#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks: Week 8 I Can Identify
World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with millions of lives lost and entire generations of young men forever changed. It was known as the War to End all Wars!
From the Western Front in France to the Eastern Front in Russia, the battles raged on for years, leaving destruction and devastation in their wake. From the perspective of the soldiers on the ground, the war was a brutal and unforgiving experience. It was a constant struggle for survival, with the enemy lurking just beyond the trenches and the threat of sudden death always present. For the McCulloch and Robertson clan ancestors who fought in the war, the experience was both harrowing and transformative, shaping the rest of their lives in ways they could never have imagined.
In this blog post, I will explore the military experiences of these brave men and the impact that their service in the war had on their families and communities.
But it won’t be all doom and gloom this time, I plan to uncover the stories of those who survived and returned home, albeit changed men and women. I don’t think I will find someone who was a drummer (aged 11) when he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards; like Kate Winslett’s great grandfather, William Colquhoun. But maybe I will uncover the stories of bravery in the field.
During World War I, the British government relied heavily on newspapers to recruit soldiers from all over the United Kingdom. The papers were used to publish propaganda and encourage enlistment, with countless articles, stories, and advertisements aimed at convincing men to join the war effort. While some men were undoubtedly inspired to join by patriotism or a sense of duty, others were lured in by promises of adventure, excitement, and the chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.
One example of how newspapers were used to recruit soldiers can be found in the pages of The Times from August 1914. The paper ran a front-page article titled “The Call to Arms,” which exhorted men to join the war effort and “do their bit” for King and country. The article stressed the importance of the war effort and painted a picture of heroic sacrifice, urging readers to “take their place in the ranks of the men who are making history.”
This article from The Scotsman was displayed on 18th of August 1914.
Other papers, such as The Daily Mail, used different tactics to encourage enlistment. The paper ran advertisements that promised adventure and excitement for those who joined the war effort, with slogans such as “Join the Colors and see the world” and “Your country needs you.” These ads often featured images of brave soldiers charging into battle or sitting around a campfire, with an air of camaraderie and brotherhood that was designed to appeal to young men seeking adventure and excitement.
This article from The Scotsman was displayed on the 7th of August 1914.
In addition to these direct appeals, newspapers also played a crucial role in creating a sense of national unity and pride during the war. Papers like The Manchester Guardian and The Daily Express printed stories of heroic deeds and selfless sacrifice, painting a picture of a nation united in its determination to win the war. These stories helped to create a sense of national identity and pride and served to bolster morale both on the front lines and at home.
Reports from the front were displayed in the Western Daily Press on the 13th of August 1914.
The British newspapers, during World War I, played a crucial role in recruiting soldiers from all over the United Kingdom, and in shaping the way that the war was perceived by the public. Whether through direct appeals, propaganda, or stories of heroism and sacrifice, the papers helped to create a sense of national unity and pride that would be essential to the war effort. While the war itself was a tragedy that would claim countless lives, the role that newspapers played in recruiting soldiers and shaping public opinion is an important part of the history of the conflict.
ENLISTMENT AND ATTESTATION
In the early days of World War I, the recruitment process for soldiers in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and other Scottish regiments was relatively straightforward. Men were typically recruited by local military officers, who would set up recruitment offices in towns and villages across Scotland. These offices would be staffed by recruiters who would be tasked with convincing young men to join the war effort. Once a man had decided to enlist, he would be asked to attest to his age, place of birth, and occupation, and to sign a contract agreeing to serve for a specific length of time. He would then be examined by a medical officer, who would determine whether he was fit enough to serve. If he passed the medical examination, he would be given a uniform and sent to a training camp, where he would be drilled into the basics of military tactics, weapons handling, and discipline. From there, he would be sent to the front lines to join his regiment and begin his service in the war.
WW2 and the Womans Land Army
The Women’s Land Army played a crucial role in supporting the British war effort during World War II. Women who enlisted in the WLA were tasked with working on farms and other agricultural enterprises across the country, taking on jobs that had traditionally been done by men. The process of enlistment involved a rigorous application and training process, with women being required to demonstrate that they had the necessary skills and experience to work in agriculture. Upon enlisting, women were issued with a distinctive green uniform, which included a jacket, trousers, and hat. They were assigned a range of jobs, from plowing and harvesting to caring for livestock and maintaining equipment. Women in the WLA worked long hours in often difficult conditions, but their efforts helped to ensure that the country remained fed and supplied with essential goods throughout the war. The work of the WLA was a significant factor in the war effort and has been widely recognized as a key contribution to the overall victory.
Identifying Bravery on the Home Front
Our next Robertson ancestor in focus this month is Auntie Jenny, Janet Imrie Robertson. Alex’s mother’s oldest sister. Janet was born on the 8th of January 1917 during WW1. I had the privilege of meeting Jenny on the occasions when my family took trips back to Scotland when our children were small. Jenny was known to hold midnight feasts whilst babysitting our small children when we were out on the town. She was much loved.
Jenny never married but was seen as the matriarch of the Robertson clan after her own mother Janet Walker Robertson (Imrie) died in 1963. You’ll find more about her mother’s sad death in a previous post.
Janet Imrie Robertson enlisted in the Women’s Land Army during the early years of WW2 and as a single woman was able to contribute her full-time attention to the jobs assigned for the duration of the war. The family does not know what type of work Janet was assigned to but was likely to have included either rescue work or farm work.
The Women’s Land Army played a significant role in the lives of people living in Scottish towns like Falkirk during World War II, and their work was widely recognized and valued. The contributions of women in the WLA were celebrated through local memorials and commemorative plaques, which can still be seen in many towns and villages across Scotland today. In Clochan, for example, there is a memorial to the women of the WLA that was erected there as a testament to the hard work and dedication of the women who served in the WLA. This memorial was built by Peter Wallwork Naylor (Sculptor)
W. Campbell & Son – maker of gate(?) (Makers)
and is a wonderful commemoration of the Second World War – civilians
Additionally, many local newspapers of the time carried articles about the work of the WLA and highlighted the contributions of individual women, further reinforcing the importance of their work and their place in the local community. Janet remained single and was 28 years of age when she started out as a land girl.
Imagined letter from Janet to her parents James and Janet in 1945
To: Mr. and Mrs. James Robertson, 5 Corporation Street, Falkirk
From: Slaughton Mains House, Saughton Mains Park, Edinburgh
1 May 1945
Dear Mum and Dad,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to let you know that I have arrived safely at the Rest House for Land Girls, which has been established at Saughton Mains House near Edinburgh. The journey up here was quite long, but I managed to get here without any trouble. The house itself is lovely, and it is great to be staying here with other Land Girls from all over Scotland.
I have made some really good friends already, and we have been helping each other out with our work on the farms. The other girls here are from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common – a desire to help the war effort in any way we can. We spend our days working hard on the farms, and in the evenings, we enjoy socializing and sharing stories about our experiences.
As for my health, I am doing well. The fresh air and exercise are doing me a world of good, and I feel much stronger than I did before I arrived here. I am really enjoying the work on the farm, and I feel like I am making a real difference.
I miss you all very much, but I am glad to be doing my part for the war effort. Please write to me soon and let me know how things are in Falkirk.
Janet Imrie Robertson died on the 7th of April 2011 at the grand age of 94.
This post is a tribute to a grand lady who we can identify with as one of the brave women who served their country on the home front during WW2.
PS I recruited my latest assistants Chat GPT and Quillbot to put this blog post together. If you are interested in using AI for your family history writing, please read this other blog post: Writing with AI for Genealogists