Queensferry High to research Edinburgh’s war dead

Pupils Jason Coyle, Esme McGill and Seona Noble research the grave of P O'Mahoney who lost his life at the age of 15. Picture: Maverick Photo Agency
Pupils Jason Coyle, Esme McGill and Seona Noble research the grave of P O'Mahoney who lost his life at the age of 15. Picture: Maverick Photo Agency
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THE stories behind 180 First World War graves in the ­Capital are to be investigated as part of a new project researching the Scottish contribution to victory in the war.

The project, which is being run in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh, the local library and Queensferry History Group, will see 55 ­pupils from Queensferry High School S3 trawl war archives, speak to local families and investigate town records in a bid to uncover the lives of the local men buried in the town’s First World War graves.

Queensferry Cemetery contains the most Commonwealth War Graves in Scotland. Almost all are naval personnel, many of whom were killed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Though the oldest man buried there is estimated to have been 65, many of those interred were close in age to the pupils – the youngest being a boy of 15.

Project leader Yvonne McEwen, who works in the Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict at the University of Edinburgh, said: “All too often those who died fighting in wars are referred to as mere statistics, but we want to bring home the fact that these were real people, with real families, real friends and real lives that they had to leave behind when the war broke out.

“Although the names of the men in the cemetery are recorded, much of what they achieved and the stories behind their names are not. We believe the project is a fitting tribute to the fallen.

“This is a small local project but it’s feeding into a much larger picture. Over the past few years we have been building up our knowledge of those in ­Edinburgh and the surrounding areas who fought in The Great War, and soon we’ll be expanding our research to encompass all of Scotland.”

Ms McEwen added that she had been pleasantly surprised at the pupils’ response as she only expected a few to apply.

Gordon Hunter, Head of Social Subjects at Queensferry High, said: “We are delighted to be helping to bring this important part of our history to life for the students and the community by learning about the men and women that fought the War from our very shores.

“We have good pupils, who are very engaged and interested in history, especially of their own home town. I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much young people do value this type of experience. It’s already having an impact on some of them. There are people roughly the same age as them buried in that cemetery and it’s causing them to consider their own lives in a different context.

“The S3 year group was ­selected for the project because they will be in S6 when we reach 2016 and the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the ­Naval Battle at which most of the servicemen in the Queensferry Cemetery were killed or seriously injured. My idea is that they ‘grow up’ with the project from S3 to S6.”

It is hoped S1/S2 will take part as the project moves forward through to the centeneray of the war in 2018.

The injured from the Battle of Jutland were landed at Port Edgar, near Soth Queensferry following the fighting.

Pupil Jason Coyle said he felt the research project was “important”, adding: “People in the local area should know about the sacrifices people in the past made for us.”

For more information on University of Edinburgh First World War projects visit www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk