Archives shine light on Scottish WWI prisoners of war

LONGING to see his wife again, Private Andrew Clingan doodled her name next to words of affection in his diary during his time interned in a German prisoner of war camp.

Wednesday, 24th October 2018, 6:00 am
Lt Ian Hamilton with French and Russian friends at Burg-bei-Magdeburg Camp, 1916.

Now his dog-eared diary and the tales it holds is one of around 40 personal items on display in a new exhibition, For You the War is Over, at the National Records of Scotland.

Letters, photographs and recordings of prisoner’s testimonies will give unprecedented access to the stories of Scottish soldiers captured during the First World War.

For curator Dr Tristram Clark, the exhibition humanises men who were often derided for not fighting on the front line. He said: “Because the stories of prisoners of war (POW) are so often overlooked [it can be forgotten] that they fought on the western front too but were captured and some experienced cruelty and violence.

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“The exhibition gives a different perspective to the wartime reception some POWs received on going home. Some officers believed they had a slightly easier time but the fact was they didn’t have a great time at all.”

The items are all of historical importance, documenting escape efforts, close friendships and privations suffered at the hands of the enemy.

Private Clingan, of the Royal Scots, is one of four men from across Scotland whose private papers were shared by families to shed light on life as a POW.

Lt Ian Hamilton, of the Gordon Highlanders, Lt Colin Campbell, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Lt Arthur Gallie, a Glasgow Yeomanry Officer, bring up the rear with their private archives. Lt Campbell, a “persistent escaper”, according to Dr Clark, built a tunnel out of the camp under walls and the banks of a river, allowing 19 officers to escape. He only maintained his freedom for ten days.

Lt Hamilton, who went on to become an architect, documented vivid descriptions of his friends in his diary and wrote of learning Russian in the camp.

Glasgow man Lt Gaillie, was from a wealthy family who fought bravely as an infantryman before being captured in 1918. Audio descriptions of his actions by his batman, or servant, are included in the exhibition.

But it is the diary of Private Clingan which records his months of captivity in 1918 that stand out for Dr Clark.

He said: “If one is looking at raw human experience, Andrew’s diary is very immediate. He records his own experience of missing his family. He repeatedly wrote his wife’s name and wrote love and kisses. You can see day by day how he was feeling.”

Private Clingan writes of fallen comrades and tells of his unconventional journey home in a famous general’s personal motor car.

The exhibition, which has been two years in the making, also includes items sent from worried families at home in Scotland to their loved ones at the mercy of the enemy.

Anne Slater, Chief Executive of NRS, said: “Our archivists have created a fascinating snapshot of life in the prison camps of World War One.”