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Humanising the soldier: reflecting on my research in WWI archives

by Brianna E Robertson-Kirkland, PhD Candidate (Music), University of Glasgow

For this blog, I will be reflecting on my recent biographical research on five men from Glasgow who all fought and died in the Great War. I have chosen to highlight three soldiers I investigated who were graduates from the University of Glasgow and whose names are now commemorated in the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel. My research background is not in anything related to war studies; rather I research 18th century music. That being said, a large proportion of my PhD was untangling the timelines of several British opera singers and reconstructing more accurate biographical accounts of their careers. In many ways, researching Great War soldiers was very similar; during war small but important details skew the timeline and can make it difficult to track what was happening when. However, I did find another alarming difference in my secondary investigations into these men.

What did they do before the war? What were their hobbies? What had been their aspirations if war had never been declared? Did any other family members also serve and did they survive the war?

During my initial research, I found a few brief biographical accounts on the internet but I was surprised at the lack of information regarding the character of these men. For quite a few of the names, there was detailed information about the battles and their travel from place to place; all things I had assumed would be quite complicated to trace. There was even grizzly information about how they were killed, but I couldn’t get a sense of who they were as individuals. What did they do before the war; what were their hobbies; what had been their aspirations if war had never been declared; did any other family members also serve and did they survive the war? These are simple questions, but they can transform the story of a soldier allowing him to become more relatable to a 21st century audience and for a family member in search of information, I would hope that it would bring both comfort and intrigue. More importantly, these aspects about a person’s character come through in the war diaries but have not been incorporated into individual histories. It is for this reason I chose to explore the individuality of each man, and while there is some information about their military careers, I also highlight their schooling, family connections and hobbies.



Commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania 100 years ago today.

Today at 2.15pm is the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania: the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship of her generation.

The RMS Lusitania (DC 101/379)

The RMS Lusitania (DC 101/379)


Remembering the Sons of Lord Maclay

In a previous post we talked about the University Chapel organ that was kindly donated by Lord Maclay. Today’s blog will offer some more information on Lord Maclay and his sons who perished during the Great War.

In 1921, Lord and Lady Maclay donated their home at 17 Park Terrace to the University in memory of their two sons who fell during the Great War. A plaque was erected to commemorate the gift, it reads:


Gifted to Glasgow University by

Sir Joseph and Lady Maclay

In memory of their sons

Lieut. Ebenezer Maclay Scots Guards

killed in action before Arras 1918


Lieut . William S. Maclay Scottish Rifles

Killed in action in Gallipoli 1915



Glasgow’s War: Remembrance Day in George Square

By Demi Boyd, Club 21 intern

University of Glasgow Library

On the evening of November 11th 2014 Glasgow’s experience of World War One was commemorated with a light show projected on to Glasgow City Chambers. The display, which lasted 27 minutes and was played on a loop at intervals from 7pm until midnight, featured audio, film, and still images and was aptly titled ‘Glasgow’s War.’

A couple of weeks ago I started a Club 21 internship with the University of Glasgow Archive Services. The project I have been working on involved creating an album in Flickr, ‘Glasgow’s War’ son et lumiere project.  This gave a taster of the images selected from collections held in the University that were to be used in the WWI Commemoration ‘Glasgow’s War.’ On Tuesday evening I went along to George Square to see the display.

The projection included stories from Glasgow’s home front and featured images from the Rent strikes, shipyards and munitions…

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Remembering Donald Williamson Rennie

By Bill Sutherland, Great War Project volunteer

11 November 2014 is the first Remembrance Day of the First World War Centenary. It is coincidentally the centenary of the death of Second-Lieutenant Donald Williamson Rennie (1st Royal Fusiliers), a member of the University Officers Training Corps. Rennie’s was the third cross placed in the University of Glasgow Garden of Remembrance.


University of Glasgow Archives Reference: CH4/4/2/2/232


Curating the war

by Michael O’Brien, MSc Museum Studies postgraduate student

Of the many tasks that were presented to me on my Museum Studies MSc placement with the Great War Project, I believe the artefact selection and curation was possibly the most challenging. In this post I will discuss these challenges and the subsequent conclusions that led to the curation of artefacts in the exhibition, Glasgow University’s Great War: the University Officers Training Corps.


Michael O’Brien in the University of Glasgow memorial chapel


Introducing the team: Jen Novotny, Project Officer

By Dr Jen Novotny  


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                          I am the grass; I cover all.


And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                          What place is this?

                                          Where are we now?


                                          I am the grass.

                                          Let me work.


As Carl Sandburg’s 1918 poem ‘Grass’ evocatively describes, after a battle the landscape is reclaimed by nature and the inexorable process of forgetting begins. As a researcher, I have long been fascinated with the First World War and the changes it wrought in 20th-century society, as well as how the events of 1914-18 still have resonance with us today. The centenary of First World War is the perfect opportunity not merely to commemorate and remember the events of the war, but also to interrogate its lasting impact and to reflect meaningfully on the legacy of the conflict from the temporal distance of one hundred years.