Tagged with Alexander Reid Prentice, Alf Webster, Allan Stevenson, archives, Douglas K Hamilton, First World War, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections, GSA, Robertson Weir, Roll of Honour, Roll of Honour Project, volunteer, volunteering, volunteers, WWI, WWI Project
Today our research of the individuals listed on the GSA Roll of Honour continues! One of our volunteers Melissa Reeve-Rawlings recaps some of the discoveries she has made in ‘Researching the GSA Roll of Honour’.
The Glasgow School of Art Roll of Honour project has been researching a memorial commissioned in the 1920s which bears the names of over 400 staff and students of GSA who fought in the First World War. Unusually for a memorial it includes all individuals who fought, not just those who died. It also records the individual’s regiment and if they fell in battle. It currently lives in the Reid Building, where it was moved after the fire in the Mackintosh Building, and will remain there until the Macintosh Building is restored.
I have been working with several other volunteers on this project, researching some of the individuals that feature on the Roll of Honour. This requires a reasonable amount of detective work, as the only information on the Roll of Honour is the individual’s name (sometimes not even their whole name – at times it can be just initials and a surname), and the regiment, something which unfortunately cannot be guaranteed as completely accurate! This is because the Roll of Honour was created by placing an advertisement in The Herald, asking for information about family members who had been to GSA and served during the war. We don’t know how thoroughly the information provided in response was verified, and as such cannot be sure if the Roll of Honour is entirely accurate.
Using information held in the Glasgow School of Art Archives about the students who attended the school as a starting point, we have been able to discover some unique and interesting stories of the individuals who fought in the war and studied at GSA. This project has been fascinating to work on because it has allowed us to uncover the stories of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, and provides a glimpse into the lives of the people who fought in the First World War.
These stories are diverse; Allan Stevenson was a drapers apprentice from Burnhouse, Ayrshire, who studied as an evening student of drawing and painting and life drawing from 1909 to 1913. He survived the war only to sadly pass away in Barrhead, in November 1924, due to health problems caused by mustard gas poisoning sustained while serving in France. In contrast Robertson Weir, who attended GSA from 1907 to 1914, survived the war and lived to be 105! He was a day student of drawing and painting and life drawing, and was offered a scholarship to study in Paris after completing his studies with GSA, however due to the outbreak of war he was unable to take up this offer. Instead he served with the 5th Scottish Rifles, and after the war gained a teaching diploma. He continued to exhibit his artwork regularly, an example of which, titled ‘Commerce’ can found in Possilpark Library, and he died in 1993, aged 105.
These two examples show the contrasting nature of the stories we have uncovered; the sadness of so many lives cut short unexpectedly because of the war (some even after it had finished), while other individuals survived the war, and went on to lead full and interesting lives.
Many of the students went on to become successful artists or architects, such as Douglas K Hamilton. Born in India in 1895, he was sent to Britain for his education, and began his career in stained glass in 1911 under the tutorage of Alf Webster – who had also attended Glasgow School of Art and worked as a stained glass artist and craftsman, until his premature death in 1915, caused by injuries sustained while fighting on the front line. Douglas Hamilton studied at GSA from 1913 to 1914, and would survive the war to return to his studies from 1919 to 1921, as an afternoon student of drawing and painting. His work with stained-glass can be seen in many places in Glasgow, including the Service Window at Hyndland Church, and The Draught of Fishes window at Dalziel St Andrew’s Parish Church, Motherwell.
This has been an extremely rewarding project to work on; what we have uncovered is now available through the Glasgow School of Art Archives Catalogue, so that anyone who views the Roll of Honour – in real life or digital form – can discover more about the lives behind those names.
It has also offered the chance to engage with those that fought in the war on a more personal level, to see their family trees, what classes they took at GSA, what jobs they had – and also to see how these things changed after the war. Each fact you link together while working on a project like this can seem small, until you look at the bigger picture, and begin to create a narrative from these facts.
For example, while working on the life of Alexander Reid Prentice, who died in 1917 while serving with the Scottish Rifles at the age of 22, I discovered that his family travelled to what was then known as the British West Indies the next year, as their intended place of permanent residence. It is impossible to know (without further information) why his family chose to do this, but it becomes easy to imagine that perhaps their grief motivated them to move away from memories of the son they had lost, or maybe they felt the need to start afresh after his passing – or equally it could be an unrelated decision.
These details of individual people’s lives are what makes this project so interesting, they cause you to develop your own theories on why certain choices were made, and to imagine how the individual might have felt, which has made this project fascinating to work on, and will hopefully make it interesting for people to read!