Scranalogue

Culture Heritage Learning

WW1 South African Native Labour Corps

7th November 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Original caption reads ‘At the window of one of their huts’

Amongst the many thousands of photographs from the National Library of Scotland to be found on Scran, there is a collection called Images of War. These were taken by official War Office photographers during World War One and form part of the Haig Papers. This astounding and often arresting war photography contains a small set of 21 images, which tells the story of the South African Native Labour Corps, referred to as the SANLC.

Some 20,000 South Africans worked in the SANLC and took part in World War One, however due to South Africa’s segregationist policy, black South Africans were restricted to non-combatant roles. The SANLC were discriminated against because of the racist attitudes of the period which meant that black South Africans were not enlisted as combat troops, but only in the Labour Corps. They laboured in the docks, in salvage, supply, burial and other non-military jobs. They were used as cheap manual labour but were denied the right to serve in the army or to be given any recognition of the role they played. In part this was due to the South African government’s fear of the native claims for land.

Labourers display shell damaged radiator to the camera

When the SANLC were recruited, the units tended to be organised on the basis of their homeland tribe or region. In part this was to avoid problems from traditional tribal feuds, but it also reflects the fear of the South African government that the different native groups would combine against the existing white rule.

Although the SANLC were not meant to be deployed in combat zones, there were inevitable deaths when the docks or transport lines on which they worked were bombed. The greatest tragedy was the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi on 21 February 1917, when 617 members of the SANLC were drowned in the English Channel. The SANLC had operated in the fight against the Germans in South West Africa since September 1916, but the Labour Corps for the Western Front was established and camps set up in 1917.

Original caption reads ‘Smiling and Warm’

The various Labour Corps included many non-European groups such as the South Africans (SANLC), Egyptians, Chinese, Cape Coloured and Indian Corps. They were not only restricted from contact with white Europeans but were also segregated into different racially-determined Corps. Unlike some of the other labour contingents, the SANLC were not awarded any medals after the war.

World War One saw the development of a system of ‘official’ reporting by professionals especially recruited into the forces. Several of the SANLC series of photographs have been attributed to photographers John Warwick Brooke and Ernest Brooks.

SANLC dancers performing a traditional war dance

Initially reluctant to allow cameras near the fighting, it took some time for authorities to appreciate the propaganda and recording potential of photography. The cheerful appearance of the SANLC men is possibly deliberate propaganda on the part of the photographer, to counterbalance the reports of strikes and unrest among the various nationalities of Labour Corps, when they felt their conditions were unreasonable, or their original contracts had been broken. These photographs provide us with an invaluable record of how the Government and Military wanted the war perceived. 

Images © National Library of Scotland Licensor Scran

 

 

Stained Glass at the Scottish National War Memorial

5th March 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Following on from the story of the creation of the Scottish National War Memorial in our previous post, Forthview Primary School P7s are going to be examining it’s interior when they visit.

The Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle houses a rich variety of artwork to honour & remember those who died in World War One.  When it was built, between 1923 & 1927, over 200 professional artists worked with the architect, Robert Lorimer, to create a suitable tribute.

Air Force window design 1924 by Douglas Strachan

The interior of the memorial expresses the tragic sense of loss felt by Scotland after WW1. Inside the building, there is a feeling of dignity, pride and a sense of peace. The artists and makers used different materials, including bronze, iron, wood, stone, paint as well as stained glassThe result is impressive.

The artworks are designed to pay respect to the individual Scots who died, both men and women in all their different roles. Animals are acknowledged too, in the much loved stone sculpture ‘Remember also those Humble Beasts‘ by Phyllis Bone.

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Certainly the most colourful element of the SNWM is the is the stained glass with light flooding in from outside. In the main Hall of Honour the windows provide a lot of information, if you look carefully. For example, there is imagery illustrating what life was like on the Home Front, such as the mobilising of troops at Waverley Station (pictured top).

At either end of the hall, there are windows dedicated to different military services; that is the army, the navy and the air force – land, sea & air. Other windows show the four seasons. Some of the windows have roundels illustrating the different jobs people did or technology used in the machinery of war.

The windows in the Shrine are different to those in the Hall of Honour. These seven windows tell a another story, they use Bible and Christian messages to describe the experience of the War. Therefore they look more familiar to many, perhaps like traditional church windows at first glance.

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The artist who made all of these stunning windows was Douglas Strachan (1875-1950). Strachan was born in Aberdeen and educated at Robert Gordon’s College. He took evening classes at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. He worked as an apprentice lithographer, a muralist, a portrait painter and then found a passion for working with stained glass. In 1909 he moved to Edinburgh to set up the crafts department of Edinburgh College of Art. He lived in Midlothian where he died in 1950. He worked on many other memorial windows, including a designs for the Peace Palace in The Hague installed in 1929.

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* To see more of the SNWM stained glass windows on Scran click here

Images © Canmore Historic Environment Scotland Licensor Scran 

 

Remembrance

8th November 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

105500077My Grandfather Dreams Twice of Flanders, is a poem based on an experience Ron Butlin had when he was around six years old. That was when he first noticed people wearing poppies, and he asked his mother why. She explained about war, and about death, neither of which made much sense.

Then she told him about his grandfather who had ironically died on the day peace was declared, after lying in hospitals for years with injuries sustained earlier in the war. As a child he had nightmares, and the poem is a sort of exorcism.

Ron Butlin was born in Edinburgh in 1949, but grew up in the countryside in the village of Hightae near Dumfries. He has been a computer operator, security guard, footman and model, as well as Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. He writes in English and Scots.02492954

 

 

Images: © Poppy Scotland (Eamonn McGoldrick), National Library of Scotland (Moving Image Archive)  & Newsquest (Herald & Times).

Licensor www.scran.ac.uk

The Battle of the Somme

29th June 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

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‘The Eve of the Battle of the Somme’ by Sir H.J.Gunn

The Battle of the Somme was a joint operation between French and British forces during World War One. It took place between July and November 1916 on either side of the River Somme, France. The plan was to bombard the German trenches for eight days before launching the offensive, thereby destroying German artillery and making it easy for allied troops to break through enemy lines. Unfortunately, the German trenches had concrete bunkers to shelter troops. This meant that when the advance began on 1st July, German artillery was able to slaughter the advancing troops. The first day of the Battle saw the worst casualties in the history of the British Army. Nearly 60,000 men were wounded and 20,000 men died.

 

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Royal Engineers clearing the way on the Somme

When the Great War started, the Allied army was still using tactics based on massed lines of soldiers and cavalry attacks, much like the tactics used at Culloden in 1746. Original plans for the Battle of the Somme included a final cavalry charge. This was cancelled after the slaughter of thousands of troops by the newly developed machine gun. Trenches were dug for the first time in this war and offered a degree of protection for soldiers . However, once a trench was breached, the defending soldiers would find themselves trapped in narrow gullies having to fight hand to hand using bayonets and rifles. Tanks were also used at Somme.

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Trench Map of the Beaumont-Hamel

 

The battle for Mametz Wood took place early on in the Somme offensive.
The 38th Welsh Division took heavy casualties as they advanced uphill towards German positions. They were successful in capturing the wood. The Battle of Ancre was the last stage of the Somme offensive and saw the destruction of the last German outposts near the allied trenches.

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Allied troops clearing German trenches

By the end of the offensive in the winter of 1916, the German and Allied armies suffered over one million casualties and neither side made any major gains.

Images © National Museums Scotland, Cloe Gunn via Bridgeman Art Library / Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, National Library of Scotland,  Licensor Scran

The Battle of Jutland

24th May 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

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Cartoon ‘Jutland – A Narrow Shave’

2016 is the centenary of the Battle of Jutland also called Battle of the Skagerrak. It was the only major confrontation between the British Navy and German High Seas Fleet during World War One.

In May 1916, the German High Seas Fleet under the command of the Vice Admiral Reinhard von Scheer, took to the seas intent on attacking allied shipping off the Norwegian coast. The German fleet comprised of 16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers and 61 torpedo boats.

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HMS Shannon

 

 

The British Navy in the North Sea was based in Rosyth, Cromarty and Scapa Flow. Here it could protect the central and northern areas of the North Sea and stop the German High Seas Fleet from getting into the Atlantic where it could cause huge problems for Britain’s merchant fleet.

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British Admiral Sir John Jellicoe

Admiral Scheer planned to avoid the bulk of the British Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. However, British Naval intelligence had broken the German naval code and was aware of Scheer’s plan. In response the British Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in Rosyth, left port to search for the enemy.

 

 

 

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North Sea Movements The British Grand Fleet 1914-18

 

 

On the 31st May at around 4pm British Fast Cruisers came into contact with the enemy off the coast of Denmark. The British came under heavy fire, losing three ships before the eventual arrival of the Admiral Jellicoe’s main fleet. On Jellicoe’s arrival Scheer ordered his ships to withdraw. Fearing he was being led into a trap, Jellicoe ordered his fleet not to pursue. The British instead headed Southeast with the intention of cutting off the enemy as it turned to return to port. Scheer anticipated the British plan and under the cover of darkness broke through the rear of the Grand Fleet and successfully returned to port.

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Both sides declared the encounter a victory. The German Navy inflicted significantly more damage on the Royal Navy, sinking 14 ships with casualties numbering 6,094. In comparison the German Navy lost 11 smaller ships with 2,551 causalities. The German fleet had failed to deal a decisive blow to the British. Admiral Jellicoe was heavily criticised for failing to capitalise on the German retreat. He was able to claim the strategic victory. The German Navy was no longer a threat, and remained in port for the duration of War.

 

Images © National Library of Scotland, Scottish Life Archive, Falkirk Museums, Orkney Islands Council Licensor Scran

Falkirk’s First World War

24th August 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

World War One memories of Falkirk people now available on Scran.

tape recorder

This three-part collection from Falkirk Archives has been digitised from original cassette tape recordings compiled for Falkirk Museum’s First World War exhibition held back in 1984.

Interviewees talk about life on the Home Front in Falkirk and away on the Western Front during the conflict. Women recall their roles working in local munitions factories and the attitudes of male workers in the factories to women at this time. There are recollections of the Suffragette Movement and when women gained the vote after the war. Men recall their experiences in the trenches during the conflict and remember the impact of The Armistice on those fighting at the Front. An interview with a female munitions worker in Falkirk during World War Two offers an interesting comparison.

Each Falkirk’s First World War interview comes with a summary with timecodes and a complete transcript.

Image © H L Foster

Welcome

21st August 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

Hot off the press, the Scranalogue has arrived. We are delighted to share what’s happening at Scran via our brand new blog. Keep up to date with new content arriving in our many collections, for example we’ve some great new oral histories about Falkirk during World War One.

See what we’re up to in the field trialling Kite Aerial Photography thanks to Scottish National Aerial Photography Scheme, SNAPS

Meet us in person, we’ll be busy exhibiting and supporting events throughout autumn 2015, starting with the Scottish Learning Festival quickly followed by Doors Open Day in Edinburgh.

Image © Scottish Maritime Museum. Wireless News from SS Athenia, 1933. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk