Thursday, 29 November 2018

Earlston's Generous Community Spirit in World War Two

During World War Two, Earlston’s community spirit shone through, whether it was in supporting national causes such as  War Weapons Week and Wings for Victory week, or fund raising for the local War Comforts Fund. At the heart of this activity was the Earlston War Works Party. 

As in  other communities, there were women in Earlston who were experienced in charity work, organising events and raising money for worthwhile causes. On the outbreak of war in 1939, they were galvanized into action to form the Earlston War Works Party, working closely with the local branches of the Red Cross and Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS).

Compiled and updated Address Books of names of Earlston lads serving, with details of their whereabouts, status, rank, next of kin, plus personal details e.g. non-smoker.

Organised the issue of ration books.

Organised a weekly house to house “penny” collection to provide comforts to serving forces.

Organised billets for evacuees and troops stationed here.   

Distributed comfort parcels to 400 Polish soldiers on their arrival in the village.                                       
                                            Polish soldiers in the Market Square

Did darning for troops. 

Distributed khaki wool supplied by the Scottish Woollen Comforts Council.

Sent Comfort Parcels thrice yearly to Earlston men and women serving in the forces.

Sent Comfort Parcels to Earlston Prisoners of War - to include a knitted blanket, a pullover, two pairs of socks, plus cigarettes and a friendly word from home.  

  Prisoners of War in  Stalag XVIIID, Germany,
with Earlston men on the back row - Jim Reid (far left) and Ed Reid  (far right)     

Sent knitted garments (socks, mittens, scarves, pullovers, balaclavas) to the Comforts Funds of the Army, RAF, Royal Navy, Merchant Seamen, and K.O.S.B.

The Red Cross Work Party made swabs, bandages, pyjamas, vests, shirts, tropical underwear, limb pads, kit bags, dressing gowns, surgeons’ overalls, and sleeping bags for bombed areas. 

Set up a clothing depot for emergency use.

Organised the collection of herbs and sphagnum moss used in the treatment of wounds.   

Organised the collection of brass and aluminium

Made available A Red Cross Library of 1000 books.

The WVS organised a canteen in the church hall for troops  which became a popular social venue. . 

Looking forward to happier times, a Welcome Home Fund was set for servicemen returning home as the war ended.
Gave £6 to each re-patriated Prisoner of War - equivalent to £213 in today’s money.  (National Archives Currency Converter


All kinds of events were held, with young and old contributing  with whist dances and whist drives, concerts, regular house to house collections, and  donations from shops,  businesses and organisations,  pipe band and dancing displays, baby shows, pin up boy and girl competitions, football and bowling tournaments, and a garden fete at Cowdenknowes. Some typical reports in the local newspapers were:  

Southern Reporter:  12th July 1945 

 Berwickshire News:  17th April 1945

Participants in the Pin Up Competition 
Margaret McAulay; Sybil Jackson; Bunty Thomson (Mason) and Dorothy Hartley (Hall)
During the war Bunty worked at Simpson and Fairbairn Mill
and Dorothy was in the Land Army in Earlston. 

Bunty being presented with her first prize by Mrs. Scott Aiton.

 Advert from Southern Reporter: 31 May 1945.

Southern Reporter:  27th September 1945.


Names that appear regularly in the press reports and minute book:

Miss Henderson, Miss Hope, Miss Hogarth, Mrs Hood, Mrs Barlow, Miss Sharpe, Mrs Wylie, Mrs Young and Mrs Rodger.


From regular reports in the local press and from the Minute Books of the Earlston War Work Party, which are now held in the archives at the Heritage Hub,  Hawick.


In 1945 a joint meeting of the Earlston War Work Party,  Earlston branch of the Red Cross and WVS met to look back on their activities.

Since the start of the war,  £3723 was raised for the Comforts Fund, the Red Cross Fund and the Welcome Home Fund - equivalent to £132,356 in  today's money terms.

A wonderful example of community spirit and one which did much to raise morale on the home front, as people felt they were contributing to the war effort.  



Southern Reporter: 23rd August 1945


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Earlston Men Before the WW1 Military Tribunals

We tend to think that WW1 Military Tribunals dealt primarily with conscientious objectors,   but newspaper reports of the day  show that men sought exemption from service in the armed forces for a variety of reasons - amongst them men from Earlston.

In Britain, conscription in the First World War came into force in March 1916. It  specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service,  unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. The age was quickly extended to married men in May 1916, and was raised  further to 50 in April 1918.  

Ireland was specifically  exempt from conscription in the light of the unrest there, culminating in the Easter Uprising.
Military Army Soldiers Walking Armed Unifo

The Role of Military Tribunals  
These  were set up to hear applications for exemption from conscription. Although the tribunals were best known for their attitude to conscience objectors, most of their work dealt with domestic and business issues.  Men could apply on the basis of doing work of national importance, such as in war industries;  for domestic or business hardship, or for medical unfitness.

Local newspapers reported regularly on tribunals  across  the Scottish Borders, and below are some typical instances from 1916  involving men from Earlston.   Often a temporary reprieve was given, but  this was generally  for a few weeks only.

  • A butcher from Redpath had been trying to sell his business as a growing concern and asked for deferment to allow him to collect outstanding debts.  He was granted a postponement of six weeks, with a stipulation this would not be extended and he must be prepared to serve.
  • Earlston hairdresser & tobacconist, John Rutherford claimed financial hardship, in consideration that he had built up a small business and needed to wind up matters. He was given a temporary reprieve from service.

  • Five claims were made for farm workers at Fans Farm.   Given exemptions were George Simpson, who had three brothers serving, and ploughman/steward Peter Hume;  two were refused -  Ralph Hume and David Adam Borthwick; whilst Joseph Borthwich was given temporary exemption.
  • Master baker of Earlston,  Walter Utterson was given an “absolute exemption." 
  • A  china merchant in Earlston appeared before the tribunal a second time and stated that he supported  his elderly grandparents in their late 70’s,  and he still needed to make arrangements for his business to be carried on.  The tribunal opposed the appeal. 
  • William Holland, aged 34 of Earlston,  claimed he was unable to complete contracts for his work as a slater and chimney sweep, doing all the work around Earlston.  He had six children to support and a lot of farm steadings to repair. His claim was refused.
  • George Blair, partner with a plumbing firm in Earlston,  claimed that to lose one of his men, meant practically abolishing his business. Claim refused.

  • Henry Rutherford of Rutherford's, Agricultural Engineers in Earlston,  claimed that losing men to the armed services would jeopardise the needs of the farms in the area.  Exemption granted on the basis of his work being of national importance.

  • John Mather, hardware merchant of Earlston,  was granted exemption as unlikely to be medically fit for service. 

  • The President of the Earlston Co-operative Society petitioned on behalf three workers:   John Brash, manager was granted a temporary exemption until the end of stock-taking  and that a man was found to take on his duties;  baker John Burrell,  was given an “absolute exemption", with van man Walter Brotherston’s claim  refused.

Records Available
The records of the Military Tribunals were deliberately destroyed after the war, apart from two sets of records   - those for Middlesex, England, held at the National Archives at Kew in London; and those for The Lothians & Peebles in Scotland, held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. 
So local  newspapers remain  the key source of information, available online - on FindmyPast and on the  British Newspaper Archive. 
[Silhouette image courtesy of  Pixabay]

Facts and Figures:
The population of Earlston  in 1911 was  1749.  Ten years later according to the 1921 census it was 1641. 49 Earlston men died in the First World War and  are named on the village war memorial, a number from the same family.  
Earlston War Memorial - November 2017

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

How Earlston greeted the Armistice in 1918.

The end of the First World War came at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – 11th November 1918.

“The Southern Reporter” of  November 14th  shared the good news: 

“The Berwickshire News" gave a much fuller report of the celebrations in Earlston:

“On Monday the news came though that the German delegation had signed the armistice. The first indication of the news was the sounding of the factory buzzer – a sign that something unusual had happened. Then closely followed by the bell of the Parish Church and the Corn Exchange, the raising of the flag at Rhymer’s Mill and the display of flags and bunting throughout. Factory workers were given a half holiday and the whole place was moved and stirred by the welcome news.

Between 12 and 1pm, a thanksgiving service was held in the Parish Church Hall conducted by the Rev. Walter Davidson in a manner highly acceptable to the large gathering of men and women. Groups of people gathered on the streets to discuss the joyful news.

In the evening there was an impromptu concert in the Corn Exchange with money raised going to the Earlston Comforts Fund".



1918 - The Spanish Flu Epidemic:   During the pandemic of 1918/19, over 50 million people died worldwide and a quarter of the British population were affected by this deadly virus, which was first reported from Spain. It hit people who had endured austerity and food shortages due to the war, and it was before the advent of antibiotics and anti-virus medicine.   The death toll was 228,000 in Britain alone.

"The Southern Reporter" of 28th November 1918 reported on the fourth week of closure of the school due to the influenza epidemic, with the church also closed for the previous two Sundays.  

1919- Peace Celebrations: These were held across Berwickshire  on 19th July 1919.  In Earlston  a grand picnic and sports day was held at Cowdenknowes, courtesy of Colonel Hope, followed in the evening by the lighting of a beacon on the Black Hill and a grand display of fireworks which excited the crowd.
                                           Berwickshire News:  15th July 1919

 1920 - Welcome Home Dinner: "Welcome home to the returned soldiers, sailors and women's auxiliary of Earlston parish and district". 

This was the greeting on  the 23rd of April 1920, when Earlston paid tribute to its serving men and women of the First World War, by hosting a dinner in their honour in the  Corn Exchange.  Chairman for the occasion was Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes, and the dinner  was followed by the toasts and a programme of musical entertainment, with cigarettes provided by Mrs Mitchell of Carolside. 


This souvenir programme is in the collection of Auld Earlston.  

This particular card bears the name of H. R.  Aikman, 2nd Lieut. K.O.S.B.  i.e. Henry Aikman who also gave a reply to the toast to "The Boys who Fought and Won", and was on the  Earlston War Memorial Committee. 

Henry had a very close' personal  connection with the occasion.  He, his twin brother William  and older brother James  all served  in  the First World War with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. William had worked at Rhymer's Mill, served in the Earlston Territorials as bugler, was a renowned shot and  an active member of Earlston Rugby Club, Golf Club and Bowling  Club.   But he  was presumed killed on 12th July 1915 in the Dardanelles Campaign.  He is remembered on  the Helles Memorial in Turkey and on Earlston War Memorial.  

Women were also included in the event, but unfortunately  we know nothing about the women from Earlston who served in the First World War, most likely as nurses.  

1921 -Unveiling of the War Memorial


In the 1911 census,  Earlston's  population stood at 1749,  with 801 male and 948 females. The First World War saw forty-nine men losing their lives in the conflict  - their names recorded  on the War Memorial, unveiled on Sunday 13th  November 1921.   In a service of dedication in the square, it was unveiled by Mrs Hope, wife of Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes, who was chairman of the War Memorial Committee,  


Earlston War Memorial, November 2017

November 2018 - Earlston's Fall of Poppies
in commemoration of the end of the Great War one hundred years ago.
Created by members of Earlston Parish Church.  

 Primary 6 & 7 pupils gather for a short ceremony at the War Memorial
7th November 2018

Newspaper extracts sourced on Find My Past - British Newspapers