National War Museum

Jo Sohn-RethelBy Jo Sohn-Rethel, Project Co-ordinator, Next of Kin

The Next of Kin touring project centres on revealing the personal experiences of Scottish families during the First World War as a way of commemorating the centenary of the conflict. Through the personal effects of the servicemen and women passed on to their families and down through generations, the exhibition provides unique insights into their poignant stories of separation and sacrifice. After the exhibition closes at the National War Museum next year, the display will travel to nine museums across Scotland and the objects from National Museums Scotland collections will be joined by artefacts and people associated with the local areas of each venue. Along with the object case displays, these stories will be incorporated into a digital interactive on display and community groups will create their own responses to the topic through an object handling box.

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister

Embroidered postcard sent by Private George Buchanan to his sister.

As coordinator of the project, my first few weeks or so involved helping the team to prepare graphics and audio-visual content for installation at the War Museum. Much time was spent editing down original newsreel footage acquired from Imperial War Museum collections which are being shown in a recreated wartime cinema room. The aim is to convey how families would have found out about the experiences of their loved ones on the fighting fronts, albeit through carefully selected footage such as soldiers from the Black Watch regiment at a sports day and ‘the wonderful organisation of the Royal Army Medical Corps’.

Still from 'The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.' film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

Still from ‘The Wonderful Organisation of the R.A.M.C.’ film, produced by the War Office, 1916, IWM 133, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum.

Another immersive audio visual element in the exhibition is a soundscape of voices taken from letter correspondence between family members and diary entries on display. Original archive artefacts make up nearly half of the objects on display, including a poignant postcard sent by Private William Dick to his wife, a letter from a German soldier to the family of Private James Scouller describing their son’s last moments on the battlefield, and a letter from a Presbyterian Chaplain informing Mrs Buchanan of her son Private George Buchanan’s death. Recordings of actors (and museum staff!) reading out this archive material helps to evoke the personalities and emotions of the protagonists in the stories.

You can hear the stories here:

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform

Family photograph of Private George Buchanan in uniform.

Touring the exhibition to museums around Scotland presents other opportunities to incorporate family stories into object interpretation. Many partner museums are actively acquiring World War One related objects donated or loaned by local people who have developed a keen interest in their wartime family history due to the Centenary. Consulting these people about the personal value of these objects as tools for learning about and remembering their relatives will be an important way of discovering the continuing significance and impact of the conflict in Scottish families’ lives. Furthermore, museum staff are keen on carrying out co-curation activities with local community groups to collect perspectives of community groups to existing artefacts in the collection. The key challenge will be devising ways of communicating these contemporary interpretations in physical and digital displays alongside the original personal accounts of troops and families during the war.

Find out more about the touring exhibition here.

Lisa BarterBy Lisa Barter, Conservation Intern

I am a Los Angeles, California, girl who chose to do her Conservation training at University College London, Institute of Archaeology. Just as I thought the weather could not possibly get any colder, I applied to do my third year internship in Scotland. Since arriving in Edinburgh at the end of September 2012, I can honestly say I have seen it snow more times than I had ever seen before in my life! Now that my time here in the Artefacts Conservation section at the National Museums Collection Centre is ending, I thought I would write a blog post about what my MSc dissertation research into the potentiostatic reduction of lead corrosion has achieved.

I have been working on 156 bullets and casings found near the Special Training Centre Lochailort (1940-1942; site near Inverailort). This was the first Royal Commando training centre set up during WWII. The bullets were found, buried in the ground, near a derelict building which is a possible site of the first ‘mystery house’. Trainees would have been sent into this building to test their new skills in an unknown scenario.

Bullets and shell casings

Small arms ammunition; 156 bullets and casings.

The bullets and casings were found buried in the ground

The bullets and casings were found buried in the ground. The National Museums Scotland collection is just a trowel full taken from this pit (Photograph courtesy of Stuart Allan, Senior Curator National War Museum, Edinburgh).

My work on the bullets was two-fold. First, by studying these bullets and the casing head stamps (impressed markings that indicate country and calibre) I could shed light on the types of ammunition and possibly also the weapons that were used at this site. Secondly, as Stuart Allan, Senior Curator of Military Collections, was concerned about corrosion to the bullets, I needed to determine a good bulk conservation treatment which could efficiently treat all 156 objects so that they could be displayed in the future.

Bullets and casings

The types of bullets and casings found in the collection, tentatively identified as a rifle round (top-left), a .45 calibre (top-centre), and a .32 calibre (top-right). The types of head stamps present are an ELEY 328-65 (British), REM-UMC .45 ACP (American), WESTERN .45 AUTO (American), W.R.A.Co .45 A.C. (American). Therefore the likely weapons used at this site were pistols, sub-machine guns, and rifles.

Because these bullets have corroding lead (Pb) cores, which are very toxic, this presented a health and safety risk to researchers and visitors, and this needed to be resolved before they could be displayed (and before the metal corrodes completely to dust!). Therefore, when I worked with the objects I wore protective gear and used other equipment to contain the lead corrosion products so that I and the other conservators would be safe.

Protective clothing

Gloves, eye-glasses, lab coat, and face mask must be worn when working with the lead corrosion, while a filter vacuum is used to contain the toxic dust.

First, I sorted the bullets visually into sizes and types, then I chose seventeen samples (four casings and thirteen bullets) which were representative of the types and corrosion products present. These would be used to analyze for composition (to see which metal alloys were present) and to undergo potentiostatic trials.

The 17 samples

Seventeen samples represented the four types of casing headstamps, the different types of bullets, metal alloys, and corrosion products visibly present.

To understand the types of metal alloys and corrosion products present I turned to several analytical techniques in addition to the desk microscope to assist me. With the help and expertise of Conservation Scientist Lore Troalen, x-ray fluorescence (XRF) was utilized to provide me with an elemental composition of the bullet shells and the casings. With this technique it was determined that there were two alloys present: copper-zinc (‘.45 calibre’) and copper-nickel (‘.32 calibre’ and ‘rifle rounds’). The cores were determined to be lead.

Two types of corrosion products were visibly present: a primary, white corrosion and a secondary green corrosion which appeared either as compact and dark green or as nodular and light green-blue.

Different types of corrosion

The types of corrosion present appear either compact or voluminous and are either plain white corrosion or a secondary light green-blue or dark green corrosion.

With the expertise of Peter Davidson, Curator of Minerals, x-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis was used to determine that the white corrosion was Cerussite (lead carbonate). However, the two green corrosion products were not as easily defined by this technique. In addition, after potentiostatic reduction trials were run on several sample bullets, XRD was used a second time to confirm that lead metal had been formed. This was the most exciting test as it showed that my project was successful!

Bullet in position for XRF analysis and data

Bullet in position for XRF analysis (left). Sample 9 spectra (right). The results show the presence of Pb, small amount of Cu, Ni, Fe, Zn. The type of equipment used was a XRF Oxford ED2000.


Sample 15 diffractogram showing that the white corrosion product is cerussite + unidentified phases (green corrosion products).

XRD PANalytical X’Pert Powder

The equipment used was a XRD PANalytical X’Pert Powder.

Because the green corrosion could not be identified by XRD, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to help determine which elements were present in the green corrosion products. The backscatter micrographs were truly amazing to me, as they illustrated how beautiful a mineral can look when viewed at such a magnification. This technique also indicated that these were copper-based minerals and possibly more non-crystalline in nature than previously thought. Therefore, future tests will involve Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) which can better identify non-crystalline and organic materials.

Sample bullet #4

Sample bullet #4 showed the earliest successful reduction of lead carbonate to lead metal (left image). The backscatter micrograph (SEM-BSC) showed two phases present: one more needle-like or dendritic (Phase 1) and one more compact and globular (Phase 2).

Light green-blue corrosion examined

The light green-blue corrosion that appeared nodular under a desk microscope (left image) appear drastically different using SEM. In the SEM-BSC mircograph this corrosion appears fiborous and almost flower-like in structure (right image).

Dark green corrosion product adhering to white product

The dark green corrosion product (left image) was strongly adhered to the white corrosion layer beneath it. This made taking ‘pure’ samples for XRD analysis difficult. In this SEM-BSC micrograph (right image) the lead carbonate appears brilliant white and is adhered to the dark green corrosion.

To treat the bullets I chose an electrochemical technique called Potentiostatic Reduction. This process utilizes a potentiostat machine which, with the aid of computer software, can help determine a safe electrical current to push through the circuit to reduce the corrosion to metal. Initially the software is set to run potentiodynamic scans which display a unique signature peak corresponding to the specific metal or alloy which is to be reduced. This allows me to be more selective in what potential difference (voltage) I should choose to run my trials. If I set the potential difference too low then nothing will happen and the electrolyte solution may attack the metal. If I set the potential difference and current too high hydrogen evolution (bubbles) may form.

Sycopel Enhanced Ministat potentiostat (model 256E) and PC-100 digital controller with software

Sycopel Enhanced Ministat potentiostat (model 256E) and PC-100 digital controller with software.

The aim of determining a safe current range for reduction is to avoid the rapid formation of hydrogen gas which evolves off the surface and within the structure as tiny bubbles. When the experiment is running correctly very few hydrogen bubbles will be formed on the object. Oftentimes the object to be reduced is extremely fragile, thus, the rapid evolution of hydrogen could be enough to shatter the object apart!

Test bullet

Rapid hydrogen evolution can be seen streaming off of this mock ‘bullet’ which I created to test the cell before an actual bullet was tested.

The electrochemical cell set-up

The electrochemical cell set-up. I used a platinum mesh for the anode and a calomel electrode as reference. Two electrolytes were chosen to test, sodium sesquicarbonate and sodium sulphate.

The bullet was connected to the system as the cathode, the platinum mesh was connected as the anode, and a Calomel Reference electrode was included in the cell to monitor the potential drop occurring at the cathode. This reference electrode allows the potentiostat to adjust the potential (voltage) at the cathode, in order to keep it constant. The potentiostat is set up so that I can monitor the current through the bullet (cathode). When it settles on a current for a duration of time, I can then assume that all the corrosion that will reduce to metal has done so and the experiment can be stopped. The bullet is then rinsed and dried and stored in an air-tight container.

Diagram of the electrochemical cell

Diagram of my electrochemical cell, representing the placement of the object (cathode), the platinum mesh (anode) within the cell. The current is pushed through the bullet first, which provides the necessary electrons needed to reduce the lead carbonate back to lead metal.

Samples #4, #9, and #10 – after potentiostatic reduction treatment was complete

Samples #4, #9, and #10 – after potentiostatic reduction treatment was complete.

Well, if you have all stayed with me and read this far, then I guess the big question is: “Did I have any success?” My overexcited answer is “YES!!!” I was very happy to be able to reduce three different bullets and demonstrate that both copper-zinc and copper-nickel alloy shells in galvanic connection with a lead core could be reduced, as well as bullets with the secondary green corrosion. I was also able to set up a cell with two bullets and have both bullets reduce at once. This means that future testing can begin on creating multiple-cells, with 5-10 bullets, which will allow all 156 bullets to be reduced efficiently!

Thank you for reading through my blog post and many thanks to the conservators, curators, and site staff that made my time at National Museums Collection Centre wonderful. I wish I didn’t have to leave! Now back to typing up my dissertation!

Bill LloydA guest post by Bill Lloyd

This year, the BBC Proms 2013 celebrate the composer George Lloyd’s centenary year with a performance of his HMS Trinidad March at the Last Night of The Proms on 7 September 2013. George’s nephew Bill Lloyd tells us the story behind the march and George’s experiences aboard HMS Trinidad during the Arctic Convoys.

Our exhibition Arctic Convoys was at the National War Museum until March 2014. It told the story of the ocean-going convoys of merchant and military ships that provided an essential lifeline to the Russians in their fight against Germany in the Second World War.

My uncle George Lloyd participated in the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War and in 1941 he composed a march for the Royal Marine Band of HMS Trinidad, the ship that he sailed upon. The orchestral arrangement that will be performed at The Proms was completed by George in 1945 while he was recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, following an attack on his ship.

George was only 26 when war was declared in September 1939. He had already gained considerable recognition as a composer: the 1938 Oxford Companion to Music described him as “a youthful prodigy” and his first opera Iernin had played in the West End.

George enlisted in the Royal Marines as a bandsman. After basic training, George was immediately promoted to the position of leading violin. He was also asked to learn the cornet!

In the Royal Marines George studied gunnery before joining HMS Trinidad, one of the fastest and most technically advanced vessels in the Navy’s fleet. Along with the other bandsmen, George worked in the ship’s transmitting station calculating the exact elevation and bearing that the gun turrets required in order to hit enemy ships. George operated the telephone switchboard, relaying orders to the bridge and the gunnery control tower because his loud voice could carry over the deafening noise of the guns. This role would ultimately save his life as the switchboard was located close to the exit ladder of the transmitting station.

When HMS Trinidad was commissioned on 14 October 1941, bandmaster Harold A Davis asked George to write the ship’s official march. Unbeknown to Harold, a friend of the ship’s captain, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, had also been invited to write a march. The captain agreed to listen to both men’s marches and decide which was to be used. Vaughan Williams’ march was not popular with the bandsmen and when both pieces were premiered in the ship’s aircraft hangar, the captain announced that George’s music would be adopted as the HMS Trinidad’s official march. George’s rousing march echoes the role of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs traditionally played at the Last Night of the Proms, with its links to the Navy and its catchy tunes and up tempo rhythms, which encourage audience participation.

Royal Marine Band

The Band of HMS Trinidad at Heybrook Barracks, 1941. Image © George Lloyd Society.

In January 1942, HMS Trinidad was selected for Arctic convoy escort duties to Murmansk through a narrow stretch of water between the North Cape and the pack ice, which was heavily patrolled by German submarines and the Luftwaffe.

On 23 March 1942, after two successful convoys, HMS Trinidad was deployed as close escort for 20 merchant ships in convoy PQ13. However, near the start of the voyage, high winds forced the convoy to separate – only for it to be attacked by German U-boats when it reassembled.

Three German destroyers sailed from Norway to intercept the convoy but on the morning of 29 March 1942, the German ships were picked up on HMS Trinidad’s radar. In the poor visibility, HMS Trinidad launched a surprise attack, hitting two German ships and evading the torpedo fired from the third. HMS Trinidad however was hit by a shell which caused a fire towards its stern. With minimal damage HMS Trinidad relocated the third German ship and opened fire again, hitting the destroyer several times and causing serious damage, as well as setting it on fire.

In an attempt to finish off the enemy destroyer, HMS Trinidad fired three torpedoes. Two of the torpedoes failed to leave their iced-up tubes and the third malfunctioned and circled back, striking HMS Trinidad below the bridge. The torpedo blew a 60×20 foot hole in the port side of the ship, and emerged from the starboard side blowing a further 20×10 foot hole.

George was the last man to escape from the transmitting station after it began to flood with the ship’s oil. 32 men were killed in the attack including 17 men in the transmitting station, nine of whom were bandsmen.

On 13 May 1942 following temporary repairs, HMS Trinidad was being escorted back to the UK when enemy aircraft, U-boats and destroyers surrounded the convoy. HMS Trinidad evaded most of the attacks but four bombs dropped by German aircraft set the ship alight. The fire was fatal to HMS Trinidad and the ship sank in the early hours of 15 May 1942 taking a further 63 men with her.

By mid-April, George had been admitted to the Royal Naval Auxiliary Hospital at Kingseat in Aberdeen, which treated cases of severe shell shock. Initially, George was unable to walk or speak, and his body was heavily contaminated with oil. His vision was affected and his muscles were torn and swollen into lumps. As the initial concussion wore off, he developed a profound and severe shaking of his limbs and his head, a contorted facial expression and periodic blackouts.

Three weeks later Nancy, George’s wife, received a letter from her husband who, in child-like writing, told her what had happened. Despite having been told by George that she was not to see him in his current state, Nancy travelled to Aberdeen immediately and proceeded to visit him every day.

With great persistence, Nancy persuaded George’s doctor to discharge him into her care and she then began the long slow task of nursing him back to health. George was not an easy patient. He refused to meet anyone and refused to speak unless Nancy prompted him. His shaking was still so bad that he was unable to walk far and he suffered from recurring nightmares, flashbacks and depression.

By the summer of 1944, after two years of care, George began to regain his strength and start gardening. Within weeks of the war ending in 1945, George and Nancy travelled to Nancy’s home in Switzerland, where they had met and married nine years earlier. George was having fewer blackouts and less frequent nightmares, and had recovered sufficiently to be able to hold a pen and write normally. He was a civilian once again, and with a small naval disability pension to live on, he began to think about returning to work as a composer.

In January 1946, George decided to start by orchestrating the HMS Trinidad March. The manuscript for the march had been safely in George’s kit bag when he was taken to hospital, otherwise it would have gone to the bottom of the sea when the ship sank. Within a few months he had persuaded Ernest Ansermet to perform it with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. The recording was broadcast on Swiss National Radio.

Members of Royal Marine Band

When off duty, George and three fellow ‘bandies’ played jazz – they called themselves ‘The Four Musketeers’. Image © George Lloyd Society.

It was a long hard road, but within a year or two George was composing some of his finest works – his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were both written in Switzerland.

Although George tried his best to re-establish his career by writing to every prominent conductor, orchestra and broadcaster in Europe and the USA, by 1952 he had realised that his psychological health could not stand the pressures of life in the fast lane – opera production and symphony concerts were simply too stressful, and he was too volatile, too easily upset, and too susceptible to depression and mood swings. He made a conscious decision that his composition was more important than performance, and that his priority was to recover his mental strength.

One hundred years earlier in 1848, George’s hero, Giuseppe Verdi, suffering from a mental block that prevented him from composing, retreated to the country and became a farmer. George followed suit. He and Nancy bought a tiny cottage with an acre of land near Sherborne in Dorset and set about earning their living as market gardeners.

With Nancy’s help and the therapeutic effects of physical labour, George gradually rehabilitated himself. He built his own greenhouses and sheds, and while Nancy took care of the picking and packing, George raised carnations and tomatoes from seed. Within a year or two, George and Nancy’s blooms were gaining top prices at Covent Garden Market. George rose early every morning in order to write music.

Forty years later, George said: “People ask me, ‘wasn’t that a terrible waste of time, to be out of the music scene for so long’ and I tell them ‘Not at all – I had no choice. I got my health back.’ If it was good enough for Verdi, it was good enough for me!”

A full account of George’s time at the Royal Marines School of Music, and details of the events surrounding the torpedo strike on HMS Trinidad, all taken from contemporary letters, can be downloaded from which also has biographical details and audio samples.

David B CraigA guest post by David B Craig, SS  Dover Hill

David’s story was one of several told in Arctic Convoys, a past exhibition at the National War Museum about the oceangoing convoys of merchant and military ships that provided an essential lifeline to the Russians in their fight against Germany in the Second World War.

In the Supplement to the London Gazette of Friday 8th October 1943 there was a list of names of nineteen Merchant Navy Officers and Men; five were given the Order of the British Empire and fourteen were given King’s Commendations for brave conduct. The citation read, very simply, “For dangerous work in hazardous circumstances”.

I feel that the story should be told about why the names of these men appeared in the London Gazette. I write the story as I remember it but I write on behalf of the nineteen men, as we all worked together and none of us did anything different from the others.

On 13th January 1943 I joined the SS Dover Hill at anchor off Gourock in the Clyde.  I had signed on as Radio Officer and, on going on board ship, discovered that we were bound for North Russia. We were heavily loaded with Fighter Aircraft, tanks, guns lorries and a large tonnage of shells and high explosives. Our deck cargo was made up of lorries in cases, Matilda tanks and drums of lubricating oil covered with a layer of sandbags, presumably to protect them from tracer bullets. Needless to say we were not very happy about this last item.

David on his return from Russia in 1943.

David on his return from Russia in 1943.

We left the Clyde on 23rd January and arrived in Loch Ewe on the 25th, where we lay at anchor until the rest of the merchant ships had gathered for our convoy. Loch Ewe is a very beautiful place to visit in the summer but in January/February, with a North Westerly gale blowing and a few, large, heavily laden merchant ships dragging their anchors, it could get a bit hectic at times.

Arctic Convoys memorial at Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland

Arctic Convoys memorial at Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland.

On 15th February twenty-eight merchant ships set out in a gale for North Russia in the heavily defended Convoy No.JW 53. The escort was made up of three cruisers, one anti-aircraft cruiser, one escort carrier, sixteen destroyers, two minesweepers, three corvettes and two trawlers, which was a very good escort, and as the daylight hours were getting longer, trouble was obviously expected.

Due to having to maintain absolute wireless silence, the Radio Officers stood their watches on the bridge with the Navigation Officers on duty.

As we sailed North the gale developed into a hurricane and ships began to get damaged. One of our cruisers, HMS Sheffield, had the top of her forward gun turret torn off and our escort carrier, HMS Dasher, and six of the merchant ships were damaged and had to return to Iceland. On our ship the deck cargo began to break adrift and we were not sorry to see the oil drums going over the side, but when the lorries in wooden cases were smashed up and eventually went overboard things were not so good. However, we managed to save the tanks and kept on battering our way northwards.

I remember trying to use an Aldis lamp from our bridge to signal to a Corvette and found it very difficult since one minute she would be in sight, then she would go down the trough of the wave and all I could see would be her top masts; then up she would come and our ship would go down and all that could be seen was water, but eventually we got the message through. At one stage the convoy was well scattered but as the weather moderated the Navy rounded us all up and got us into some semblance of order once again.

The loss of our escort carrier meant that we had no air cover and, as expected, a few days later a German spotter plane arrived and flew round the convoy all the daylight hours to keep an eye on us. The next day we had a heavy attack by JU 88 bombers in which our ship was damaged and our gunlayer was wounded by bomb splinters, but we still kept plodding on towards North Russia. At this part of the voyage we were steaming through pancake ice floes which protected us from the U-boats, which could not operate in these conditions. The blizzards when they came were always welcome as they hid us from the enemy.

SS Dover Hill

SS Dover Hill.

Two days later, on 27th February, we arrived at the entrance to the Kola Inlet, which is a long fiord with hills on either side and the town of Murmansk situated near the top.  We had not lost any ships to the enemy and I must pay tribute to the good job done by the Royal Navy and our own D.E.M.S and Maritime Regiment Gunners on the merchant ships. Of the twenty-two merchantmen in our convoy, fifteen were bound for Murmansk and the remaining seven went on to the White Sea ports near Archangel. Little did we know at this time that we would not leave Russia until the end of November. The Navy ocean-going escorts which had taken us to the Inlet would now refuel and set off homeward with the empty ships from the previous convoy.

We were all very tired when we arrived because for the last few days we had either been on duty or at action stations for most of the time. So after picking up the Russian Pilot and setting off independently up the Kola Inlet we were looking forward to having a good sleep when we anchored near Murmansk. We were very quickly disillusioned when, about a mile up the Inlet, we passed a merchant ship on fire and her crew taking to the lifeboats. On asking the Pilot about the ship, which was from the previous convoy, he cheerfully told us that on the way down to meet us he had seen it being attacked by aircraft, obviously a common occurrence. We now understood why we had been fitted with so many Oerlikon and Bofors anti-aircraft guns to enable us to defend ourselves.

After two days at anchor we went alongside at Murmansk to discharge our cargo. The port was being bombed a good part of the time and one of our ships, the Ocean Freedom, was sunk alongside the quay near to us.

When we had discharged all our cargo we moved out and anchored about a mile apart on each side of the Inlet. We happened to be on the side nearest the German lines, which were only about ten miles away, and we were regularly attacked by ME 109 fighter bombers, which used to come over the top of the hill, down the side and come tearing at us about twenty to thirty feet above the water and would drop their bombs as they flew over us just above our top masts. Our gunners were very skilled and used to open fire only when the planes came well within range. These attacks only lasted for about a minute but were very vicious and we had gunners wounded and damage again done to our ship. We shot one plane down into the Inlet and on another occasion we damaged one which got out of range before we could finish it off. The next ship anchored astern of us opened fire when the damaged plane came within range and it blew up. We only got a half credit for this one so ended up with one and a half swastikas painted on our funnel.

We now come to the incident whereby, to our surprise, our names appeared in the London Gazette.

David's report of the bomb disposal incident

David’s report of the bomb disposal incident.

On Sunday 4th April we were anchored in Misukovo Anchorage a few miles north of Murmansk and I was playing chess in the Officers’ mess when Action Stations sounded and our guns opened up at the same time. I went through the pantry, looked out of the door, and saw two JU88 bombers coming up from astern, high up. Our Bofors shells were bursting below them and when they turned away I assumed we had beaten them off and stepped out on deck. This was a foolish thing to do as, unknown to me, the planes had released their bombs before turning away.

Four bombs exploded close on the port side and one on the starboard side and I was blown off my feet. As I got up our gunlayer came down from one of the bridge oerlikons and pointed out a large round hole in the steel deck a few yards from where I had been standing. It was obvious that the sixth bomb had gone through the main and tween decks into our coal bunkers and had not exploded. We informed the S.B.N.O, Murmansk of the situation and were advised that there were no British Bomb Disposal people in North Russia. We then realised that we would have to dig the bomb out ourselves in order to save our ship.

The minesweeper HMS Jason was ordered to anchor astern of us and to come alongside to render assistance if the bomb should explode, although I doubt if there would have been much to pick up. You must understand that though the Dover Hill was only a battered old merchantman she was our home and no German was going to make us leave her while she was still afloat.

The Captain lined the whole crew up on the after deck and asked for volunteers, and nineteen of us including our Captain formed our own Bomb Disposal Squad. We had no bomb disposal equipment, in fact we only had a few shovels borrowed from our stokehold and nineteen stout hearts when we started digging back the coal, trying to find the bomb. The bunker was full of good British steaming coal which we were saving for the homeward run so we used a derrick to bring it up on deck, hoping to replace it when we got the bomb out.  When the Russian authorities heard what we were doing, although they had many unexploded bombs to deal with in the town, they kindly offered to send one of their Bomb Disposal officers to remove the detonator if we could get the bomb up on deck.

When we dug about ten feet down into the coal we found the tail fins and, by their size, decided our bomb must be a 1000lb one. Unfortunately the Germans also discovered what we were up to and came back and bombed us again, hoping to set off the bomb we were digging for.  Between bomb explosions and the concussion of our own guns the coal kept falling back into where we were digging and things got difficult at times.

We had to dig down approximately twenty-two feet before we got to the bomb, but after two days and two nights hard work we finally got it up on deck.

I was standing beside the bomb with two of my fellow officers as our Russian friend started to unscrew the detonator when after a few turns it stuck.  He then took a small hammer and a punch and tapped it to get it moving. I can honestly say that every time he hit it I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up against my duffle coat hood. After removing the detonator and primer we dumped the bomb into the Kola Inlet, where it probably lies to this day. We then moved back to Murmansk for repairs.

Of the fifteen ships which had come to Murmansk in February, one had been sunk and four damaged. On 17th May, in company with three other ships, we left the Kola Inlet and set out for the White Sea. We arrived in Economia on the North Dvina River where we stayed until 18th July when we moved to Molotovsk (Severodvinsk) and finally on 26th November, with eight other ships, some damaged, we set out for home.

Since it was now dark for almost twenty-four hours each day and we could only do seven knots maximum speed we went north to the edge of the ice. Knowing that a Russian-bound convoy was coming up to the south of us we expected the Germans to attack it and leave us alone. This in fact happened and we eventually arrived in London on 14th December 1943, in time to be home for Christmas.

The time spent in the White Sea area was mostly peaceful but our main problem was lack of food and for part of the time we suffered from malnutrition, but we survived.  I do not think it did us any harm as it makes us appreciate all the more the peaceful times we now live in.

When we sailed up London River towards Surrey Commercial Docks to pay off, with our Red Ensign flying and patches on our decks and side, we were proud of the old ship as if she had been a spick and span Navy vessel arriving in port. Incidentally, the Red Ensign had a hole in it where an Oerliken shell had gone through it during the fighting but it was the only one we had left.

After returning from North Russia, the Dover Hill was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport and was sunk at Arromanches on 9th June 1944 along with other ships to form an artificial port for the invasion of Normandy.

To finish on a personal note, I was the youngest of the young squad who took part in the incident in Misukovo Anchorage, having had my eighteenth birthday on the way up to Russia. I was no greenhand however, having joined my first ship in Plymouth as a Cadet in 1940 when I was fifteen years and three months old. Due to having a problem with my eyesight I was unable to continue in the Navigation Department and came ashore, went to the Wireless College and then returned to sea in the Radio Department.

I first returned to Murmansk in 1980, mainly to find the grave of a friend who had been killed in the port by a bomb splinter which went through his steel helmet. With the help of the Russian authorities I was able to do so. I went back in 1985 and again in 1987 with a group of veterans and we had great kindness and friendship shown to us by the people of Murmansk, who greatly appreciate the help we brought to them during the war. In 1987 I found out that the name of the Russian Bomb Disposal officer was Panin, and I later discovered from friends at the Northern Naval Museum in Murmansk that he had been killed in August 1943 in a dog fight with German aircraft over the Barents Sea.

I have since returned to Murmansk in 1991, 93, 95, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2012. On various occasions I have taken part in the Victory Celebrations to mark the anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

David on a cruise to Russia in June 2012

David on a cruise to Russia in June 2012.

Tacye PhillipsonBy Tacye Phillipson, Senior Curator of Modern Science

One of the questions I have been frequently asked about the prosthetic hands in our Reconstructing Lives exhibition is: how are they controlled?  We use our hands for a wide variety of tasks requiring strength or dexterity and seldom think about how complicated they are and how many muscles and signals work together to make each gesture. For a prosthetic limb the user interface is vital; it needs to be simple and instinctive to operate. The wearer does not want to refer to the instruction manual, call the support desk, or even think about every motion he or she makes.

The hand with the most advanced technology in the exhibition is the i-limb ultra, the latest model from Touch Bionics in Livingston. These hands look amazingly lifelike when in their cosmetic covers, and each finger moves independently which gives them naturalistic poses. We display them without skins so some of the engineering which goes into them is visible.

Tying shoelaces using the i-limb ultra prosthetic hand. Photo © Touch Bionics.

Tying shoelaces using the i-limb ultra prosthetic hand. Photo © Touch Bionics.

The about 300 parts which went into the first model i-limb, pinned to a noticeboard at Touch Bionics’ workshop.

The about 300 parts which went into the first model i-limb, pinned to a noticeboard at Touch Bionics’ workshop.

These hands are operated with battery power, electrical signals and an internal processor. The demonstration model that Touch Bionics sometimes kindly lend us for events comes with a torch, which acts as a replacement forearm to hold the batteries and support the hand. This torch has two pressure sensitive buttons added on the outside: one opens the hand, the other closes it. The hand can be instructed to move into more positions and modes by signalling to its internal software through holding down, or tapping on, the buttons.

Curator Julie Orford with the i-limb hand on its torch ‘forearm’. At the launch of the 26 Treasures project visitors could try it for themselves.

Curator Julie Orford with the i-limb hand on its torch ‘forearm’. At the launch of the 26 Treasures project, visitors could try it for themselves.

Using buttons, and needing one hand to control the motion of the artificial hand, is a cumbersome way of using a prosthesis. Instead, amputees control these hands through sensitive electrical sensors placed on their skin. These detect the tiny electrical signals inside muscles as they contract. Because the muscles which close and open our fingers are in the arm, below the elbow, this can be very instinctive to learn. People with an amputation across the forearm can signal to their artificial hand using the muscles which controlled their fingers.

The back of a hand and arm showing the muscles and tendons which open the fingers. Gray’s Anatomy, 1858.

The back of a hand and arm showing the muscles and tendons which open the fingers. Gray’s Anatomy, 1858.

These prosthetic hands don’t enable their wearers play a piano sonata or touch type – not yet anyway – but they will point one finger to operate a keyboard ‘hunt and peck’ style. There is on-going worldwide research into controlling prostheses directly from brainwaves, which are detected either with sensors on the skin or surgically implanted electrodes. This technology is not yet ready for use outside a laboratory, but is one of many exciting developments which may revolutionise the field of prosthetics in the future.

An example of the first model i-limb from Touch Bionics is also on display in Scotland: A Changing Nation at the National Museum of Scotland, and was one of the objects featured in the 26 Treasures project. We also display the Edinburgh research leading up to this pioneering hand in the Shaping our World gallery.

Julie OrfordBy Julie Orford, Assistant Curator of Science

The beginning of March was busy for us in the Science section as we installed the Reconstructing Lives exhibition, which opened at the National War Museum on 9 March. Although the exhibition is a small one, there is still a lot of hard work that goes into creating it.

Over the past few months the objects were conserved and photographed, the label text was researched, written and revised and the images which bring the stories of the objects to life had to be sourced and printed. Our loans department have also been busy organising the borrowing of five legs and two hands for the display.

The week of exhibition installation is normally a flurry of activity so I thought I would share some of the photos I took over the course of the installation. I should also mention that the gallery technicians had already been beavering away for a week, preparing the gallery for installation and mounting the display panels but I wasn’t around to take photos of their input!

Foyer case

The Foyer case with the cosmetic hand coverings on display. My personal favourite in this case is the hand on the second left with the zip up the forearm. The realism of the silicone hands can be quite unsettling!

Case in the gallery

The first objects going into the case, with Chris Moon’s running blade in the foreground and the WWII aluminium arm in the background.


The strapping attached to the prosthetic legs provided a real challenge for the mount maker, Richard West. When you visit the exhibition do take a moment to admire the skill and craftsmanship that went into creating the mounts – they are a work of wonder!


Curator Tacye Phillipson and Russell Eggleton, the exhibition designer, suspend the strapping of the leg using stainless steel wires attached to the top of the case.


All installed! Tacye and Russell look on as Richard gives the limb mounts a final check over.

Iron hand on loan from the British Museum

Thursday was perhaps our busiest day of the week. Poor Tacye’s day began at the ungodly hour of 06:40 with an interview on the BBC Radio Scotland breakfast programme. The final loan object pictured here in its travelling case arrived from the British Museum and we had the exhibition press view.

Inspecting the iron hand

Tacye and Elena Jones from the British Museum carry out the condition check on the hand before it is locked into the case for the duration of the exhibition.

Press view

Here’s Tacye being interviewed by Pauline McLean for a feature on the BBC ‘Reporting Scotland’ news programme.

Press view

Conservator Darren Cox prepares to do a piece to camera on his contribution to the exhibition. Although this didn’t appear on the TV news bulletin, the audio recording featured on the BBC Radio Scotland ‘News Drive’ programme later that evening.

Press view

Seen on a photographer’s camera screen is a great shot of Tacye viewed through the exhibition case with a late-20th century prosthetic arm in the foreground.

Press view

The image of Tacye holding the i-limb ultra was the favoured photograph in the press coverage for the exhibition that appeared the next day. Here she is taking directions from a bank of photographers with the assistance of Kirsty Tough from the Marketing and Communications department.

Reconstructing Lives

Opening Day! Here we have some of the first visitors to the exhibition taking a closer look at the fantastic photographs which cover the walls of the gallery space.

Reconstructing Lives

The layout of the exhibition, designed by Jan Dawson uses a combination of text and image to illustrate the development of prosthetic limbs and to show the objects on display in use.

Watching the exhibition video

Part of the exhibition is an interview with Chris Moon, MBE. He was blown up by a landmine in 1995, losing his lower leg and right arm. This short film features his personal story and how he and others have adjusted to using prosthetic limbs.

Reconstructing Lives visitor comments

The comments book – it’s great to read visitor responses to an exhibition. Here are the first two comments from a couple of Canadian visitors.

Reconstructing Lives

The finished exhibition.

So there we have a behind the scenes glimpse of the exhibition installation.

Tacye PhillipsonBy Tacye Phillipson, Senior Curator of Modern Science

During exhibition planning one of the hardest decisions is what to leave out.  The exhibition about prosthetic limbs, Reconstructing Lives, at the National War Museum is no different.  This will display a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but will not explain how they came to be designed and made. National Museums Scotland has recently been donated a wonderful collection showing the development of prosthetic hands in Edinburgh at the Princess Margaret Orthopaedic Hospital and later by the NHS research team. Some examples of their pioneering technological work can be seen in the Shaping our World gallery at the National Museum of Scotland, including the world’s first arm with electrically powered hand, elbow and shoulder, the Edinburgh Modular Arm System (EMAS). Also in this collection is a set of material used in the production of wonderfully life-like cosmetic hands by a technique perfected in Edinburgh.

So, how did they make these cosmetic prosthetic hands?

The fingers were cast in foam with copper wire down the middle of the fingers so they could be bent to different shapes and posed.  The technician kindly cast a foam hand left unfinished in its mould especially for the museum.

Left foam hand in its original mould

Left foam hand in its original mould.

The finished foam hands are human in shape, but not exactly skin coloured.

Foam hands without their skins

Foam hands without their skins. The fingers have wire down the middle so can be bent into different positions..

To make the outer coatings, or gloves, for these hands they found a volunteer with the right size and shape hands and coated their hand and arm in moulding plastic.  Pulling this off tore the hair out of the model’s arm.  I am assured the detail of the final product was better because of those hairs stuck in the mould.

A silicone mould was taken from the master hand, smooth on the outside, but with all the details of the model’s skin, and of those hair roots, on the inside.  Lots of these moulds could be made from one resin hand cast.

A resin cast was taken from this mould – these master casts were stored in a library of dozens of boxes.

Resin cast of right hand used in the manufacturing of cosmetic gloves

Resin cast of right hand used in the manufacturing of cosmetic gloves.

The mould was mounted in a wire framework to keep it in shape.  This was mounted on a motor and rotated while the final cosmetic glove was cast inside it in layers of different coloured silicone. Some of these used up to 25 layers of different colours to match the translucency and depth of human skin, though in production the manufacturing was refined down to four layers.

Mould for right arm glove, held in a wire net. Coloured silicone layers were built up inside this mould forming the final glove

Mould for right arm glove, held in a wire net. Coloured silicone layers were built up inside this mould forming the final glove.

Examples of the finished product are in the Shaping our World gallery.

Woman's prosthetic left hand

Woman’s prosthetic left hand glove.

Prosthetic glove

Left hand prosthetic glove.

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