Thursday, 24 April 2014

Records of remembrance

This week, staff from across the archives in the Centre for Research Collections got together to discuss the upcoming centenary of the First World War. We discovered traces of the war in collections across the University, from the memories of animal geneticist Professor Francis Crew held by the Towards Dolly project to the experiences of students preserved in the Edinburgh College of Art archives.

As we thought about items in our own collections, I remembered my first experiences at LHSA in 2009, when I came as a volunteer to catalogue the papers of Amelia Nyasa Laws (1899-1977), an osteopath who spent the last years of her life practising in Edinburgh and whose father, Dr Robert Laws (1851-1934), was the leader of the Free Church of Scotland’s Livingstonia mission in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Amelia was born in on lake Nyasa and from then on led a varied and well-travelled existence, and in 1916 became a masseuse in a French field hospital. You can see a picture of her here.

Amongst her papers was this catalogue for artificial limbs, which she may have acquired as a result of her war work or in dealing with the war’s aftermath when she came home to Scotland:

GD18\8\1: Catalogue of artificial limbs from the Surgical Requisites Association c. 1914-1918
On account of the centenary events, we have been receiving quite a number of enquiries based on Edinburgh’s experiences of the First World War. Some of these queries are centred on the 2nd Scottish General Hospital, Craigleith, a former poorhouse adapted for use in wartime as a hospital. Although we have relatively few records on the institution in this period, those that we do hold are fascinating, including editions of the hospital magazine, the Craigleith Chronicle. There is one edition of the Chronicle available on our website, here.

GD28\6\3 Pages from the Craigleith Chronicle 1916
Other enquiries we have been receiving centre on Edenhall Hostel for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, an institution originally founded in 1915 in Kelso in order to care for soldiers who had lost limbs in combat and to teach them how to use the artificial limbs that were made for them. On account of a shortage of beds at Kelso, the institution was moved to Pinkieburn, Musselburgh, in 1917. However, apart from a few photographs of interiors, we have relatively few original records from the early years of the Hostel at Pinkieburn, and we have been speaking to colleagues at Musselburgh Museum to help fill some of the gaps in our knowledge.

So if you can also help to tell us more about the early history of the institution (or even have some early records or photographs), do let us know! To jog your memory, Su Leslie has written a fascinating blog post on her own family connection with Edenhall here.

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