Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Ninety nine years on from the start of World War One there is a group of men who’s service has long since been forgotten about, these men were Eastern European immigrants from Russia and the Baltic States who had settled in Scotland.

So how did these men come to settle in Scotland?

Many of them were escaping the clutches of Czarist Russia’s Army, where they would serve many years for little reward. In the 1890s many decided that enough was enough and left Russia, Lithuiania, Latvia and Ukraine with the intention of moving to the United States.

At this time there was an active trade between German and Baltics ports and ports such such Leith on the east coast of Scotland, with coal being a prime export from Scotland. One of the main exporters was the Lothian Coal Company with numerous ships to and froing.

Rather than come back empty, the filthy coal ships offered immigrants cheap passage to a new life, which the immigrants thought would be in the USA. To their horror they were deposited in Leith (Port town of Edinburgh) without a job and homeless.

The Lothian Coal Company was not slow to take advantage of their situation, the Lady Victoria Colliery had just opened in Newtongrange, many men were needed to man it’s new and highly productive coal seams. At first Scotish families moved through, mostly from Lanarkshire, however their numbers were insufficient and the Eastern Europeans were offered a job and and a house, many, especially those with a wife and family,had no choice other than to accept.

They settle in two main areas, the bulk in Bellshill, Lanarkshire and the rest in Newtongrange. Most came from Suwalki which lies in the NE of current day Poland and SW Lithuania.

And so my  village of Newtongrange became home to several hundred ‘Russian Poles’ as they were christened. Coming from all walks of life, few if any had ever been down a coal mine, most spoke no English, and a number were illiterate. Most settled in their new home and by 1906 there were around 200 Lithuanians and a number from Latvia and Ukraine living in the village, by the outbreak of war around 800 or about 1 in 5 of the population of Newtongrange were immigrants.

Technically they were Russian citizens at this time, and as such ‘friendly Aliens’ who had to register with the Police and had certain restrictions on their movements. Unlike the Germans and Austrians in the community there were still free to live and work in the village.

Many men from the village enlisted in the Army, including a group of around 25 Lithuanian miners, who wished to join the famous McCrae’s Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots. They were initially accepted by were sent home shortly after as they could not read or write in English.

Not all were rejected however, men such as the Mikolajunas brothers Jan and Stanislaw were accepted into the Royal Scots and the Lancashire Fusiliers, Ukrainian Vasily Nikitenko boarded the bus into Edinburgh where he enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery. This pattern continued through 1916 with the occasional man enlisting, but most remaining in the coal mining industry.

This was about to change however, conscription had been introduced in early 1916 for British citizens, ‘Russian’ citizens were not subject to conscription, at least that was until 1917 when a treaty was signed between Russian and Great Britain allowing both to conscript each other’s citizen into their Army.

An ultimatum was issued to the Eastern Europeans, they were to make a choice, enlist in the British Army or return to Russia to fight for the Czar. Around 2/3rds of them decided to return, believing they were fighting to preserve their national identity. Not a single man who chose to fight for Russia was ever seen again, shamefully their families were rounded up and deported, again many never to be seen again.

As the for the others, well most were sent in job lots to Infantry regiments, from my research I have identified groups sent to the Royal Scots, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Scottish Rifles and the East Yorkshire Regiment, My theory is that they tried to keep the men in groups to overcome the language barrier, with an English speaking man in each group.

160 Siege Artillery Battery

160 Siege Artillery Battery 1916, Vasily Nikitenko rear row, 5 from right.

In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia sent shock waves through the Allies and many of the ‘Russian Poles’ were viewed with much suspicion as potential ‘Reds’ and were removed from Infantry battalions and sent to unarmed Labour battalions. However many of the men who had proved themselves reliable under fire remained with combat units until the end of the war.

Inevitably some became casualties and a number made the ultimate sacrifice, mostly in 1918.

If you take a walk through Newtongrange Park you will come across the war memorial on which are these names

Pte Klemis Poliskis, Scottish Rifles, Pte Juozas Sanalitis, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Gnr Stanaslaw Scortolskis, Royal Field Artillery, Pte Justinas Tutlis, Royal Scots all of whom were Lithuanian.

In 2007 I successfully campaigned to have another name added to the war memorial, it was that of Gunner Vasily Nikitenko, who if you recall, volunteered in 1916.

In 1918 Vasily was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry during the German Spring Offensive, sadly he did live long after the award, on the 28th May, 1918 he was manning his gun when a stray shell landed killing him and wounding a number of others.

I was also able to assist Geraldine Bruin, the Great Neice of Zigmas Vilkaitis to have his name added to Glenboig war memorial in Lanarkshire, you can read his story here

After the war most of the Lithuanians moved away from the area, mostly to the United States, the majority of those that remained took British nationality and adopted British names, men such as Jan Mikolajunas, who became John Nicol. There is no little trace of the Lithuanian community in Newtongrange or elsewhere in the district, I estimate that around 100 Eastern European men served in the Army and would welcome contact from anyone related to them.

John Duncan – Honorary Board Member of the Scottish Lithuanian Community


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WAAC poster

In 1918 Jessie Flockhart who was 19 years old at the time decided to do her bit for King and Country by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). Jessie who stayed in Lingerwood Road, not far from me, was a domestic servant, and one fine July day presented herself at the recruiter in Edinburgh.

Jessie earned the princely sum of £18  a year from her Mr Stoddart who stayed on a farm at Silverburn, she was keen to do work overseas so perhaps the lure was adventure rather than money.

She was required to name a number of referees, one of whom must be a woman, to prove her suitabilty as a member of HM Forces, she actually had three Mrs Stoddart the farmers wife, Miss B King from Newtongrange Farm and the Reverend Lindsay of Newbattle Parish Church of Scotland, but in the end Reverend McPhereson the United Free Church minister gave her a reference, his reference was fairly bland, Miss King was her ex teacher and it appears declined to commit herself one or another as to whether Jessie was steady and reliable, industrious and thoroughly trustworthy.

Mrs Stoddart her current employer had no doubts about Jessie qualities, sadly it was not a favourable impression, she stated Jessie was

“Not very reliable, not industious or trustworthy”, she also stated “She is too foolish and too easily lead away”

The saving grace for her seems to have been a last minute intervention by Rev William Lindsay, who said he had know her for more than three years and found steady, reliable, industious and trustworthy. This seems to have done the trick and Jessies was accepted into the service on the 2nd of August,1918.

Ironically any dreams of travelling to exotic locations were dashed, initially she was sent to the workers hostel in Edinburgh, before transferring to the Depot of the 4th Reserve Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, who were based at Glencorse, not far the farm at Silverburn she had just left.

Poor Jessie spent the rest of her war between the Depot at Glencorse and back at the Hostel in Edinburgh, it appears Mrs Stoddart may have been right about Jessie, on the 6th May 1919 Jessie was fined 2/6d by Captain A M Robertson of the Gordon Highlanders for “smoking and talking to the Guard at the Barrack gate”.

She was returned to the hostel in Edinburgh and then given leave for a few days, on her return she stayed in Edinburgh before being released into civilian employment on compassionate grounds, I don’t know what ther circumstances were.

At any rate on the 8th of August, almost a year to the day, she was discharged and put on the bus to Newtongrange bringing her WAAC career to a finish.





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Group of 8th Royal Scots NCOsWell, prompted by the groundbreaking work of others regarding these papers, I managed to get along to the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. I was invited along on this trip by Garry Ketchin who was kind enough to share with me his findings so far.

I have to say the potential of these papers is nothing short of game changing for the relatives of men who served in the Great War and whose papers were burnt in the fire at the National Archives during the Blitz in WW2. There are around 295 boxes (I think) of papers, each containing at least 100 sets of case notes it would appear.

That is the good news, the bad news is they are unindexed, they are in alphabetical order, but within each box, meaning you would have to search all of them to be sure you have covered all the bases so to speak in your search. They are also held ‘off site’.We only managed about a 100 or so records in 4 hours solid, I must confess the tempation to read them in depth rather than speed read and index was proving too much at times.

The success rate amongst applicants was very low, in Garry’s box around 5% were successful and around 20% in the box I was looking at. The reasoning at times seemed harsh and heartfelt pleas for money from pretty much destitute widows with bairns often fell on deaf ears. What I found interesting was the man, or his next of kin, was invited to make a statement regarding the circumstances he had obtained the disability, some were frankly ‘at it’ but others were very specific stating I was shot / wounded by shrapnel etc at (location) on a specific date. This is backed up by extracts obviously taken from military records and can be fairly lengthy in nature.

I was struck by not only the number of men who had been regulars and had survived the war, but also a fair few South African war veterans who most defintely been around the block. One Old Sweat was refused his pension as his injury had been picked up in the Boer War and not WW1, his 20 odd nears counting for nought it would appear.

So how does this material compare with the records held online at Ancestry?

This is where for me it gets exciting I dip sampled the records we had indexed and found that virtually none of them appeared online, it maybe that this is a fluke but I get the impression it is likely not to be the case. A further bonus was that many men who had seen only Home Service and did not have a medal index card were recorded, if their record was destroyed there would be absolutely no record of them having served in HM Forces.

Garry and I intend to get back as often as we can but as you can imagine we are oly scratching the surface and it really needs some time and money thrown at it. Perhaps a project for me when I retire next year, who knows?

We will keep you updated as we progress with the project.

John Duncan

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Now I cannot take any credit for this in any shape or form, other than finding it on the blog of British Genes, but thought it well worthy of dissemination, which it now does, courtesy of Chris Paton, to whom I apologise for not previously asking his permission to reproduce the article.


But here it is an article on WW1 Army Pensions appeals by Scottish soldiers, penned by a young lad called Tunji Lees , an Austrian / Scot. On the face of things it seems to be a fabulous potential source of information and well worthy of further investigation, I may have to try and persuade Tom Gordon at the Royal Scots to take a dander down the hill with me for a good look. I would certainly be up for digitising the records but a) Looks like a massive job and b) NAS are very adverse to allowing cameras into the building, perhaps they may soften the line at some point.

“I’ve recently discovered a great, little-known source for people researching the service of their First World War ancestors in Scotland. There are a set of post-WW1 pension appeal records held by the National Records of Scotland (www.nrscotland.gov.uk).

The records are catalogued under the reference PT6 and contain the pension application records of 1000s of Scottish soldiers -and next of kin of soldiers (usually widows) – who suffered from injuries sustained in the war, or died after the war due to injuries. These appear to be the Scottish equivalent of the PIN26 series for England and Wales (which, unlike the Scottish PT6 series, is indexed).

Whereas the PT26 series appears to only be a selection of the disability pensions awarded to English and Welsh soldiers after the First World War, the Scottish PT6 series appears to be complete. And as you’ll see below, the Scottish records are also quite detailed.

The applications are organised in boxes alphabetically by month, from November 1919 (reference PT6/1), to December 1932 (reference PT6/288). That’s about 29 meters (or 95 feet) of pension records! There are also records from the same series covering post-WW2 disability pension applications, however seeing as they are closed for 75 years, the first set (those from 1945) will only be available in 2021.
It doesn’t appear as if any genealogists are aware of the existence of these records, as they aren’t mentioned in the NAS publication Tracing your Scottish Ancestors, or in any guides to tracing WW1 ancestry that I’ve read, although they’re a fantastic source of information on Scottish army ancestors.
Because most WW1 service records were burnt during WW2 (surviving records from record series WO363 and WO364 are indexed on ancestry.co.uk), it can be difficult tracing your ancestor’s service during WW1. In fact, they say you only have about a 30% chance in finding a record of your ancestor’s service. Hopefully, these set of applications can raise that chance to at least 40% or 50%.
If you think your ancestor might have suffered from a disability due to the war, or died in the years afterwards, then I would strongly recommend consulting them. Many of the applications were actually rejected, so even if you know your ancestor didn’t receive a disability pension, it’s still possible there’s a record of him applying for one. It’s not clear to me whether these only cover army soldiers, or for other services also.
I’ve summarised the information that a typical pension file will include here below: (the layout on the actual applications is different)
General information
-Name of the soldier (+ name of the applicant, and relationship to soldier, if not the same)
-His address
-Pre-enlisting occupation
-Employer before the war (on later applications only)
-Employer after the war (on later applications only)
-Insurance society (on later applications only)
Military information
-Rank & unit
-Service no
-When first attested
-When discharged
-Reason for discharge
-Details on pre-war service (if applicable)
-Details on service 1914-1921 (when and where he served, and in what units)
Information on application
-Date of the hearing and in which courtroom it was held (the hearings were held at 3 Parliament Square, Edinburgh)
-Disability from which the man claimed to be suffering
-Whether the appeal was allowed or disallowed (many were in fact disallowed)
Information on application
-Date of the hearing and in which courtroom it was held (the hearings were held at 3 Parliament Square, Edinburgh)
-Disability from which the man claimed to be suffering
-Whether the appeal was allowed or disallowed (many were in fact disallowed)
-If allowed, how much the applicant received, and whether he got a lump sum or a fixed rate, and for how longEach file also has some information on the soldier’s medical history. From around 1923, the application files start to get thicker and
thicker, some having up to 10 or more pages of medical history, detailing the medical condition of the soldier throughout, and after, the war, as well as his date and cause of death if he died. Some of the files also include correspondence relating to theapplication.The application records are held off-site, and will need to be ordered 24 hours in advance.Occasionally, I’ve come across a file which had not been filed under the correct letter within the box, and once, I came across a file that had been filed in the wrong box.I believe these records have great potential for being a useful source for WW1 family history research. The problem with them however is that, without an index, it can be very time consuming looking for a pension record unless you know exactly when it was applied for.

I hope someone will see fit to digitise or at least index them. Perhaps this could be a project for a genealogy society, or a commercial website . I can’t see the NRS indexing or digitising them any time soon, as I know they’re already quite busy with digitising valuation rolls, and other records.”

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Service Records

Whilst these are undoubtably the best source of information, the chances of you finding the man concerned are limited, about 1 in 3 to 1in 4. This is because the vast majority were destroyed by fire in the Blitz. Even the ones that remain are in varying degrees of readabilty due to burning / water damage. These are stored on microfilm at the National Archives in Kew,London. They are also available again on a pay perview basis on the Ancestry website

What about the regimental museum, my Grandad was in the Royal Scots?

A number of things to bear in mind about regimental museums, they do not hold service record, with the exception of the Guards. They tend to be run by volunteers who although generous in donating their time are exceptionally busy people. Access may be a problem as well and an appointment is sometimes neccesary. I would think about going to the regimental museum once you had exhausted other avenues.

The local newspapers of the time.

A goldmine of information on local lads, some even run to photos and extensive stories.These can normally be accessed at your local studies library. The Scotsman cab be accessed online on a pay per day basis or for free for Edinburgh Library members.

Charles Gibson death notice

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Nearly 6 million men served with the forces during the Great war, therefore the chances of you not having a family member in the war is fairly remote. So now you want to find out more about that relative of yours what information do you need. The simple answer is as much as you can get, and it comes in all sorts of forms.


Your ageing relatives  are a tangible link with the last, and may well have a good few stories to tell,ask them they can only say no, however beware they may be confused about events that happened nearly 100 years ago, and whilst they were still a child or not even born.


A good source of information particulary if they are named on the back, from personal experience I can tell you that they very rarely are.

Birth / Death / Marriage Certficates

If a man was serving during WW1 and one of these events happened, there is a fair chance that his civil profession and military standing will both be indicated ie : John Smith miner/ Pte 12345 8th Battalion Royal Scots.


These are a good start as they will give you the person name and service number, the service number is particulary useful if your relative has a common name, for example I was asked to identify a James Smith who had served with Gordon Highlanders, there were literally hundreds who had  served and this did not include J Smith’s , so service numbers are very useful. Armed with these facts you can access your man’s medal index card from the National Archives or Ancestry which will hopefully reveal more information.

Her is an example of a Medal Index Card in this Horace MacAulay who is on Newbattle Church Memorial.

MIC of Horace Macaulay, Seaforth Highlanders

MIC of Horace Macaulay, Seaforth Highlanders

This particular card belong to Horace Macaulay, a young officer from  Eskbank, Dalkeith. If you look at it , it may seem a bit confusing at first however I will take you through it. Name , self explanatory, Corps the unit that the man served in, Horace was a Lance Sergeant 2311 (Corporal) with the H.A.C. The Honourable Artillery Company,he was the Commisioned into the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders as a 2nd Lieutenant then promoted  to Lieutenant with the 7th Seaforth Highlanders. It also states that he served in France and arrived there on 26th July,1916, he served with them until his death on 25th April,1918.

So where can I find these cards then?

They are available on a pay for view basis at either the National Archives website or on the Ancestry website

I will cover more on the subject tomorrow

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