First World War memorabilia appeal

Banchory British Legion Chair Alistair Black with his Grandfather's First World War citation.
Banchory British Legion Chair Alistair Black with his Grandfather's First World War citation.

Residents in Deeside and Donside are being urged to bring along any artefacts or memorabilia they may have from the First World War.

The appeal comes as part of a nation-wide campaign from local history organisations in the lead up to the conflict’s centenary commemoration in 2014.

Members of the public are invited to bring along anything from the period to Cowdray Hall, Aberdeen between 2pm and 4pm on Saturday (October 27), to be looked at by experts from Aberdeen City Council.

Fiona Musk, archivist, at the City Council said: “The First World War is rapidly vanishing from living memory, and by having this enquiry day we are hoping to see what items people have, hear the stories behind them thus keeping the memory of those who served, lived and worked throughout the campaign alive.”

The Great War, as it was known, lasted from 1914 until an armistice was signed on the November 11, 1918.

The conflict is remembered for it’s brutal trench warfare; estimates of total casualties range from 9 million to over 15 million.

Every family in the United Kingdom was affected as nearly one million British men died on the battlefields, in the air or at sea.

It is the greatest loss of life suffered by the British military in any war.

Alistair Black, chairman of the Banchory branch of The Royal British Legion, says both his grandfathers fought and survived the war.

Alistair himself retired from the Army in 1989 and served in Germany and Libya.

He said: “I left the Army in ‘89 and tried to find some information on my grandfathers as I knew they had both fought in the Great War. My granddad Simpson was originally from Dufftown. After he returned from the war he wanted to move to Canada but my grandmother, Margaret Black, didn’t want to go with him and married another man. He died out in Vancouver when he was just 42.”

“He was mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for taking on a German machine gun nest single handedly.”

The citation says Corporal Simpson of the Royal Horse Artillery was mentioned in a Dispatch from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig dated 7 April 1918 “for gallant and distinguished services in the field.”

In an incredible coincidence Alistair’s other grandfather had a very similar story.

“Funnily enough, my other granddad Davidson was also awarded a DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) for taking out a German machine gun nest single handedly.

He died in Inchmarlo in about ‘51 or ‘52.”

Alistair’s grandfathers were lucky to have survived as war memorials in every town and village poignantly demonstrate.

Private Crichton from Banchory of the 4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders was cut down by machine gun fire when he was only 18,. He is commemorated at the Wytschaete military cemetarty in Belgium.

Another, Corporal Gordon Douglas of Inchmarlo was 22 when he died in the Battle of the Somme and is listed amongst the names at the Thiepval Memorial.

Curator of Banchory Museum Anne Lamb said the memorials were “vitally important”:

“The point (of the centenary commemorations) is that so many of these boys didn’t come home, that’s why memorials are so vitally important lest we forget.”

“The war wasn’t something really talked about when the men got home so stories will be forgotten unless we archive them.”

The need to archive memories is all the more acute after the death of the last surviving Great War veteran Harry Patch in 2009.

Patch famously described the trenches as “nothing more than legalised murder.”

Curator of Aberdeen’s Gordon Highlander Museum, Jesper Ericsson, said: “The First World War is disappearing ever further into the background of people’s lives.

Since Harry Patch died we have no direct link to those time so people with any stories passed down are needed to build up a full picture of how it happened.”

“It will eternally captivate us because the war seems so alien to our modern minds; the way casualties were accepted, the means used and the violence.

It remains one of the major events of the 20th Century.”