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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Women on the Home Front 2: Service in the Face of Sorrow

In part two of my series "Women on the Home Front", the focus is on  Mrs Maggie  Laidlaw of Hawick in the Scottish Borders.    Born into wealth and privilege, she  took-up the  challenge of the times  and applied her natural talent for organisation to the local war effort.  With thanks for this article  to my guest contributor,  Gordon Macdonald. local historian and volunteer researcher at Hawick Museum.   Gordon writes:
 
I have always been interested in Mrs  Laidlaw and out of the blue last year  Hawick Museum, received an email from an auctioneer in Gloucester, asking if we were interested in an unknown portrait of a WW1 officer  and an illuminated address to a Mrs Laidlaw.  These  were duly donated  to the museum. 

Maggie Sheil Laidlaw, nee Thomson was born into wealth and privilege.  Her grandfather, James Scott,  a cattle dealer died in 1860 and left his vast fortune to his only daughter Janet.  The following year Janet married the Rev John Thomson minister of St Mary’s Church, Hawick.  Twenty years later  their  daughter, Maggie Sheil Thomson married Robert Grierson Laidlaw, aged 23, son of William Laidlaw who owned two of the largest tweed mill’s in Hawick. This prestigious marriage was  wealth marrying wealth and their married home was the newly built Victorian mansion - Hazlehurst.

In 1897 Mrs Laidlaw was instrumental in establishing the Queen's Jubilee Nursing Association of which she was secretary.  So when war broke out in 1914, she already had experience in public service, and,  with Margaret, the youngest of her three  daughters,     took up, at the age of 51  the new challenge of war on the home front.


In August 1914,  when Belgium was invaded by Germany. a  refugee crisis arose.  It prompted Mrs Laidlaw, along with others, to establish the Hawick Belgian Relief Fund. In January 1915  50 Belgium refugees were welcomed to Hawick, to live in a Laidlaw former family home, Sillerbithall - an act of supreme generosity! 

The Belgium Refugees, safe in Hawick.
                               
Mrs Laidlaw  also gave her support  to  the Scottish Women’s Hospital,  founded by Dr Elsie Inglis to provide medical assistance to the Serbian nation. 

If this was not enough, Mrs Laidlaw was also the driving force behind the Hawick Prisoners of War Committee which provided fortnightly parcels of cigarettes, tobacco, books, soap and woolly items and a friendly word from home, to the Hawick prisoners of war scattered in the various prison of war camps. 

"The Hawick Express and Advertiser" printed messages of thanks from prisoners:


March 1917
"Many thanks for all the very  good parcels you havesent me.  I receive them every week in splendid condition.  The last one I rceived contained carpet slippers  which were very nice and very acceptable.  We are having very wet weather  here just now, but I am keeping well."

"I received your parcel  and don't know how to thank  the people at home for their kindness  they are showing towards me as a prisoner of war."

September 1917
"I am very pleased to inform you that I have just received a splendid parcel of cigarettes  though your committee.  I can tell you I am right for a smoke now.  They are very good cigarettes for which I thank you very much indeed."
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 But  Mrs Laidlaw’s self-sacrifice was not rewarded with immunity from the tragedies  of war

In January 1917 Mrs Laidlaw’s recently married daughter Gladys Lumgair gave birth to a daughter in Hawthornbank, Selkirk, where the Lumgair family had a mill. In April 1917 her husband  Captain Robert Lumgair was killed in Palestine aged 26; he never saw his four-month-old daughter, Margaret Daphne.  The unknown portrait received from the auctioneer turned out to be that of Captain Robert Lumgair! 


More tragic news followed the following month.  when Mrs.Laidlaw''s other son-in-law Second Lieutenant Charles W. Brown was wounded on the Western Front and transferred to Bristol, where he died a few days later aged 36,  leaving a widow and three children. 

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During January 1919 the returned Prisoners of War organised a “Grand Re-union” in Hawick Town Hall to thank the local  Prisoners of War Committee  for their unwavering support. During this event Mrs Laidlaw was presented with an illuminated address. 

Hawick's Returning Prisoners of War, gathered outside Hawick Museum.
The illuminated address presented to Mrs Laidlaw in 1919, 
                  later returned to Hawick Museum  by the Gloucester auctioneer. 

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TWenty four years on in  March 1943,  Mrs Laidlaw's  28 year-old grand-daughter, Margaret Dauphine Lumgair married Captain Blair Black, in St Cuthbert’s Church, Hawick.  In a savage twist of fate he was killed the following year in Italy aged 26.  Margaret had lost both her father and husband in conflict.

Two wars, three deaths - this must have been hard for Mrs Laidlaw to bear. She  died in 1959 aged 83.

When conflicts such as “The Great War” arise,  they always produce women, who in an act of self-sacrifice lay aside their own sorrows for the good of the community - 

Mrs Laidlaw was such a women.   


Wilton Cemetery, Hawick with the gravestone of Mrs Laidlaw, with its fallen cross sadly damaged.

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