War scrapbooks created for child found in library

Clare Padgett in the Central Library in George IV Bridge with the two First World War scrapbooks. Picture: Greg Macvean

Clare Padgett in the Central Library in George IV Bridge with the two First World War scrapbooks. Picture: Greg Macvean

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THEY are the forgotten scrapbooks revealing one father’s bid to relate the horror of international conflict to his toddler son.

Staff at Central Library have discovered a secret collection of photos, letters and newspaper cuttings dedicated to a three-year-old boy living in Glengyle Terrace, near the Meadows, during the First World War.

Containing rare items such as postcards from the front, ration books and official public notices instructing residents to 
conserve resources, the objects provide colourful snapshots of key moments in the war’s history.

They were gathered by former Scottish Widows director James Alan Thomson on behalf of his young son, Thomas Davidson Thomson, who went on to become a district commissioner in Malawi.

Inspired by the find – which was made randomly while they were rummaging through shelves – Central Library experts embarked on a search for the toddler’s living relatives.

Eventually, they tracked down the boy’s son, David James Davidson Thomson, 66, who is based in the Netherlands and runs a foundation set up to oversee commercial projects in the developing world.

Mr Thomson said he was overjoyed to be contacted about his late father and delighted that the family scrapbooks had been made available to residents in the Capital.

He said: “It was a very pleasant surprise – and also gave me a great deal of pride in the fact that so much attention was paid to these books and the fact they were treasured and kept safely.

“My father would have been the one who gifted the scrapbook to the library, because he gifted other items to institutions in Edinburgh.

“He was typically a man who, if there was historical or educational information he believed could be used by others, would rather it was donated, so it can be seen by the public.

“I think that if he were to hear about this discovery, he would probably be jumping out of his grave with happiness.”

Staff at the library have revealed that the first scrapbook contains objects illustrating how life on the home front began to change following the outbreak of war in 1914.

Items include a letter sent “on his Majesty’s service” and appealing for the “immediate help of every man, woman and child – to reduce the consumption of bread”.

In the second book, ration slips, a meat card and a fresh egg collection permit underline the war’s devastating social impact.

And a picture of bomb damage at George Watson’s Boys’ College provides a dramatic example of how civilian communities were directly affected by military action.

The scrapbooks have now been digitised and can be viewed at the city’s Capital Collections website.

Clare Padgett – a staff member at Central Library who found the books and helped track down Mr Thomson – said the items provided a comprehensive and intimate insight into an Edinburgh family’s experience of the First World War.

She said: “The scrapbooks take us from the outset of war as reported in newspaper cuttings, to the very end and the surrender of the German fleet in the Forth.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com