Archives tell how Edinburgh backed war effort

It is a story of ingenuity and fortitude that is being widely told for the first time - how the ordinary people of one city helped win a war.

A new online archive of Edinburgh’s contribution to the First World War effort has been developed at the University.

It includes a host of surprising and inspiring stories - most of which are being told for the first time.

Video report

Yvonne McEwen, of the University's Centre for the Study of The Two World Wars talks about compiling the archive.

Inspiring stories

The initiative includes accounts of:

  • Domestic science teachers from James Gillespie’s School teaching soldiers how to cook.
  • Serbian Refugee boys being educated at George Heriot’s School
  • Girl Guides helping M15

The archive also documents the visit of Canadian Expeditionary Force soldiers from the Six Nations Reservation in Canada led by Chief Clear Sky, who requested part of their duty took place in Scotland.

The delegation were so impressed by the hospitality shown to them by the people of Edinburgh that they raised money for the Red Cross in Scotland and sent money to build veterans homes.

Other highlights include accounts of the sacrifices made by the city’s sports clubs, including its rugby teams and the footballers of Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian.

The Port of Leith’s significant contribution is also highlighted, as is the role played by the city’s six hospitals for war wounded.

Access the archive

You can access the archive online.

Edinburgh's War 1914-1918

Roll of Honour

A key part of the project is the drawing up a full roll of honour for the city’s war dead. The Royal Scots, the city of Edinburgh’s regiment, lost 10,000 men.

It is hoped that the use of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database; newspapers and memorials from churches, schools, clubs and businesses will help to create an accurate roll.

In pictures

Recruitment in Edinburgh
Fund raising poster to encourage the public to buy war bonds and raise money to manufacture tanks.
King George V meeting disabled veterans at the opening of Earl Haig Gardens where homes were built for ex-servicemen
An ambulance donated by Fettes College and Loretto School
Convalescing soldiers and ward pet at Hopetoun House Red Cross War Hospital
Men of the 16th Royal Scots in France with one of the footballs sent out by Heart of Midlothian Football Club

Compiling the archive

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have been working with Edinburgh City Libraries, historians and community groups to compile the archive.

Businesses, clubs and voluntary organisations have made their records available for inclusion in the archive.

The University plans to expand the archive to cover other cities in Scotland in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World.

There has been a phenomenal response to this project so far with many of Edinburgh’s major institutions opening their archives for the first time. What has emerged are some fascinating untold stories. We are hoping that more organisations will come forward so we can continue to build this picture of the Edinburgh, Leith and the Lothians during World War One.

Yvonne McEwenHonorary Fellow, Centre for the Study of The Two World Wars