Ink and Valour: Stories from the Frontline

The museum has a vast collection of newspaper articles about the soldiers of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders that date all the way back to the 19th century. Newspaper articles are very useful sources for research because they often give a lot of information about individuals and events. There are currently very few newspaper articles on display in the museum due to conservation reasons. This blog looks at some examples that were published during four periods including the Boer War, World War One, World War Two, and the Korean War.

Newspaper article reporting on the death of Private Alexander Carlyle during the Second Boer War 1900
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Newspapers were often used to report on the status of soldiers during times of war. For instance, the above image is a newspaper article from the 12th of January 1900 that reports the death of Private Alexander Carlyle at the battle of Magersfontein during the Second Boer War. Although the article is short, it actually tells us some useful information about Carlyle that allows us to accurately trace who he was and where he came from. It tells us that Private Carlyle, “…was second son of Mr R. Carlyle, coal merchant, Dumfries, and was 25 years of age.” When a solider has a common last name, it can be hard to identify exactly who he was and so including the names of the soldier’s parents is useful for identity purposes. It also includes a sketched portrait of Carlyle. At the time of the Boer War, photographs were a new technology and expensive, and so, sketches were more common.

‘Letters from the Front’ article, by Tom Clayton
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Newspapers occasionally published personal letters from soldiers serving at the front. For instance, the above image is a copy of a letter from Tom Clayton of D Company, 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, written on Christmas Day to his sister. Tom wrote this letter when he was based at Modder River Camp, and it explains his experience so far. He wrote that, “This is the worst Christmas Day I have spent. We got no pudding or anything else extra; it is the same as any other day.” He explains that the soldiers are still “waiting for the Queen’s chocolate. People are offering £5 for the box without the chocolate.” The Queen Victoria gift box was sent as a New Years gift to the British troops serving in the Boer War in 1900 and contained two bars of chocolate – see the previous blog post on the museums food-based collection for more details. Tom also writes that, “It is no play fighting with the bullets whizzing round us; it made me tremble at first…I had some very narrow escapes… It is horrible; poor fellows dropping all round you.” He asks his sister to send him information on the two battles that he fought in including Modder River and Magersfontein because “…we hear nothing at all here”. This published letter, and others like it, helps researchers to piece together historic events as well as the feelings and daily lives of soldiers at the front lines.

Article reporting the death of Private William Beatts during WW1.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum.

One of the more common types of article in the collection is unfortunately reports on the death of soldiers – particularly during the World Wars. The mass number of preserved KIA (killed in action) articles that the museum holds reflects the high mortality rate as over 1.2 million British military personnel were killed during the First and Second World Wars (this is the number acknowledge by the UK Government). The above article reports the death of Private William Beatts, 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, on the 13th of October 1918. Sadly, Beatts was “…wounded four times, gassed once, and had also suffered from trench fever” before he was killed instantly “…by an enemy sniper during an advance on the village of Lieu-Stamand”. Publishing reports on the death of soldiers in local newspapers allowed for families, friends, and towns to hear about the passing of their loved ones since newspapers were the main sources of information at the time. It also allowed for soldiers to be commemorated as their bravery and sacrifice was shared for the country to read about. It also serves as a great research tool since so many WW1 records were destroyed during the Blitz in WW2.

Article reporting that Private Edward Blackwood had returned from a German prison camp during WW2.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Some articles, however, have positive stories, such as the above article that reports on the safe return of Private Edward Blackwood who was held as a POW (prisoner of war) for five years in Germany during WW2. This article gives us an insight into life as a POW as it states that Blackwood, “…worked in a salt mine for a time, and he played for his team, ‘Wolverhampton Wanderers’, who were the camp champions”. It also reveals that the camp held concerts as he “was in demand as a singer”. It explains that Blackwood’s, “…last days as a prisoner were spend in a 400-mile march, which has been termed the death march.” before his return home to Menstrie

Operation Haggis’ article from the Korean War.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Our final newspaper article is a fun one from the Korean War. 1180lb of Haggis was airlifted to The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for New Years, known as ‘Operation Haggis’. The article quotes an Officer who stated: “We will be particularly pleased to have the English with us so that they can see how this thing is done properly”. The soldiers also played a game of football on New Years Day in fancy dress!

We would like to give a special thanks to some of our placements who have been working on these newspaper lists recently. Owain assisted with making a digital list of all the Argyll soldiers who appear in the articles, from the Boer War to the Korean War, which was over 3,500 individuals. These digital lists will make pulling up these individuals’ articles much quicker. Additionally, if these lists were ever lost, the museum now have a digital record. Ellie has collated a Palestine/Cyprus folder for the curator which means these articles are now being stored correctly. She then went on to make a physical and digital list of the Argylls mentioned in these articles – again, making research queries easier. A big thank you to both of them for their time, effort and dedication to their projects.

Written by Caitlin Stewart, Digital Content Volunteer