Lost history of WWII training camp in Midlothian to be revealed

Photograph of officers taken in the crypt of Newbattle Abbey.
 PIC Andrew O'Brien
Photograph of officers taken in the crypt of Newbattle Abbey. PIC Andrew O'Brien
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Newbattle Abbey College will be “Putting on the Blitz” to commemorate its role as a World War Two training camp.

A new documentary and book will be launched next weekend to tell the remarkable wartime history of the building, near Dalkeith, Midlothian.

Veterans were taught new skills at Newbattle Abbey College following WWII. PIC Andrew O'Brien,.

Veterans were taught new skills at Newbattle Abbey College following WWII. PIC Andrew O'Brien,.

Artefacts, photographs, military vehicles and 1940s entertainment will set the scene for the 1940s revival next Saturday, September 10 - as will the transformation of the college’s cafe into a wartime NAAFI canteen.

The college had been open for less than three years when it was requisitioned as a training camp on the outbreak of war in 1939.

It provided training for both the Royal Army Medical Corps as well as the Auxiliary Territorial Service - often known as The Women’s Army.

When the war ended in 1945, Newbattle spent three years as the No 1 Army Formation College, providing training to demobbed military personnel who were taught new skills to resettle them into civilian life.

Newbattle Abbey College will host a wartime revival to mark its history as a training camp for soldiers in the 1940s. Veterans also attended to re-skill at the end of WWII.  Pictured is a model posing with a doll made at Newbattle by a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service . PIC Andrew O'Brien.

Newbattle Abbey College will host a wartime revival to mark its history as a training camp for soldiers in the 1940s. Veterans also attended to re-skill at the end of WWII. Pictured is a model posing with a doll made at Newbattle by a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service . PIC Andrew O'Brien.

Commerce, photography, secretarial skills to physics, chemistry and architecture were amongst the courses on offer to veterans.

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Former trainees from the college, housed in a former Cistercian monastery dating from the 16th century, were tracked down and interviewed by project leader Charlotte Johnson.

She said: “I interviewed eight veterans, aged between 89 and 97 and from across the UK, for their memories of Newbattle. It was great to hear them reminisce and bring back to life what is largely a forgotten story.

Royal Army Medical Corps personnel at  Newbattle Abbey College, near Dalkeith.  PIC Andrew O'Brien

Royal Army Medical Corps personnel at Newbattle Abbey College, near Dalkeith. PIC Andrew O'Brien

“They were all very generous of their time and happy to pass on display items from the time. One woman gave me a beautiful doll which she knitted for her daughter while at the college and another man gave me his father’s military jacket and a photograph of him wearing it in a line-up outside the college. I have travelled across the UK, heard some great stories and been given lots of tea and cake.

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“I have spoken to wireless operators, military drivers and hairdressers - it’s been so interesting to hear their fondness for their time at Newbattle.”

The documentary will be shown on a loop at Doors Open Day weekend and 500 copies will be available to share with veterans and those with an interest in Newbattle’s wartime history.

“One of the veterans, 91-year-old Isabella Hamilton, will attend on the day and we would love to see any other people who were at Newbattle,” said Ms Johnson.

The year-long project, Sharing Our Heritage, has been supported by a Heritage Lottery Grant and Ms Johnson has pieced together the story of Newbattle’s wartime history from the Imperial War Museum in London, National Records of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and newspaper archives as well as local libraries, a variety of other museums and personal recollections.

Ann Southwood, Principal of Newbattle Abbey College, said: “Doors Open Day is always a wonderful event, when people get the chance to see the Abbey’s spectacular interiors, but this year will be extra special as we recreate the wartime atmosphere at Newbattle and share an important part of our history which is not widely known.”

Putting at The Blitz is at Newbattle Abbey College as part of Doors Open Day on Saturday September 10 at 10am-4pm. Admission is free.

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