The Great War had a devastating impact on local communities across Scotland.
And, in 2013, in response to a story in the Journal and Gazette, a group of locals gathered in the West Lothian Local History Library in Linlithgow High Street.
Their aim was simple: to research the home front in the Royal Burgh during the war years.
That meeting saw the formation of the Linlithgow in the Great War Group and, ultimately, the publication of a book on the subject.
Linlithgow in the Great War: The Home Front in a Royal Burgh was a labour of love for the 14 people who researched it – namely Anne Bennett, Sybil Cavanagh, Alan Dowell, David Elliot, Emma-Fleur Grof, Joyce Hartley, Andrew D Jones, Anne Maitland, Arran Maitland, Kirsty Miller, Maureen O’Donnell, Mary Shelton, Lizette Bingham-Thomson and Lucy Wilson.
Each took on their own topic, from the outbreak of war to its restrictions and fundraising to war memorials.
The book also contains two maps showing the homes of those who lost their lives – a graphic picture of just how many families in the Burgh lost loved ones.
It’s a fascinating insight into the town from 1914 to 1919, highlighting both how some things have changed and others remained the same.
The Journal and Gazette also had a starring role in the project, with our microfiche archives being scoured for any mention of the war and its casualties.
Indeed, Page One of the book starts with this note:
“During the First World War, the Linlithgowshire Gazette was published every Friday, price one old penny.
It covered the entire county, from Whitburn to Bo’ness. As was normal for a local paper at that time, it reported and commented upon all news: local, national and international.
It was a staunch Liberal paper, strongly anti-Tory, and supportive of Irish Home Rule.
The editor from 1913 to 1919 was George Craig. He was highly regarded in the town and at his farewell presentation, held in the Star & Garter Hotel, he was gifted the sum of £50, worth over £2100 today.”
That particular wee nugget is just one of very many to be discovered in the book’s pages, which Sybil Cavanagh and its editor Andrew Jones kindly agreed to talk me through.
Andrew said: “Nobel’s Explosive Factory was the first topic we researched,
“It grew dramatically in the war years and employed a large number of women, as the men were called up.
“Some 200 women and 100 men were working there in 1915 – some 200 of whom went out on strike for more pay during the war.
“Ordnance survey maps of the time did not show the factory or the town’s gas works, for obvious reasons.
“Our research was largely based around the Gazette’s microfiche archives, with excursions to the National Archives in Edinburgh and Glasgow University, which had the Nobel’s archives.”
Businesses in the town also feature heavily in the book’s pages.
Butcher Thomas Duncan, for example, hoped to avoid service, on the grounds that his eyesight was not good and there were only five butchers in the town, compared to eight two years previous.
But it fell on deaf ears and he served in France for two years, from February 1917.
It is these human stories that Sybil most enjoyed.
She said: “Everyone in the town was involved in fundraising to help the war effort, with the Victoria Halls at the heart of it.
“There are also many stories about poverty and injustice, along with some funny stories too.
“They include a poacher who came up at the sheriff court for stealing a rabbit who asked the sheriff: what will the people who live 100 years after this think when they read Thomas Grozier was fined 24 shillings in the year 1917 for taking a rabbit?
“The sheriff said he didn’t think anyone would know about it but Thomas said it would all be written down. He was proven correct!
“Another woman was fined for showing a light during the restrictions. She blamed her cat for pulling the curtain open – and the Gazette headline read, What a Catastrophe!
“It was no laughing matter when the town’s chip shops ran out of potatoes though!”
Fiona Hyslop MSP was more than happy to write the book’s foreword.
She said: “I have no doubt this book provides an invaluable insight, not only for those seeking an understanding of Linlithgow but of life in any small town across Scotland during World War One.”
Linlithgow in the Great War is priced £7.90 from Amazon, Far From the Madding Crowd and Linlithgow Library.