On 4 July 2015 the Next of Kin: Scottish Families and the Great War touring exhibition was opened by Councillor Bill Grant at Rozelle House in Ayr. The Next of Kin display includes the core touring family stories, taken from National Museums Scotland collections, alongside objects relating to the experiences of two families from the local area. In addition, Rozelle House have several other galleries displaying related First World War material until the exhibition moves to its next venue in September.
One of the Next of Kin family stories relates to Ayrshire born Thomas McMath, who was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Arras. While in captivity at prisoner of war (POW) camps in the German state of Thuringia, he received parcels and supplies from home. He kept meticulous notes of each package and donor in a notebook that is on display. Visitors can also see the ‘Lagergeld’, or camp money, which he used as a payment for his work as a POW.
The other local family story explores the experiences of the David and James Cummings, brothers who both served in Egypt and Palestine against Turkish forces. Sadly both brothers never returned to their hometown of Ayr. James was killed in action in Palestine in November 1917 and 12 days later David was taken as a POW to Damascus, where he died in captivity. Their parents kept a collection relating to their service which is on display in the exhibition, including photographs of their training and a memorial card for James.
In another gallery, the Caribou head of Ayr is mounted as a reminder of the Newfoundland Regiment that trained in Ayr before departing for the fighting fronts. This unusual object was gifted to the people of Ayr on 15 September 1916 in a presentation led by the Prime Minister of Newfoundland. The Caribou has long been an important symbol to the people of Newfoundland as the island’s most typical sports trophy, and became the emblem of the Regiment. The story is linked to the experiences of James Cooper, who arrived from Newfoundland on the SS Florizel on 4 October 1914. After surviving brutal fighting at Beaumont Hamel, Cooper returned to Ayr where he trained new recruits. While there he married Margaret Dunlop and they had a daughter. He only returned to visit Newfoundland on the death of his wife 53 years later. laian Cooper Sands, Great Grandson of James Cooper, will be sharing his family story through film, images, documents and personal memories in a talk at Rozelle House on 19 September.
Rozelle House will also be holding a number of interactive events utilising the Next of Kin handling collection of First World War objects. On Thursday 27 August,’Your Country Needs You!’ will use handling objects and performance based activities to immerse participants in the experience of training and caring for the wounded on the front lines.
The Next of Kin exhibition and associated events programme will run at Rozelle House until 28 September 2015.