Mystery over Scots soldier from First World War

The mystery soldier
The mystery soldier
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IT’S the case of an unknown soldier that one researcher is desperate to crack.

This image of a Royal Scots soldier is the solitary photograph in a book of autographs collected by a teenager at the “American Hut” during the First World War.

Alistair McEwen with the autograph book

Alistair McEwen with the autograph book

The entertainment complex – featuring cinematography and billiards tables – was a mecca for servicemen from around the world visiting the Capital.

Now researcher Alistair McEwen, who has created the online archive Edinburgh’s War, is hoping to trace the soldier’s family in time for the centenary of the Great War.

“We would be very keen to identify him as it would be nice for the family that gave me the autograph book to find out who he was,” he said.

“That soldier’s photo was inside and there’s a dedication at the front to her [the teenager]. We’re wondering, is it possible they knew each other?”

Sprawling across St Andrew Square, the entertainment complex was erected by the American YMCA as a stop-off point for the war weary on their way home from duties in Europe.

Volunteers would run the tented centre, which could house up to 250 servicemen, offering a 125-seat dining room and fun and games for up to 500.

Relatives of the book’s original owner Elizabeth Edgar, who lived off Ferry Road until she died in her 90s, have told Mr McEwen how she spoke fondly about helping her mother tend to the servicemen and would proudly show off autographs she collected from troops passing through.

Some of the scribblings left by the visitors, some of whom were Australian and Canadian, contain poetry, witty remarks and even sketches.

Lance Corporal R W Brown, of the 9th Scottish Rifles, wrote on March 8, 1917: “What? Write in a book, Where ladies look, and critics spy? Not I, Not I.”

Mr McEwen, who started researching how Edinburgh, Leith and the Lothians were affected by the war three years ago, will add the pages to his website ahead of rolling out Scotland’s War by March.

He said relatively little had been known about the establishment which engulfed much of the square, except for what was written in a newspaper article dated March 14, 1919.

The piece told of “a spacious lounge with an information bureau, a newspaper and postcard stand” and a kitchen with “the latest appliances”. There were “conveniences such as shower baths and individual lockers” and it said meals were excellent both in quality and value, costing 1s 6d for three courses, with tea, coffee, or cocoa to follow.

Mr McEwen said: “I think the autograph book is absolutely fascinating. It has all kinds of messages from men all over the world from bits of poetry to little drawings.

“There’s a lot of interest at the moment because 2014 is the centenary year. There’s the history hub at the library if anyone wants to bring any letters, archives, medals or photographs for interpretation or if they have any information on this unidentified soldier.”

Can you help identify the unknown solider? Call our newsdesk on 0131-620 8733.

Drummond to lead commemorations

A FORMER headmaster of Loretto School has been appointed to lead Scotland’s programme of commemorations to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Norman Drummond, who has served as a chaplain to the Queen in Scotland since 1993, will chair a new Scottish Comm-emorations Panel ahead of the centenary next year.

Mr Drummond, 60, was also a chaplain in The Parachute Regiment and The Black Watch, and at Fettes College.

He said: “It is important that Scotland remembers the sacrifice of those who served during the First World War and the wider impact that the war has had on our country.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Norman Drummond’s experience will be extremely helpful in guiding Scotland’s commemorations.”