Amateur historian Harry Scott has marked the centenary of the First World War with a history of Berwick between 1914 and 1918.
Harry, a retired policeman, originally from Lauder and who now lives in Galashiels, describes himself as ‘an amateur’, but if that’s true then his skill is growing, as this is his second historical book.
Berwick-upon-Tweed: For King and Country, tells the story of the First World War through the inhabitants of a single town.
Harry went digging in the record archives of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Northumberland Fusiliers, as well as investigating civilian life during the war years.
This meant that he read through reports in what was then called The Berwickshire Advertiser, as well as other sources.
“I started off with the newspapers,” said Harry, “and I went down to the KOSB museum as well. Berwick also had what was called the Sanitary Authority at that time, which put out reports that were very helpful to me.”
King and Country documents the development of the war, from 1914 when Berwick’s volunteers went marching away to Europe, to the end of the conflict when broken soldiers returned home.
Harry has seen how the attitude to the war changed even as it was being fought.
“When you look at newspapers from those years it was quite a jingoistic time,” he said.“That was quite different by the time of the Second World War.
“Even two to three years into the First World War, the attitude was changing, as people began to learn more about the casualties involved.”
Harry is keen to stress that despite other authors giving in to the temptation to imagine themselves back in what was described as the war to end all wars, his is a strictly factual account.
Harry said: “The book describes the mood of patriotism, which swept through all levels of society at that time, and the optimism that the war would be over quickly, as well as the ever-growing casualty lists as the war dragged on and the men from Berwick gave their lives for King and Country.
The book has many stories of how the people coped with the restrictions imposed on them because of the war, and contains sketches that were widely published at the time, encouraging men to join the forces.
It also tells of the scourge of alcohol abuse in Berwick during the war, and how the authorities tried to deal with it.
The book also details some of the crimes that were committed, often by families struggling to cope, having been deprived of their principal breadwinners.
Army life features greatly in the book, including the dangers caused by armed soldiers mixing with the civilian population, and stories of the heroism of soldiers and sailors from the Berwick area, as well as their suffering as they lay wounded on the battlefield or in military hospitals.
There are photographs of many young men from Berwick who went off to war never to return, and accounts from British prisoners-of-war of the cruel and inhumane treatment they sometimes suffered at the hands of their captors.
Harry feels one man in particular captured the mood of Berwick as the war wore on – Thomas Grey, known as The Footplate Poet, who published many poems which reflected on the war as it progressed.
Despite receiving national recognition for his work, Harry feels that Thomas is the forgotten poet of Berwick.
Harry aimed to repair that by reproducing some of Grey’s poems, which he rediscovered during his research.
They include Peace, in which Grey urged ‘love and true born brotherhood’ to be shown by a British Army that had been victorious in the last Boer War, just 12 years before the First World War.
It took Harry almost a year to research and complete the book.
He is very grateful to Jim Walker from Spittal, himself a noted authority, and author of several pictorial books on the history of Berwick, for writing a moving and thought-provoking foreword.
And as well as appearing in paperback form, Harry formatted his work for the Kindle.
“It wasn’t that difficult,” he said. “It was a bit daunting at first, but I found a do-it-yourself guide to Create Space, which is part of Amazon, and that meant that I could just upload the whole thing, all the text once I’d formatted it and the pictures as well.”
One picture illustrates one of the odder stories of how the war affected Berwick.
On the cover – also designed by Harry – a large tank appears to sit on a very confined lawn in front of a small house.
It turns out to be a Mark IV Heavy Tank, which was presented to Berwick Borough in June 1919, by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton, and located in Palace Green.
Harry wrote: “General Swinton had been active in the development and adoption of the tank during the war.
“It was eventually removed in 1936 and scrapped at Messrs. Unthank and Sons, Spittal.”
Harry says that after having spent a year researching and writing, he already has his next subject in his mind.
“It is related to the war again,” he said, “but I’m keeping the details to myself just now.”
z Printed copies ( £9.99) are available from Grieves in Church Street, Berwick. A Kindle download version of the book ( £5.99) is available through Amazon.co.uk