Scottish Born Soldiers in the New Zealand Tunnelling Company 1916-1919

Miners

New Zealand Miners, Paporoa Range, late 19th Century:  About a third of the sample of 62 Scots born miners worked in the Paporoa Range

On 4 April, the Graduate Workshop was joined by Grant Collie who is currently in the final stages of a Masters Degree by research at Massey University, New Zealand. An emigrant Scot – and a former student of the University of Edinburgh – Grant is undertaking research into 62 Scots born members (comprising 15%) of the 400 strong New Zealand Tunnelling Company which served as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the First World War.  Many were former coal miners from Central Scotland and Fife who emigrated to New Zealand towards the end of the nineteenth century, a period which coincided with the first major wave of Scottish migration to New Zealand.  Grant’s social historical  approach charted the background and motives of this significant sub group:  what were the reasons for their emigration from Scotland?  Why did they enlist?  Grant’s presentation provided an overview of work in progress.

Grant argued that poor social conditions provided the immediate backdrop to emigration.  In late 19th century Scotland, mining was a poorly paid and hazardous occupation.  Between 1885 and 1904, wages for the average miner, with a family to support, were only slightly above subsistence level, increasing from 4 shillings a day to 6 shillings a day over a twenty-year period.  Accidents were commonplace and discontent rife. Emigration provided an alternative life. Grant cited the case of Stephen Peggie, a miner from Lochore in Fife who was injured in a mining accident and by way of compensation was offered the sum of £ 300 to assist with payment of his passage to New Zealand. Emigration to New Zealand offered the hope of a new life and appealed to an underlying sense of adventure.  In their new surroudings, many emigrant Scots were able to draw on their previous technical experience to mine for black gold.

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At the outbreak of war, a call was sent out throughout the British Empire for tunnelling companies; the New Zealanders were the first to respond. Their tunnelling company arrived in France in 1916 with no experience of mining in wartime conditions.  But as Grant observed, whilst the Scots born miners may not have been ideal soldiers, they were expert miners and were trained to obey orders.  In France, they began by working alongside the Highland 51st Division with whom they established good relations.   Work typically involved constructing labyrinthine tunnels , known as Catacombs, which the sappers named after New Zealand towns and cities. At Arras, in particular, the work of the New Zealand tunnellers made a significant contribution to the overall conduct of the battle.

Grant’s recent work has examined the impact of war on the 62.  Evidence suggests that a significant number were traumatised by their experience of warfare.  Suicide was not uncommon, nor were the effects of what  might now be regarded as Post Traumatic Place NamesStress Disorder.  Grant is currently researching the reasons for five of the 62 returning to Scotland, rather than their adopted country, at the end of the war. His visit to Europe coinciding, as it does, with centenary events to commemorate the Battle of Arras, has enabled him to carry out further primary research at the Scottish Mining Museum and the National Library of Scotland.

During the course of the presentation interesting issues arose as to the nature of national identity, and the availability of primary source material.  Whilst surprisingly little contemporary correspondence survives, the collective aural memory of family members provides a valuable contextual source.

This was a fascinating talk and a fitting end to our 2016/2017 programme. We wish Grant well with his continuing research.

 

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Crisis, Migration and Precariousness: The New Galician Diaspora as a Case Study

unnamed (1)On 28 February 2017, we were delighted to welcome Dr Maria Alonso Alonso to the Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshop.  Maria obtained her PhD from the University of Vigo in 2014 and is currently based at the University of St Andrews where she holds a a Xunta de Galicia International Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Her work focusses on the Galician diaspora. She has published widely in academic journals; her output also includes short stories, poetry and a novel in the Galician Language.  Her most recent book entitled Transmigrantes Fillas de Precareidade (“Transmigrants , Daughters of Precariousness”), published by Axourere in 2017, challenges an over positive image of migration in order to highlight  the feelings of vulnerability experienced by her own, younger generation.  In a stimulating paper Maria, explored the interconnected themes of crisis, migration and precariousness.

Traditionally, Galicia has been a migrant community.  As Maria observed, it is difficult to find a family unaffected by migration.  In the 19th century, Castile was a popular destination for migrants; at the time of the Spanish Civil War, Latin America, notably Argentina and Uruguay, provided a popular draw.  More recently, it has been Europe.  Factors have included poverty, political instability and unemployment.  Statistics, eloquent of a social crisis, reveal how Spanish unemployment has soared since the beginning of the millennium, rising from 8% in 2006 to 26% in 2012. The trend is most pronounced in the younger generation.  In 2015, youth unemployment (representing the  under 25s) stood at 51%; in the same year graduate unemployment stood at 30%; in Germany the comparative figure was 3%. Over the past five years, over one million Spanish citizens have emigrated; a significant number have come to the UK.  In 2015, on the basis of Spanish Government figures, 45,000 Spanish nationals were formally registered as living in the UK; most were between the ages of 25 and 35, and approximately 20% Galician.

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Maria’s family like many others were affected by migration.  This photograph includes a number of family members including her mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents

However, as Maria argued, it is important to recognise the presence of a push and pull factor. In the late 1990s, Galicia became a host country.  Spain, which was undergoing a period of political transition, became part of the Euro zone.  It opened its borders to foreign labourers including Africans, Europeans (particularly the Swiss and Germans) and first and second generation emigrants to Latin America (the so called retornados).  Many of the new immigrants were employed in the construction and service industries; at the same time many professional Galicians emigrated to north Europe and the USA.   In many respects, the boom proved transient as images of Castellon airport and Santiago de Compostela City of Culture testify.  As much as nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, nobody ever expected the Spanish Crisis.

The New Galician Diaspora is characterised by a sense of precariousness as the title of Maria’s recent book suggests.  The Galician Government has promoted an official narrative based on a sense of Sentimentality for the home country from abroad.  Thus Galicians, in the words of Helena Miguélez-Carballeira, “are a nostalgic people…. (who) live in harmonious communion with their landscape…yearning for its beauty”.  According to this received view, emigration is not as traumatic as it might seem.  In fact, emigration is the equivalent of success.  However, this rigid agenda blots out stories of precariousness.  New narratives have developed to challenge the official line. The  stereopytoes and metaphors commonly associated with Sentimentality have been analysed and challenged in the work of Carballeira.    Since 2015, a flurry of publications have provided a critique of Sentimentality. Eloy Domínguez Serén, although comparatively unknown within Galicia, has demonstrated on the basis of his own experiences, how feelings of alienation become important in the context of migration.  The concept of Saudade, almost untranslatable into English, captures the vital angst of living abroad. Manuel Forcadela goes further.  For Forcadela, Saudade is like a form of castration.

Somewhat surprisingly there is nobody currently working on Galician Studies at the University of Edinburgh.  Maria concluded by suggested that important comparisons might be drawn between her native Galicia and Scotland, i.e. as communities existing within hegemonic powers.

This well attended paper provoked interest and debate.  Maria’s scholarly approach was enhanced by the authority of personal experience.  We look forward to welcoming Maria at future graduate workshops and research seminars.

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Emigration:  Scotland to Australia 1840-1870.  Was the Effort Really Worthwhile?

liverpoolOn 12th January 2017, the Graduate Workshop welcomed Jennifer McCoy of Federation University, Australia.  Jennifer is a part time first-year PhD student who currently combines research with teaching.  Her doctoral research considers the contribution made by immigrant Scots in the development of Eastern High Country Victoria in the mid to late 19th century. Family history has provided the stimulus for Jennifer’s formal academic research and, in her own words, has led to her asking “so many questions that (have gone) beyond the usual genealogical study of births, marriages, deaths and people connections”.   Her presentation considered the “loose ends” which have inspired her project and the lines of enquiry which they suggest.

At the heart of Jennifer’s research lie the big questions: Where had the Scots come from?  Where did they settle?  Moreover, was their effort worthwhile?  Existing research has tended to focus on the more well known, yet many early Scottish settlers remain strangely “invisible”.  Memorialisation,  gravestones in particular, have provided a useful starting point.  By way of case study, Jennifer considered her own McCoy ancestors. As the 1841 census records reveal, James McCoid (sic) and his wife Charlotte Dowie hailed from Girvan in Ayrshire.  In 1855, they made the perilous five month sea voyage from Liverpool to Hobart before travelling to South East Victoria.  The McCoy family clearly flourished.  In 1932, Mary, the daughter of Charlotte and James, left the considerable sum of £ 45,000 to her local Presbyterian Church.  Her sister Elizabeth ran a successful hotel.  What role then did women play in the settler society?  How did the Presbyterian  Church impact upon their lives?  How was such wealth generated in a comparatively short time?  In the long term, Jennifer anticipates broadening the scope of her research and considering the experiences of other Scottish families in the development of South East Victoria.

A lively discussion followed. The presentation provided a perfect opportunity for Jennifer to meet and exchange ideas with members of our own post graduate community.  We all wish her well with her continuing research.

Alastair Learmont

Spring 2017 Graduate Workshop Programme

We have now posted our spring 2017 Graduate Workshop programme. You can find full details of all five presentations on our programme page:

The  series  begins on Thursday 12 January 2017 at 1 pm in Room G16 in the William Robertson Wing, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Old Medical School, Teviot Place (Doorway 4).

 Jennifer McCoy  of Federation University, Australia,will speak on:

Emigration: Scotland to Australia 1840 – 1870. Was the Effort Really Worthwhile?’

Everyone is most welcome to attend.