First World War stories told at exhibition

Private Harold Brierley survived when he was hit by a bullet thanks to loose change in his pocket. Picture: National Museums

Private Harold Brierley survived when he was hit by a bullet thanks to loose change in his pocket. Picture: National Museums

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Stories of men and women caught up in the First World War are being told at a new exhibition which opened in the Capital today.

Among the items on display are a leather purse containing coins which saved the life of one soldier and a portable communion set used in the battlefield by an army chaplain.

The free exhibition, at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, focuses on the experience of Scots who had settled in other parts of the world, including south of the Border, but joined up to serve in Scottish contingents.

Private Harold Brierley, 15th Battalion Royal Scots, survived when he was hit by a bullet during the Battle of Arras in 1917 – thanks to the purse and loose change he was carrying in his pocket, which appear to have taken the force of the bullet.

Lumps of lead are fused to the surface of the French coins, which have been bent and twisted by the impact.

Pte Brierley had enlisted in Manchester in a contingent known as the “Manchester Scottish” and was then dispatched to Edinburgh Castle, spending the winter of 1914-15 in barrack rooms in the Castle, training, marching and attending church at St Giles’ Cathedral.

Before they left the Capital, he and his comrades received a gift of a pocket New Testament from Edinburgh Corporation – now the city council – embossed with the city crest.

The Rev DC Lusk took over as acting chaplain to 1st Battalion London Scottish in August 1916, while the Battle of the Somme was still raging. The communion set he used while in the thick of battle is one the exhibits.

Rev Lusk had joined up in Oxford and after the war and resumed his work as a chaplain at the university there. But he remained chaplain to the London Scottish for several years. And in 1933 he became minister of Wester Coates parish in Edinburgh, from which he retired in 1946. He stayed on in the Capital until his death in 1960.

Dr Stuart Allan, the museum’s principal curator of Scottish late modern collections, said: “The exhibition is about the Scottish diaspora and about migration. People think about that and think of Canada and Australia but the place where most people went was south of the Border.

“There were already two Scottish regiments in London and Liverpool but when the call came more were formed. For example there was a huge one in Newcastle called the Tyneside Scots who had four battalions and more than 4400 men volunteered.

“They tried to do something in Manchester and in the end they came up with 500 recruits but that was not enough to form a battalion so they were joined with the City of Edinburgh battalion.”

• Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War runs until October 12