Behind the lines

Personal stories of the First World War

Silhouetted row of soldiers with shovels

Explore Scotland's story of the 1914-1918 war through the experiences of individual Scots. This major exhibition at the National Library ran from 27 June to 11 November 2014.


Treasured letters, diaries, sketches and photographs offer a direct link to Scots who lived and died in the Great War.

Some of these precious fragments of Scotland's story of the First World War are on show in the National Library of Scotland's exhibition 'Behind the lines'.

Taken from the Library's wonderfully rich collections, they offer a window into the diverse wartime experiences of a variety of individuals.

Poster illustration of soldiers marching
Detail from handwritten diary page



'Behind the lines' opens with a look at the world before August 1914 and some of the events that contributed to the countdown to conflict.

Key themes then developed in the exhibition are:

  • Recruitment, taking in propaganda, conscription and conscientious objectors
  • Active service, revealing the experiences of those in the Armed Forces and the impact for those at home
  • The Home Front, focusing on the treatment of casualties, the munitions industry and defence of the realm
  • General war effort, highlighting other contributions made to support the war.
Plan of shell filling factory


The stories

Personal stories begin with that of General Douglas Haig, who commanded the British Army on the Western Front. One of the highlights in the exhibition is the diary Haig kept during every day of the war.

We also meet a range of individuals, from soldiers to nurses, and from conscientious objectors to grieving parents.

Two young men in naval uniform
Nurse wearing army helmet

Among them are:

  • The Dickson Brothers, Archibald and Robert: Both of them served in the Royal Navy. While Robert would eventually become a Rear-Admiral, Archibald, aged only 16, was killed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916
  • Mairi Chisholm: At 18 she went to the Western Front and spent most of the war caring for soldiers at a first aid post at the Belgian front line
  • George Ramage: He joined the Gordon Highlanders in 1915 and was sent to Flanders, enduring the horrors of trench warfare before being wounded and sent back to Blighty
  • Thomas Hannan: He opposed the war and was imprisoned as a conscientious objector
  • Sir David Henderson: He commanded the Royal Flying Corps in 1914 and was involved in military aeronautics development. Some regard him as the 'father of the Royal Air Force'
  • Mary Lee Milne: She served in Romania and Russia in 1916-1917 with the Scottish Women's Hospitals.

In their own words

Throughout the exhibition, visitors can read and hear some of the powerful first-hand accounts of those experiences contained in manuscripts and other documents that are held in the national collections.

  • Letters, journals and diaries allow us to share events and emotions from a time when individuals and society had to adjust their actions and attitudes as the wartime nation changed
  • Photo albums and sketches record people and places caught up in that momentous period in history
  • Films from the Library's moving images archive help put the experiences in context, while colourful posters illustrate Government campaigns to maintain the war effort at home and at the Front.


Exhibitions overview

See also:

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