The Scottish Parliament has never seen anything like it – more than 30,000 people queuing up outside and desperate to get in.
Over three weeks they waited patiently for an hour or more just to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Bad news – it has closed at the Parliament. Good news – it is now back at Cockenzie House in East Lothian until December 8 and reviewed here in Lucinda Byatt’s splendid post. Lucinda and her mum were among the many stitchers.
It will be back at Parliament next year. And if you want a preview, try the Tapestry website to see much better illustrations than mine here, listen to the audio, or buy the book.
Best of all, just go and see it – take the kids and any auld yins too. Nothing quite crosses all generations like the tapestry. It’s wonderful day out and free to boot.
Quite simply, it is magnificent in so many ways. Aesthetically, it is a stunning evocation of Scotland’s history, from earliest geological era to present day, told in more than 160 panels measuring 140 metres This makes it the world’s biggest tapestry (although, technically, like Bayeux it is actually embroidery).
Some bits you’ll know and others will surprise.
Elsie Inglis appears twice.
A lot of high heid yins but lots more ordinary folk
David Hume and Jean Jacques Rousseau have books in their heads.
Clearly, the stitchers (more than 1000 of them) have had a lot of fun. They have left their mark in signature panels.
It is a treasure trove of humour and hidden wit which stands out on closer inspection. And it is impossible to take it all in in just one visit – one lady came up five times from Peebles to see it.
All of this came out of the Pans – the original inspiration being the Prestonpans tapestry celebrating the 1745 battle. Artist Andrew Crummy designed the panels for that one, the Great Tapestry and the next one – the Diaspora Tapestry currentlyh being stitched by Scottish descendants around the world.
Sandy McCall Smith and Alistair Moffatt developed the Great Tapestry. Dorie Wilkie supervised stitching and Jim Naughtie is also a trustee but, sadly, my prediction about a panel for Aberdeen FC’s triumph 1983 at Gothenburg has not been realised.
This is a completely new slant on historiography – vast numbers of ordinary people coming together to weave – literally – their own history sparking new interest among young and old.
See it if you can at Cockenzie – call it stitches in time or history knit large it is not to be missed.
One of the great pleasures of wasting an idle hour looking at archive film is the electric jolt of surprise that causes you to fall off your chair.
In my case it was this clip of around 100 female Polish soldiers drilling somewhere in Scotland in 1943. It is silent, black and white, a bit long for a short at 11 minutes, and nothing to tell you where or why someone bothered to film them in the first place.
The first clue was in the name “Marine Hotel” at the side of the building where the women flock to at the end of the parade. Beryl Robinson’s very good history of the building shows that it is now the Scottish Fire Services College and is pinpointed here by the Britain from Above project.
The Marine was requisitioned at the start of the war as was Greywalls Hotel and Archerfield House, either of which could have been the starting point for the march.
They then move to the sand dunes and the beach via the same route we use today. It looks better in colour and should be familiar to those who saw all the aerial shots of this year’s British Open at Muirfield. There is much more buckthorn now.
The film is unusual in that it shows women soldiers. It is extraordinary because it shows them as individuals in detailed close up. It seems likely they were PWSK support troops gaining basic combat training.
They look like they’re having fun playing soldiers in the sand dunes. No live firing apart from the occasional smoke bomb.But it might well have been for real. Polish troops were deployed en masse in Scotland for a reason. If a Nazi invasion had materialised, much of the blood spilled to defend Scotland would have been Polish blood. This contribution is recognised in the Great Scottish Tapestry:
Three Polish airmen were killed fighting fires during the Clydebank blitz in 1941 when the sailors on the Polish destroyer Piorun delivered constant barrages of anti-aircraft fire.
As the war progressed, Polish troops trained in Scotland formed the armoured spearhead which routed German tank formations at Falaise, the key battle of Normandy. Sosabowski’s parachute brigade played a prominent role in the ill-fated assault on Arnhem.
In later years the relationship soured. Stalin continued to deny the horrendous Soviet massacre Poland’s military and civilian élite at Katyn and he resisted British offers of help to relieve the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. This was crowned by the biggest betrayal in the eyes of many Poles – Churchill’s ceding of Poland to Soviet influence at the Yalta conference.
So this drill and day out at seaside marks the end of an era of innocence. Curiously, Gullane beach also had another reminder from October 1939 when chivalry was still alive. Spitfires from nearby Drem and Turnhouse shot down the first German raiders over British airspace. The sailors and airmen from both sides were buried with full military honours as British Pathé recorded.
The wreckage from one of the Luftwaffe aircraft was buried in the Gullane dunes and lay there for nearly 60 years before being recovered.
A fishing boat rescued the survivors including Uberleutnant Sigmund Storp who gave the skipper his gold ring for saving his life. Their families later became friends. British Pathé and other newsreels recreated this a few days later, wrongly moving the site of the ditching westwards from Gullane to Port Seton.
Most of the Polish troops in Britain were of course men. Another Pathé film, more typical of the propaganda effort to boost morale, shows them in dancing mode.
This account of the Polish women soldiers in Gullane is necessarily incomplete so please leave a comment below if you can shed further light. There will be many mothers and grannies within its frames……
Hooray! Many thanks to filmmaker and historian Marianna Bukowski for identifying the actual film made from the Gullane footage. Stirring martial music encourages women to join up. It is much shorter for the edit – out goes the Marine Hotel but one of the cameramen (there must have been two) stays in. From his uniform, he might be American. By 1943 the USA was the lead player in Allied propaganda films with plenty of ideas, people and equipment.
It is on the VWojtekSolidierBear YouTube channel which has a great range of similar clips, including some of Polish WAAFs, and Polish soldiers at a camp in Scotland in 1940 in which the commentator places Glasgow in England!
The film has now also received some coverage on the BBC.
From Golfers to Firefighters…where hope is unbroken: the story of Gullane’s Marine Hotel transformed to the Scottish Fire Services College by Beryl Robinson, Gullane and Dirleton History Society, 2005. The Fire College is now facing closure.
For more falling-off-the-chair moments, please see my post on the British Pathé blog
This wee gem from Cardiff University shows Archie Cochrane, the father of evidence-based medicine, in his prime.
He is the narrator so you see him from the start in a 1970s-style pullover. Then it cuts to scenes from the 1950s – some of which are redolent of the later Cholmondley Warner pastiches.
Archie is best known for the collaboration that bears its name – an international movement which scrutinises evidence from medical trials to find out what actually works for patients and what doesn’t.
But this is his great project in the Welsh valleys which resulted in the Rhondda Fach becoming the most medically-examined community in the world.
At first sight, he seems a bit out of place – posh Scottish doctor with a plummy accent, a Cambridge double first and his own private income (enough for him to afford a top- of- the- range Jaguar).
It makes you ask questions, which is what Archie did all the time. Sometimes awkward questions which rankled vested interests and rumbled conventional orthodoxy.
It may be a Scottish trait of constantly inquiring cussedness but that‘s the way he was. And for those who loved his integrity, loyalty and friendship it was a minor foible. Archie also had the Scotsman’s ability to dispense a ready dram and start a party anywhere.
After school and university he studied in Berlin and Vienna where he became fluent in German. He then enrolled as a medical student but with the advent of the Spanish Civil War he joined the International Brigade.
On leave in bar in Madrid he encountered Ernest Hemingway (“an alcoholic bore”). In a Barcelona bar he had a long argument with a tall Englishman over the POUM militia’s failure in the Aragon offensive to take Huesca and Zaragoza. That was Eric Blair aka George Orwell.
As a medical orderly, Archie also suffered every triage nurse or doctor’s nurse’s nightmare – admitting a wounded Julian Bell, a close pal from their Cambridge days, knowing that he was certainly going to die.
Spain confirmed his affinity with ordinary working people and his hatred of fascism. That was further seared during his war service. Like his friends Richard Doll and John Crofton, his war was traumatic – all the more so as a prisoner of war when he had additional pressure as a doctor who could speak German.
In such adverse conditions he managed to conduct some trials and also help some Spanish volunteers in Salonica who faced a tough time explaining why they were fighting with the allies. Archie told the German authorities they had all been born in Gibraltar and were therefore British.
Archie studied under Austin Bradford Hill, the leading medical statistician who provided the randomisation model for trials. Later, he almost carved a career in his native Scotland but a Scottish Office and Medical Research Council (MRC) project fell through. So he came to Wales joining the MRC’s Pneumoconiosis Unit at Llandough Hospital, Cardiff.
This was at the start of the National Health Service which already had strong associations with South Wales and mineworkers. Its founder Aneurin Bevan (whose father died from pneumoconiosis) was from Tredegar which had long had its won comprehensive health service paid for by miners and steelworkers.
The Scottish doctor AJ Cronin worked for the Tredegar Medical Aid Society and every week would roar up the valleys on his motorbike to pursue his studies in Cardiff. His experiences with the mining community formed the basis of The Citadel the novel turned into Hollywood blockbuster which hardened British public opinion in favour of a national health service. (I looked very hard for evidence that he and Bevan actually met in Tredegar but, dammit, could not find any!).
But for Archie it was a relatively favourable environment. The wee Jock with the big Jag had fought fascists and Nazis so his credentials were OK. Around one in twenty miners suffered some sort of disability from working in the pits. It was these men he recruited for the study. They were the key to its success, ensuring an astonishing response – more than 90 per cent of the population agreed to take part.
Its main aim was to see if the common miners’ disease progressive massive fibrosis (PMF) was due to an interaction between pneumoconiosis and tuberculosis. In the end, it concluded that tuberculosis had relatively little or no impact.
Archie followed the research up over 20 years. Its real impact was to demonstrate that epidemiology – looking at the pattern of disease – could be carried out effectively in large-scale field studies as well as the laboratory. If Tredegar was the cradle of the NHS, the Rhondda Fach was its nursery. South Wales also broke new ground in historiography with the Craig-y-nos project recreating the story of a TB hospital through the memories of former child patients.
In the 1960’s Archie expanded his questioning to other areas – use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks and the relative value of specialist coronary care units. In 1967 he asked what the evidence was for cervical screening programmes and concluded it was very flimsy. This was picked up by a newspaper reporter and was the first, but not the last taste, of media controversy.
The uncomfortable truth which he highlighted in his 1971 Rock Carling lecture Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random reflections on health services was there was no good evidence for many medical intervention and treatments. Too often it was based on subjective ignorance (from fellow doctors, which didn’t endear Archie to many colleagues) rather than objective evidence from randomised controlled trials.
Only after Franco died did Archie return to Spain to revisit his old haunts from the civil war. Overseas travel was not his forte. “…More things happened to Prof. Cochrane when he was abroad than to anybody else since. He got his passport stolen, he was accosted in lifts, he lost his luggage every single time he went abroad” colleague Janie Hughes recalled in a Wellcome witness seminar
He also directed attention to his personal life and discovered his sexual impotence was due to the inherited disease, porphyria. He then tracked more than 100 members of his wider family to have them tested.
A keen art collector, Archie even ensured questions continued to be asked after his death in 1988. He left a bequest of more than £300,000 to Green College, Oxford, newly established by Richard Doll, with the stipulation that part of the money should be used in the field of randomised trials.
He did not set up the Cochrane Collaboration. This was the work of Iain Chalmers and others first in Oxford and now around the world but he wholeheartedly approved of its aims.
The Collaboration logo (left) shows seven controlled trials of the use of corticosteroids to women expected to give birth prematurely. The first trial was in 1972 and the last in 1991. Lines on the left show positive results for the treatment – cutting the odds of baby death between 30 and 50 per cent.
The trouble was for two decades doctors simply didn’t know the life-saving benefits of this treatment. It wasn’t until 1989 that the results were brought together in a systematic review. As a result, tens of thousands of premature babies probably and suffered and died.
The explosion in the number of controlled trials has continued unabated since then and with it the work of thousands of Cochrane researchers critically assessing all available trial results and then publishing them.
So Archie’s questioning continues…..
Isabel Baker’s informative post on the MRC Insight blog adds interesting details on Archie’s team
The James Lind library (named after the Scottish physician who first conducted medial trials in the 18th century) has very useful Cochrane links.
Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random reflections on health service – online version from the Nuffield Trust which also has a series of essays on Archie Non-random Reflections on Health Services Research viewable here.
Archie Cochrane: Back to the Front by F Xavier Bosch, Barcelona, 2003 is a very good collection of essays on Archie with particular reference to his time in Spain.
The Cochrane Collaboration has been a leader in harnessing the internet to make its work readily accessible online. This is a good short video of its early years:
Professor Jimmy Williamson, who died in June, was the last surviving member of the Edinburgh group which found the first 100% cure for tuberculosis.
In 1954 he was the last consultant to join Sir John Crofton’s team in Edinburgh. As a junior doctor he saw his wages double with he advent of the NHS and he had two notable celebrity patients George Orwell at Hairmyres Hospital and Bill McLaren, the future rugby commentator at East Fortune Hospital.
By that time three drugs were available – streptomycin, isoniazid and PAS. Many people were cured but thousands also developed resistance to individual drugs, relapsed and died. The Edinburgh group’s approach was approach was revolutionary using all three available TB drugs from the outset.
Rising TB notifications in Edinburgh were halved between 1954 and 1957, a feat not achieved anywhere before or since. Waiting lists disappeared and the epidemic was halted in its tracks. Jimmy was technical director of a mass x-ray campaign in 1958 which with enormous support from newspapers and broadcasters rooted out residual TB in the city
Many did not believe the Edinburgh group’s results. When Jimmy presented a paper at a conference in Istanbul, all the American delegates walked out. An international trial was arranged which used the Edinburgh model as a protocol. It became the gold standard for TB treatment in the developed world. Landmark trials by the Medical Research Council offered affordable treatments for developing countries.
There is much more on this in Sir John’s memoirs, newly published by his daughter Alison and son-in-law David and available here.
Jimmy’s career, particularly in geriatrics, the speciality he did so much to create, is well told in Colin Currie’s lovely Scotsman obituary. It also refers to the ruse Bernard Crick played on Jimmy to ensure his recollection of George Orwell was based on fact.
But best always to listen the man himself. Here are two interview clips previously available on the NHS 60th anniversary website – the first on Orwell
And the second on Highland nurses who succumbed to TB
For more on the history of tuberculosis, the University of York hosted an interesting conference in June. More information and downloadable booklet (in English and Italian) is available here
The best account of Orwell as a patient is by Hilda Bastian
Also worth a look is my Reuters Foundation study (inspired and supported by Jimmy and Sir John) and available at the RCPE
1913 was anything but a quiet halcyon year, a point well illustrated in Michael Portillo’s recent Radio Four series
Two important Scottish centenaries also came out of it. On August 15, royal assent was given to bill setting up the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) the unique social experiment in state funded comprehensive health care well before the NHS.
Its birth was remarkable for the speed of delivery. Sir John Dewar’s committee spent months taking evidence around Scotland but managed to write its final report in just one day, meeting at the North British (now the Balmoral) Hotel in Edinburgh.
The Treasury signed off its annual £42,000 grant within weeks – such were the power of Dewar’s arguments and the broad political support behind it.
Surprisingly, perhaps, there were links aplenty then between health, philanthropy and the demon drink. As well as the Dewar family’s whisky operation (in which Sir John played a key part), the family which owned Glengarioch distillery in Oldmedrum spawned Sir Patrick Manson, the father of tropical medicine; and Sir John Usher founded the Usher Institute for Public Health in Edinburgh.
Also remarkable for that time was the influence of women in developing the HIMS. Katharine Murray, Marchioness of Tullibardine and later Duchess of Atholl, served on Dewar’s committee. She became Scotland’s first female MP and the first female Conservative junior minister in a UK Government before falling out with her local party over her efforts to help children caught up in the Spanish Civil War.
HIMS was administered by the Board of Health in Edinburgh where civil servant Muriel Ritson served for many years. Her experience proved valuable enough to warrant serving on Sir William Beveridge’s committee.
The success of HIMS was such that it was copied around the world. It was the model, albeit with important changes, for the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky and the Newfoundland Cottage Hospital scheme in Canada. Newfoundland implemented the cottage hospital system advocated by Dewar but not put into practice. Unlike in Scotland, Its doctors were also directly salaried.
But the most remarkable feature is that HIMS continues to inspire. Last year a group of GPs, historians and archivists with Wellcome Trust funding, ran a series of meetings and seminars to celebrate the centenary of the Dewar report.
This prompted a debate in the Scottish Parliament with all party support and a new initiative to develop fresh ways of providing modern health care to remote and rural areas of Scotland. The challenges are still there – just like Dewar 100 years go.
Some things may never change, but sometimes history offers a constructive shove in the right direction.
Oops, almost forgot….. The other centenary was the genesis of St Andrews House, the Edinburgh headquarters for the Scottish Office. A competition to build it was announced in January 1913 by junior Treasury Minister William Wedgwood Benn, father of Tony and grandfather of Hilary.
Benn was a much decorated pilot in First World War who enlisted again in 1939 as a pilot officer at the age of 62 and flew in several operations.
By that time St Andrews House had just opened. This being Edinburgh, it only took 26 years from start to finish but it was from here that the idea for Highland Doctor was hatched and commissioned.
Stand by for a treat – if you haven’t already seen it, Kay Mander’s Highland Doctor from the Scottish Screen Archive is an absolute delight. Click on the image to watch….
It tells in around 20 minutes the story of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) which next month celebrates its centenary.
Mander’s film was made thirty years later, shortly after Jack Cardiff’s technicolor documentary, the The Western Isles which the Government wanted to ban because of potential propaganda value to Goebbels.
Bizarrely, Mander got her own break in films thanks to Goebbels.
She had been living in Berlin in 1935 where many of her pals were Nazi sympathisers and landed a job as a receptionist for the international film congress organised by the Nazi propaganda minister.
She was then invited to work for London Films, initially as a translator then in publicity where she interviewed Robert Donat. There she honed her film craft evolving into one of the most talented documentary makers and her politics, becoming a Communist.
Hull-born Mander did almost everything on Highland Doctor – writing, directing and an acting cameo as a cycling nurse. There are a few professional actors but most of the characters are locals drafted in.
You can tell it is a propaganda film just from the rousing music under Muir Mathieson’s enthusiastic baton. It was commissioned by the Department of Health who were immensely proud of HIMS and was made despite wartime restrictions on filming locations. But, by and large, it is a very accurate portrayal of the service.
The GP in the natty Harris Tweed jacket is Clydebank schoolteacher Alex Mackenzie making his professional acting debut at the age of 56. He later featured in the Ealing comedies The Maggie and Rockets Galore.
Mander was a vibrant member of the early British documentary movement spearheaded by John Grierson. The real life GP in Highland Doctor on whom the character was based reputedly lost an eye playing shinty as student with Grierson.
In later years her career was stymied by blacklisting because of her politics but she remained involved in the film industry – looking after continuity on films like From Russia with Love, Where Eagles Dare and Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.
The BFI has a good profile and interviews with Mander. A very talented and prolific film maker and a lovely film.
British Pathe has pulled together a set of 51 short newsreel films about female football teams as part of the English FA’s 150th anniversary.
They are intriguing for a number of reasons – not least because of the FA’s ban on women playing which lasted until 1971.
The full collection is available here. The earliest clips show female teams playing in London parks. The changes brought by war in 1914 saw women drafted en masse into factories to do the work men did before heading off to fight.
They also took on male sports, often as a morale booster. This may account for relatively high proportion of pre-1919 clips.
The women’s teams are drawn from workers from munitions factories, the Handley Page aircraft works and other ad-hoc groups. They played to raise money for forces’ charities, the restoration of Rheims Cathedral and in the north east for the welfare of miners’ children in the 1926 strike.
They tended to wear hats or scarves and matches were kicked off not by teams but by the referee or a celebrity. Training could be unorthodox – boxing and horse riding are shown here.
What is surprising is the large crowds in many of the films and the international range: France, South Africa, Germany and Australia.
As sound comes in, the tone becomes more patronising or titillating - bare female knees and thighs on show were something of a rarity then. There is also some second-rate schoolboy sniggering and rather weary references to Eve playing Adam’s game but newsreel commentaries were not noted for their originality nor their aversion to cliché.
One team stands out was based in Preston, Lancashire, the works outfit of the tram and locomotive manufacturers set up by William Bruce Dick and John Kerr. Both were Scots – not surprising since Scotland then was the world’s leader in taking football around the world (ah, how things have changed….) Kerr was from East Lothian and was elected as Preston’s Conservative MP in 1903. Dick died in Sevenoaks two years later. The team was formed in 1915 by which time the factory had also turned to making munitions.
Some of the Pathe clips are pulled together in this video which tells their story really well:
A key influence was their coach, Alfred Franklin. The team went on tour to Canada but weren’t allowed to play by the Canadian Football Association, following the lead of the English FA in 1921 , backed by the other home associations who viewed women as a threat and effectively banned them from club grounds for the next 50 years.
Undaunted, the Dick, Kerr ladies headed south to the USA, playing men’s teams. And the club itself went on to compete until 1965. There was never any doubting the quality of their play. Matt Busby rated Val Walsh the best player he had ever seen in his life, and, had she been a man, he would have immediately signed her up to play for Manchester United. This might have given a new perspective on the Busby Babes.
In recent years, there has been a wealth of digital history interest in this area. Gail Newsham blazed the trail with her seminal work on Dick, Kerr. Colin Jose provides a good account of the 1922 tour here. Spartacus, as ever, is excellent, providing some primary sources and there are also some evocative images here.
So plenty to explore and watch on the distaff contribution to the Beautiful Game…..