The National War Museum and Library ELISA visit
Report by Judy Wheeler
On Wednesday 10th May, Sarah Dallman and Ross Anderson hosted an ELISA visit to the National War Museum Library, which is part of the National Museums of Scotland. The War Museum is located within the grounds of Edinburgh castle, and explores Scotland’s military history.
The foundations of the museum go back to the First World War and the War Museum itself houses variety of exhibits including uniforms, weapons, medals, photographs, paintings, flags and colours, silverware and even a mascot – Bob the dog. It currently has a Safer Steps exhibition, celebrating the work of the Halo trust on mine clearance. http://www.nms.ac.uk/national-war-museum/whats-on/halo-trust/
The library has been part of the museum from the very start. In 1933 it is believed that the library had around 3000 volumes, and was a research library for the museum’s curator.
The library’s collection is now around 11,000 volumes, both monographs and journals, and reflects the museum’s collections. The collection relates to Scottish military history going back to the 17th century – including Army, Navy and RAF material. The library has a lot of material on regimental histories – including overseas regiments – as well as a broad range of war-related subjects such as uniforms, weapons, women in the armed forces and even music and art.
Most of the stock is published material, and the Librarian is currently working to try to catalogue all of the holdings. The library is classified using two different schemes – the regimental material is based on a War Office classification, which arranges the regiments chronologically with the older regiments first and newer at the end. Stock is purchased centrally, and catalogued and classified and barcoded by Sarah, the War Museum Librarian.
Enquiries and workshops
The Library is open on a Tuesday Morning only, and is open to the public – access is reference only. Potential visitors to the library can send an enquiry via email and the librarian will send them an email to allow them free entry into the Castle grounds to get to the library.
Common enquiries received by the library include military history enquiries and people looking to track the regiment that a family member belonged to. This is a tricky enquiry for the War Museum Librarian! However, if a clear photograph including insignia is provided, sometimes, it is possible to identify the regiment.
The library staff also provide workshops for the public on ‘Tracing Your Military Ancestors’ and host visits from groups. Recent visitors include a group who had had family members in Far East Prisoner of War Camps, and the University of the Third Age.
Gems of the collection
Major Mackay Scobie was the first curator at the library, and annotated the volumes of major Scottish regiments, which makes the collection unique, as well as a rich source of information.
The library holds detailed books of illustrated uniforms, practical guides such as the illustrated ‘How to use your lance’ from 1825, an illustrated record of the battle of Waterloo and an amazing depiction of the funeral procession for the Duke of Wellington’s state funeral – a 7 foot long illustration.
A snapshot of other items in the collections included: books of regimental flags, Mess rule books, regimental histories and Army lists going back to the 1740s.
Another fascinating item was Scottish War artist William Simpson’s book of paintings detailing life in the Crimean war, including the charge of the light brigade. Finally, we were shown a gorgeous set of embroidered silk postcards, which would have been bought by soldiers to send home to loved ones.
Report by Judy Wheeler