the John Gray Centre itself, libraries and museums across East Lothian and several other public venues. So do come and join us for an evening of visual pleasures and vibrant conversation. Screenings are open to non-members of the club for a donation of £3 towards costs. And if you are interested in becoming a member of the Club in 2017, please email history@eastlothian.gov.uk or telephone Haddington Library, or Archive & Local History or even the Museum for assistance. Details of the Film Appreciation Club programme for 2017 will be available on our website in January and it will prove to be an exciting one.


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Surveying up a Storm: War and Peace at Broad Sands!

IMG_2246At the end of January, just as Storm Gertrude was gearing up to sweep across the shores of East Lothian, so an intrepid team from the East Lothian Council Archaeology Service was gearing up to do the same!

After health & safety concerns were raised regarding several wooden posts noted in the intertidal zone down at Broad Sands, the Archaeology Service was contacted by East Lothian Council’s Landscape and Countryside prior to any work on the posts being undertaken, in case they were of archaeological interest.  So that is how, on a dismal day at low tide (the morning of the 26th to be precise), Andy and myself could be found all togged up, and, amidst a few courageous dog-walkers, making our way through the Yellow Craig Plantation and down onto the wind-swept and rain scoured beach at Broad Sands.  Under the cover of something occasionally resembling sunshine, and propelled by gusting winds, us archaeologists surveyed several archaeological features as we staggered, wobbled (and sometimes managed to walk) across the Sands.IMG_2262

Despite the weather we left with big smiles on our faces (as well as rosy cheeks and steamed up glasses), as the survey produced some really fantastic and unexpected results! The ‘wooden posts’ turned out to be two large linear fish traps, comprised of a series of wooden stakes set into the sand, some just barely visible!  Excitingly, the shape and alignments of both traps could be seen against the stunning backdrops of North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock.


As if that wasn’t enough, interspersed amongst the fish traps, and located further westwards along the beach, were several larger wooden posts and sections of barnacle-covered large drain pipe filled with concrete.  These features appear to be part of the WWI or WWII coastal defence system, and at least some appear to be aligned on the nearby WWI Pillbox, nestled in the dunes bordering Broad Sands.   IMG_2236

The date of the fish traps is unknown – the morphology and materials used to make such fish traps has changed little since medieval times. Either way, both the traps and the wartime defence features make a great addition to our knowledge of East Lothian’s coastal archaeology, and give us an insight into daily life and local practices in both war and peacetime.  Not bad for a Tuesday morning in January!

More info can be found on the HER!

Our interpretive survey map of the posts!

Our interpretive survey map of the posts!







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