College explores military past

Newbattle Abbey College, Charlotte Johnson who is co-ordinating a Heritage Lottery Fund project to find out Newbattle Abbey College's contribution to WW2
Newbattle Abbey College, Charlotte Johnson who is co-ordinating a Heritage Lottery Fund project to find out Newbattle Abbey College's contribution to WW2

A Midlothian educational institution’s unique military service is to be celebrated in a new project.

Newbattle Abbey College has secured a £70,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to research and display its contribution to World War 2.

The college and grounds were home to around 2000 military personnel during the war and the project aims to assess archival details around the UK related to its history.

The information will include an exhibition at the college and guided tours of the college and the site of the military base.

The intention is also to produce learning packs for local schools, a DVD, a publication on findings and a website.

Charlotte Johnson, who is co-ordinating the project over the next year, said: “The college was a training facility for the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the Royal Army Medical Corps, with the officers in the main house and Nissen huts for the soldiers in what is now the college’s industrial park.

“I was speaking to a man the other day who remembers Nissen huts across the road housing PoWs.

“The college’s military use went beyond 1939-45 because it was used as a demobilisation centre for army personnel, allowing them to train for white collar jobs such as trade union officials and teachers.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of information out there about the college’s military history – I’m going to the Imperial War Museum in a few weeks – and it’s my job is to find it and collate it.

“This is a fantastic chance to add to the wonderful history and teaching knowledge available at the college.”

The project is centred on public engagement and it is Charlotte’s intention to work closely with the local community to ensure the project is a success.

She said: “We would like to speak to anybody who has any links to the military base at the college or who has any information on, photos of or memories of the base.

“We are also looking for volunteers who would like to be involved in doing research for the project.

“Similarly, we would be keen to meet with groups who think that the outcomes of this project could be beneficial to them. For example, local history groups, who would like us to share our research with them, or local care homes who think the project would make a good foundation for reminiscence sessions.”

The project will visit archives which hold relevant documents, such as local libraries, local history centres, the National Library of Scotland, the National Registers of Scotland and the National Archives in London.

The intention is to digitise documents to build a comprehensive archive at Newbattle which can be accessed online.

Charlotte said: “We intend to work with local groups, to record their knowledge of the college during the war, and conduct oral history interviews with individuals and families who have links to the military base.

“These will build an important archive which will remain at Newbattle.”

If you would like to be involved in the project, call 0131 663 1921 or email charlottejohnson@newbattleabbeycollege.ac.uk