Book reveals Portobello role in Great War

Norah Torrance. Picture: Comp
Norah Torrance. Picture: Comp
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Touching letters written to a young woman by soldiers ­risking their lives in the Great War have been revealed for the first time.

The letters are included in a new book, Portobello and the Great War, written by historians Archie Foley and Margaret Munro.

Nora Torrance, above, and pictures of some of the soldiers she knew

Nora Torrance, above, and pictures of some of the soldiers she knew

It features genuine accounts of residents who lived through the conflict – including correspondence from Nora ­Torrance, who lived with her family at Mount Lodge at Windsor Place.

Her father William invited some of the soldiers billeted in the area, and sometimes convalescent soldiers, to spend time with him and his family. And Norah went on to marry one, Bert Cavaye, who penned letters to her.

The collection has been treasured by her family and Dorothy Kelly, Norah’s daughter, allowed them to be used in the book along with photographs and additional family information.

One letter from a Belgian soldier who convalesced with the Torrance family, and posted from the Belgian front on June 2, 1917, read: “Last night we were marching along happily to our rest place, when we heard a signal by trumpet and bugle, ‘On your Guard!’ It was the alarm for asphyxiating gas. An attack had been launched and there was nothing but cannon fire and explosions.” Archie said: “The letters are very touching in many cases. The idea for the book came about after we were given some letters and papers connected with World War II that had been discovered in the attic of a house which was to be sold.

“So we had the idea of trying to find out more about Portobello during the two world wars, but after we started our research we realised there was too much material being generated.”

During the First World War, Portobello was home to thousands of British troops, some of whom were billeted in a former pleasure garden and others in a chocolate factory.

Many residents lost their lives in the conflict and are now commemorated on memorials throughout the town.

Archie said: “We were very lucky to be able to speak to some elderly ladies whose fathers had been in the war and other people whose grandfathers had served.

“They provided us with lots of interesting snippets about how Portobello was affected during the war.

“And of course we were very fortunate to be given access to letters sent to Nora Torrance. She kept all her letters all her life and her daughter passed them to us as she wanted then to have much more exposure.

“They make fascinating reading, demonstrating the sufferings and ordeals brought by the war, but often they are very light-hearted.”

The book, which took 18 months to research, is the third book written by Archie and Margaret, who are directors of the Portobello Heritage Trust.

Margaret, 62, said: “There was a huge number of soldiers billeted in Portobello and many of them convalesced here – there will be lots of people who live in the Portobello area who will remember the people in the book.”

Social historian Ian Wood will launch the book at Portobello Old Parish Church Hall on Saturday, October 5, as part of the Portobello Book Festival.

dawn.morrison@edinburghnews.com