Military and naval papers at NLS

Extract from handwritten page
Extract from the diary of First
World War soldier
George Ramage

Manuscript collections at the National Library of Scotland offer a broad range of sources for military and naval research.

There are considerable collections of papers relating to the Crimean, South African and Peninsular wars.

The First and Second World Wars are particularly well represented, with letters, diaries, photographs, maps and other papers offering an insight into personal experiences of both conflicts.

Peninsular War (1808-1814)

Examples of papers to be found in the collections include:

  • Papers of General Sir George Murray (1793-1849), including letters, army orders, and other military and political documents connected with the Peninsular War, the occupation of France, and subsequent home, colonial and military affairs [Adv.MSS.46.1.1-46.10.2]
  • Papers of Sir Thomas Graham of Balgowan (1719-1850), later Baron Lynedoch, including correspondence, military journals and notebooks, relating to the Peninsular War, especially Cadiz and St Sebastian [MSS.3590-3645;  MSS.16001-16406]

Crimean War (1853-1856)

Examples of papers to be found in the collections include:

  • Letters and diaries of Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Richard L O Pearson of the 7th Fusiliers from 1854-1855. They describe his voyage to Gallipoli, and the main events of the Crimean War [MSS.10985-10987]
  • Letters from 1854-1856 written by Thomas Ligertwood (later Surgeon Colonel) to his mother while he was Assistant Surgeon, 40th Foot [MS.15385]
  • Sketchbook from 1854-1856 containing drawings in pencil and watercolour of scenes in the Allied camp during the Crimean campaign [MS.9489]

South African ['Boer'] War (1899-1902)

Examples of papers to be found in the collections include: 

  • Diary of Second Lieutenant Herbert George Sotheby of the 4th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Covering 1900-1901, it includes first-hand accounts of raids in which the battalion took part during the South African War [MS.8498]
  • Letters and photographs from 1900-1902 of artist William Skeoch Cumming, while on active service in South Africa [MSS.9771-9807]
  • Diaries, photographs, and letters to his sister, from 1899-1902, of Douglas Haig, later Field Marshal Haig, during the Boer War [Acc.3155]

First World War (1914-1918)

Diaries, letters, sketches, photographs, maps and other papers offer detailed insights into personal experiences of the First World War. 

Our manuscript collections are especially rich in papers relating to this war, featuring such key figures as Field Marshal Douglas Haig. They also include personal papers of servicemen and women of all ranks.

The Western Front has the most substantial coverage, but other arenas of war, such as Salonika and Gallipoli, are also well represented.

  • Papers from 1914-1928 of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front for much of the war. Haig’s diary, letters to his wife, reports and maps provide detailed evidence of his role in the war. Post-war papers detail Haig's involvement in the establishment of the British Legion, and with the founding of the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh in 1926. See Haig diary pages for 11 November 1918
  • Haig's papers also include an extensive collection of First World War official photographs
  • Portraits and caricatures, 1915-1918, by Lieutenant Leonard J. Smith of officers of the 51st (Highland) Regiment (MS.10796)
  • Journals from 1916-1917  of Mary Lee Milne, describing her service with a unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals in Russia and Romania, and her article 'The Dobruja retreat', 1918 [Acc.6318]
  • Papers of Rear-Admiral R K Dickson (1898-1952), including letters to his parents, diaries and notes. Dickson took part in the battles of the Falkland Islands in 1914, Gallipoli in 1915, and Jutland in 1916 [MSS.13501-13588]
  • War diary from 1915-1916 of Lance-Corporal George Ramage, 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, on the Western Front [MSS.944-947]
  • Scrapbooks and photograph albums covering 1914-1918, relating to the nursing service of Miss Mairi Chisholm in Belgium [Acc.8006]

We tell the First World War stories of Field Marshal Haig ('The general'), George Ramage ('The jock') and Mairi Chisholm ('The nurse') in our 'Experiences of War' web feature.

 

Second World War (1939-1945)

Collections relating to the Second World War offer a varied record of the personal experiences of military and naval personnel directly involved in the conflict.

The papers of commanding officers include those of Major-General Douglas Wimberley and Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson.

Additional material at NLS, such as our major collections of political and labour and trade history papers, offer the opportunity to study the domestic impact of the war in Scotland.

  • Papers of Major-General Douglas Wimberley, 1941-1945, relating to the operations of the 51st (Highland) Division in North Africa and Sicily, including Wimberley's unpublished autobiography, ‘Scottish soldier’ [Acc.6119;  Acc.7380;  Acc.8681]
  • Correspondence and military papers from 1941-1944 of Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson, later Baron Ballantrae, relating to the war in Burma [Acc.9259;  Acc.10985]
  • Papers from 1941-1945 of Lord Ritchie-Calder CBE, relating to his service at the Political Warfare Executive [Dep.370]
  • Records of the Home Guard in Scotland, 1940-1945 [MSS.3816-3822]
  • Papers of the Rev Dr Donald Caskie, minister of the Scots Kirk, Paris, including correspondence, cables and letters to the relatives of servicemen he helped escape from occupied France [Acc.7548/G88-94]
  • Correspondence and papers from 1936-1971 of Sir Robert W Watson Watt, containing material relating to the development of RADAR during the Second World War [Acc.9343]
  • Political papers at NLS include the principal national archive of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Scottish National Party. We also have extensive holdings of a number of politicians active during the Second World War.

How to find military and naval manuscripts

This limited selection gives a flavour of the military and naval manuscript collections to be found at the NLS. More detailed subject lists are available for the First and Second World Wars:

You can identify additional military and naval collections by searching the various catalogues and indexes that are available in the reception area of the Special Collections Reading Room. Staff are always on hand to help with enquiries in the reception area. Before you visit, we are always happy to help with enquiries. Please email manuscripts@nls.uk.

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