As the Opening Up Archives Trainee here at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, I am one of a group of thirteen trainees spending a year in archives around England.
This week the group met up in Edinburgh to catch up with one another and to take a look at some of Scotland’s archive heritage.
Our visit to Edinburgh Castle involved a tour led by one of their educational interpreters.
In his role as a Sergeant in the regular army, the Glasgow Highlanders’ regiment, he took us through some unexpected aspects of the Great War.
He had a range of artefacts , including helmets, a rifle, various types of gas masks, ammunition and bandoliers. His account of life at the front ranged from the harrowing to the humorous. A mirror on a stick was used to check that kilted soldiers were not wearing their regulation underwear. They were expected to go ‘commando’ and regulation underwear was only worn on certain situations, including dancing a reel with ladies present.
This was an amusing thought, and I wasn’t completely convinced he was telling us the whole truth. However he then went on to tell us about the effects of mustard gas, the Great War’s version of chemical warfare. It caused terrible blistering to the lungs if breathed in, but it also clung to any damp and sweaty skin. I’m sure you can see what the problem might be for a soldier in a kilt. ‘Gas bloomers’ were issued to the Scottish regiments, usually made of cut down striped fabric pyjama bottoms.
I wonder what Abraham Benjamin made of all this, a Jewish soldier from Manchester, serving with a Scottish regiment.
Abraham Benjamin