|In April 2006, the education
staff of the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) entered into
a new partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) to
offer joint creative writing workshops for schools.
Drawing on our exhibition at the time, 'Leaving it all behind:
an exhibition of Scottish soldiers' and airmen's
wills, 1857-1966', we organised a series of workshops with
a group of 15 year old pupils from Boroughmuir High School
in Edinburgh and set the pupils the task of writing their
own war poems.
The formal records on display, often quite short and hastily written,
contain the last documented words of many Scottish servicemen who
gave their lives in defence of their country. In many cases the
wills took the form of moving letters, and some were accompanied
by poems and prayers.
This was an exciting project for all concerned. It gave the NAS
the opportunity to promote the use of archives to support the teaching
of English. Colleagues from the Poetry Library were amazed by the
depth and range of material we hold and now recognise the potential
for developing further joint projects with archives.
As for the teachers and pupils, this was their first visit to an
archive, their first experience of studying original documents and
photographs from two world wars, and their first experience of working
with a real poet.
Ken Cockburn, commissioned by the SPL, was the poet. He guided
the pupils through the exhibition, asked them to select a particular
serviceman and take notes about his life and death and followed
this up with a discussion about their feelings and reactions to
the often heartrending words and images. Ken then led the pupils
gently through the skill and art of writing poetry. He gave them
the option of writing their own free poem or to write three short
verses, each in a different voice giving a different perspective
on their chosen serviceman.
Here is their finished work:
(Dear Margaret, by Becki
(William Dick by Jillian
(Private William Dick by Amy
(In memory of Thomas Murray,
9th Bn, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) by Ross Minty)
("...and there is no
chance of getting home again..." by Mario Cariello)
(Death on a Japanese POW
Camp, 1943 by Melissa Steel)
(The Second World War by
This is part of the will of Private William Dick, who died from
his wounds in France on 20 July 1916 (NAS ref. SC70/8/278). This
will inspired the first three poems which were written by Becki,
Jillian and Amy.
He was brave in those last few days.
He knew he was dying.
He just wanted to see his children,
That's all he talked about.
It was hard informing his family of his death.
Private William Dick
12779 Scots Guards
Courageously gave his life for King
He died on the battlefields of France
after catching an infection from
shrapnel wounds in the leg.
Will I ever see my wee girls again?
My decision was the wrong one.
I should never have signed up.
The war will be over soon, they say,
In time for Phyllis's birthday.
I just signed up today.
I felt it my place to fight for my country.
Mags isn't too happy about the whole shebang
But it's just something I have to do.
I hope I don't miss out on too much...
Private William Dick 12779 Scots Guard
Lost his life on 20th July 1916
after catching an infection caused by a shell
fragment in his leg.
Enclosed with this letter a medal awarded
My best friend - my husband
A fantastic father and a brave soldier
He was so happy before the Germans stole him away
He missed so much of the children's life
I'd give anything for him to be here now
Private William Dick
The nurse keeps wiping some sort of cotton on
I have to beat this infection though.
I promised Margaret I would come home
and I'll treat my little angels to ice-cream.
I want to get back out on the Front Line first
I want to make everyone proud.
Private William Dick, Scots Guards, 12779,
Due to an infection in the leg
lost his life on 20th June 1916.
A brave man courageously giving his life for
King and Country.
He was my friend, and a brave lad.
Proud to have known him.
Most things he said were a pack of lies
But he could cheer anyone up.
I wish I had been there at his side when it
His poor family.
In memory of Thomas Murray, 9th Bn, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Thomas Murray was a brave man,
He had known Glasgow like the back of his hand,
His wife still remembers him leaving for France, with his rucksack.
But Private Thomas Murray of the 9th BN Cameronians would never
On the 13th May, 1915,
Private Thomas Murray of the 9th BN Cameronians
Was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme.
The means of his death are unknown.
I approached the recruitment office.
I know it may be dangerous,
Yet I will fight for freedom.
I am prepared to die for our freedom.
I now take my last look at Glasgow for a while.
To France we go
Me and me pals of the 9th,
Tell me mum not to worry,
If I live do not rejoice,
If I die do not mourn,
Tell me mum not to worry.
Soon I'll have gone west.
Yet God look after Margaret,
Help her recover, help her live,
O God, please look after her.
"... and there is no chance of getting home again.."
Private RAL Purves wis m'name.
Wis enlisted in the Royal Scots regiment.
And knew it would never be the same.
Nothin' like my East Lothian tenement,
or the mirrored grievances of a law clerk.
... and there is no chance of getting home again...
As I discover I am no man of war
I see my existence as a dismembered dream.
The shattered splinters of a stimulating kaleidoscopic door,
Torn away from my family, but held in high esteem,
Yet still I continue to flow downstream
and I reckon there is no chance of getting home again...
Shot m'self the day.
Lettin' all m'emotions run dry like the Ganhai Sea.
Though it may have been a pusillanimous way,
I've finally confronted m'fears with undignified glee.
So I leave for you now my last and final letter
... and I know there is no chance of getting home again...
This is part of the will of Robert Purves (NAS ref. SC70/8/418/2),
which inspired Mario's poem.
Death on a Japanese POW Camp, 1943
It's funny, I swear there was blood on the paper.
His will was in another's writing.
They say horrible things about these Japanese camps.
They say he was weak from all the fighting.
Now, I will never see him again, not now, not later.
Funny, because of that I don't like thinking.
James Arthur McWilliam Bain, 32,
17 Ramsted Gardens, Greenock, Scotland,
Succumbed to his injuries on 2nd April, 1943,
In Haito Prisoner of War Camp, Japan.
Estate and belongings left to his wife, Mary-Lou.
Money to be distributed as she sees fit.
There's blood on the paper.
Apologise to Mary for not giving her the best life I could,
And for going to the dangerous Front Line.
My only regret is marrying her, my rosebud,
because now she's going to be a widow before her time.
The blood's on their hands, mate,
The blood is on their hands.
Melissa SteelMelissa's poem was inspired by the will of James
Bain part of which is shown below (NAS ref. SC70/8/1334/512)
The Second World War
It was about lunchtime when they attacked.
I had just got tucked into a fantastic sandwich
when we heard the sirens
everyone ran for their gear.
I still had my sandwich.
The boys up front
were shred by the Germans' fire,
Coming over the sand dune
Was the sound of Panzer tanks,
That's where my crew came in.
You can find out more about these wills by reading our guide
to soldiers' and airmen's wills, you can search our
catalogue for soldiers' or airmen's wills or visit our search
rooms where an index to the wills and some images are available.