Monthly Archives: December 2014

War Classics: Canadian service records and Daniel Gordon Campbell

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Canadian National Memorial at Vimy

Over 100,000 Canadian First World War service records have just been made available online. It was a thrill to discover that the Attestation Paper for Daniel Gordon Campbell is among them.

I discovered something of Gordon’s story as I carried out research for War Classics. When Christina visited Vimy Ridge in March 1919, she wrote:

My eyes had turned to the horizon again, to the heights that once were St Eloi. Someone I knew lay there, who had been a Canadian, and it was too far for me to go. I could only see the Ridge where he had been killed, and not the place where he lay. 

Putting together clues from Christina’s narrative with information preserved elsewhere in the family, I was able to confirm that the ‘Canadian’ of whom she was thinking was Daniel Gordon Campbell. He had grown up near the Keith family in Caithness, attending the Miller Institute and Edinburgh University, and by the time war broke out was a lawyer living in Canada, and was engaged to be married to Louise, Christina’s sister. Louise never recovered from his death, and kept scrapbooks filled with newspaper cuttings about the Canadian action at Vimy, letters of sympathy from friends, and information about his final resting place.

Gordon’s attestation paper, which you can see here, includes a physical description. He had dark brown hair, dark complexion and brown eyes. Most strikingly he was 6 ft 6 inches tall, which sheds new light on the fact that he represented Scotland at the high jump!

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From Louise’s scrapbook, photo of memorial to Canadian soldiers who fell at Vimy

Every fresh little detail makes these men real people. Gordon left no children to remember him, and I haven’t yet explored to see if there are any other family members who might have kept his memory alive. But thanks to Louise’s scrapbooks and Christina’s time in France, he hasn’t been forgotten.

 

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

 

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Game of Crowns: the 1715 Jacobite Rising

The handwritten order for the massacre of Glencoe

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-30394285

I was at the opening of this exhibition last night. It’s been created by the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, to mark three hundred years since the Jacobite Rising of 1715.

Many people have heard about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the events of 1745, but the 1715 Rising is less well known – yet it makes just as compelling a story. The star this time is not Bonnie Prince Charlie but his father James, known as James VIII and III by the Jacobites. James was born in 1688 into a world of complex family relationships, intrigue, rivalry and betrayal, which played out on an international scale. The exhibition traces his story, focussing on his unsuccessful attempt in 1715 to win back the crowns of Scotland and England. It displays some of the remarkable documents which survive from that time, including the secret orders for the massacre of Glencoe which are mentioned in the press release. It’s not all drama and violence though – you can even play a game of Top Trumps, scoring the characters for a range of attributes including length of wig!

I was fortunate enough to be at the opening because I was involved in researching and scriptwriting the various interactive elements of the exhibition. These include an interactive family tree and timeline,  and audio scripts which are spoken by key characters in the story – James, Queen Anne, George I etc. You can also listen to these on the National Library of Scotland website. I was working on this during the run up to the Independence Referendum, and it was impossible not to get goosebumps at the sense of history, and the connections between events 300 years ago and today. Professor Chris Whatley expanded on that theme as he spoke at the opening last night. Sheena Wellington, who gave an unforgettable performance of A man’s a man for a that at the opening of the Scottish parliament, sang Derwentwater’s Farewell last night, one of several Jacobite songs you can listen to in the exhibition.

Game of Crowns runs until next May. If you’re in Edinburgh, go along and have a look. It’s good to see some of the treasures held by our National Library, and together they tell a fascinating story. Towards the end of the exhibition you’ll see the baptismal certificate of James’ infant son Charles – better known today as Bonnie Prince Charlie. 1715 was not the end of the story….

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.