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‘Our Little Holiday’ Glasgow Fair on the Western Front

By Kath Roper-Caldbeck,  University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections Volunteer

‘Glasgow Fair is on so I do not see why we out here should not have our little holiday as well.’

Daniel McFarlane, 13 July 1918, from the Western Front

 

DC179-2-1-4-12_Daniel McFarlane

DC179-2-1-4-12 Photograph of S/17857 Private (Later Lance Corporal) Daniel McFarlane, 7th Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, taken while on leave in Tain, Invernesshire in 1915.

 

As an Information Management and Preservation MSc student I have been volunteering at the University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections, working on a project enhancing existing catalogues.  One of the collections is that of Daniel McFarlane, a medical graduate of the University who fought in the First World War having joined the 7th battalion of the Cameron Highlanders in April 1915. The collection includes an extensive archive of around two hundred letters written to his mother and three sisters throughout the war, which cover his experiences from initial training in Inverness and Tain, to fighting in the trenches in France, and finally ending his war in Belgium where he was demobilized in 1919.

As we in Glasgow approach the time of the Fair holiday in July, a tradition that dates back to the 12th century, it seems appropriate to highlight a letter Daniel wrote to his sister Annie 100 years ago on 13th July 1918 where we can see this was not far from his thoughts. On the second page he mentions that the ‘Glasgow Fair is on so I do not see why we out here should not have our little holiday as well’. [1] He then proceeds to detail the recent company sports day that was held, which had gone very well for him:

‘We had company sports the other day & I got one or two events. I got first in the 220 yds race & was a member of the winning team in the relay race, I myself running in the last 220 yds & getting in first. I got second in the 100 yds, but feel confident I could have got first had the start been fairer. I also got third in the long jump, just going in for fun, & never having attempted it before.’ [2]

He does however mention that ‘So far we have had no prizes’ [3] and jokes that he had better stop these or be accused a cheat.

 

 

This letter has an optimistic tone, with the company at that time having moved away from the front. A minor complaint about a cut on his finger making it difficult to write is brushed aside as he writes ‘still what does that matter when we have no prospect of the trenches before us for some time.’ [4]

Daniel would have another six months to go before demobilization. In October he tells his mother about a close escape he had from some action, unlike the rest of his section:

‘You see they were going over the top just at the very hour I left them…I was extremely lucky. Nearly all my section got slightly wounded & all good soldiers every one.’ [5]

By this time rumours that the war was to end were circulating:

‘We are all frightfully alert as regards peace news just now & the feeling here is that it may come at any moment. The popular belief of us on this course is that we will see no more fighting as it will be over before we return… I expect everyone at home too will be on pins & needles as regards the news.’ [6]

Writing to his mother in December 1918 following the Armistice of 11 November, Daniel’s thoughts have turned to future life beyond the war.  He ask his mother to make enquiries on his behalf following reports he saw in the newspapers ‘that students were in the same position as men who had jobs awaiting them that is the men who would go first’ [7] potentially after Christmas.

 

 

 

01.Letter DC179-1-2-15-7 (pages1and4)

Daniel’s final letter from Belgium written on the 12th of January 1919, DC179/1/2/15/7.

 

By this time his section had moved from France to Belgium and indeed just after Christmas on the 13 Jan 1919 he got the good news, as relayed to his mother:

‘This, I hope, is the last letter I will write to you from Belgium… I received yesterday a call to the orderly room I guessed pretty well what the reason was… when I got to the orderly room I was informed that I was for demobilization. Yesterday I had my papers signed, today I see the C/O and tomorrow I expect to hike the homeward trail & very nice too. Do not be surprised then if I am some time on the road. Travelling is very slow…. The fastest part of the journey, according the letters from those already demobilized is from London to Glasgow’ [8]

He ends this letter by asking her to ‘hunt out the “civvies”!’ [9] That same year Daniel went on to study Medicine at Glasgow University, graduating in 1924.  He continued to practice medicine as a GP until he retired in 1966.

 

 


There are many more letters in the collection to explore, along with postcards, photographs, telegrams and official army correspondence. You can find the updated catalogue here: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/glaas/data/gb248-dc179

Read more WW1 related content on the University of Glasgow Library’s Blog:

‘Dear Mother, just a note to inform you that I have seen the war through safely’
by Kimberly Beasley.

The First World War and the University of Glasgow: The Participation of Students and Staff by Nichola Jones.

References:

[1] DC 179/1/2/14/9

[2] DC 179/1/2/14/9

[3] DC 179/1/2/14/9

[4] DC 179/1/2/14/9

[5] DC 179/1/2/15/1

[6] DC 179/1/2/15/1

[7] DC 179/1/2/15/4

[8] DC 179/1/2/15/7

[9] DC 179/1/2/15/7


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