Finding the missing pieces

Kayleigh Scott, Collections Intern at Dumfries Museum, talks about objects and stories revealed as a result of information about ‘The Brave Men of Mennock’ memorial on the Next of Kin website. All hail the power of the internet!

Museums aim to bring history to life, they are treasure troves filled with memories and stories. While working at Dumfries Museum I have been privileged to research the lives of many men who served during World War One, piecing their lives back together. But what happens when we can’t identify these people or when their story has too many gaps? The internet has changed the nature of research, reducing our reliance on books, but it can help curators in other ways too…

As part of the Next of Kin exhibition, Dumfries Museum will be displaying ‘The Brave Men of Mennock’, a memorial bearing the images of the 43 men from Mennock and the surrounding area who served during World War One. The memorial was presented to Mennock School on 15th June, 1921 and was on display there for many years.

Brave Men of Mennock framed memorial

Brave Men of Mennock framed memorial

Fortunately records were kept detailing the names of the men featured. We also know which of them made it home, but that’s where the trail goes cold. Despite efforts by the Museum and a local researcher, we have been unable to find out much more about these men… until now, and this is where the internet comes in. Accompanying the Next of Kin touring exhibition will be a digital resource that will allow visitors to access the stories and objects from all eight of the participating museums. Included on this resource will be ‘The Brave Men of Mennock’ and after reading about it on the Next of Kin website, discovering the existence of the memorial for the first time, the family of one of the ‘Brave Men’ contacted Dumfries Museum! Now, thanks to information from the family, the story of John Muirhead can be told and remembered.

John Muirhead with fellow soldiers of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, second from the left on the front row

John Muirhead with fellow soldiers of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, second from the left on the front row

During World War One John Muirhead served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. Born in 1896 he lived in Mennock before the War. He survived active service but would be haunted by it long after the fighting was finished, suffering from nightmares. But his story has a happy ending. John married and he and his wife had 10 children. John was awarded the Military Medal for his services during the War and this, along with his other awards, have been very generously loaned to Dumfries Museum so that they can tell John’s story alongside others when Next of Kin arrives in March 2015.

medals WWI x 4 - John Muirhead sm

Four medals recieved by John Muirhead for his service during the First World War, loaned to Dumfries Museum for the Next of Kin exhibition and digital app

For me, one of the best bits of Collections work is piecing together the stories behind the objects; it’s what transforms an object from being simply an item in a museum, into being a piece of treasure. Alone though, museum staff can only discover so much, the public can be essential to our work. This instance is a prime example. Thanks to the internet, the story of ‘The Brave Men of Mennock’ has grown and hopefully in time we will be able to complete it. Technological advancements have made it easier to travel across the globe, but it would seem that they are also making it easier to travel back in time, helping to hunt back through history to find the missing pieces of important stories.

Below is the full list of those featured on ‘The Brave Men of Mennock’ memorial:

1. James McCormack

2. John Maxwell

3. William Lockhart

4. Robert Laurie

5. John Laurie

6. Thomas Newlands

7. William Wallace

8. John Muirhead M.M.

9. John Anderson

10. Andrew Rodger *

11. Robert Rodger

12. William Rodger *

13. Peter Roy

14. Thomas Thorburn M.M.

15. Duncan Caldwell

16. Alexander Hunter

17. Robert Lindsay

18. William Smith

19. James Richardson

20. George Pepper

21. Allan Caldwell

22. James Rae

23. J Cecil I McConnell

24. John McCron *

25. Christopher Smith

26. James Graham

27. Duncan McAlister M.M.

28. John Rae

29. Adam Turnbull

30. Maxwell Turnbull M.C.*

31. William McCron

32. John Lockerbie

33. Adam Maxwell

34. Osborne McMinn

35. Thomas McMinn

36. John McMinn

37. David Wilson

38. Thomas Maxwell

39. Raymond S Kerr

40. Richard Brydon *

41. Walter Smith *

42. Thomas McArthur

43. Matthew Kerr

* indicates the six who did not make it home

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