11 November marks Armistice, also known as Remembrance Day, where those who lost their lives lost during the First World War are commemorated. Over 16 million people died during the war and although there is no accepted total of Scottish war dead, estimates vary between 100,000 and 135,000. The sheer scale of the conflict mobilised Britain as men were called to fight, and people were employed in industry and agriculture. No home, no school, and no community was left untouched.

Remembrance Day allowed time for the nation to unite in collective grief and memory. The events that developed, such as the Remembrance March past the cenotaph (a war memorial on Whitehall, London ), local ceremonies at memorials and rolls of honour continue to this day, and are an important opportunity to mark the lives of the many people lost, the brutality of war, and to remember family.

At the National Records of Scotland (NRS), archivists have been working for some time on a Roll of Honour for the staff, of what were known as, the Register House Departments. No official roll of staff involved in the war was taken at the end of 1918, so there was no single list of names to act as a starting point. Instead, past staff in 1914 and during the war, had to be identified, whether they had served in the armed forces had to be established, and whether they had died or survived, discovered.

While there was no single list, there were a few clues to start with. At General Register House, in the Historical Search Room, there is a plaque to Charles Whitehead Yule; he was a respected scholar who worked in the then Historical Department of Register House as an Assistant Curator (in modern terms, an archivist). This inspired further research, and more information about his life and career were discovered and explored in the feature ‘Charles Whitehead Yule, a curator commemorated.

In a census staff record book (GRO4/27/2), a newspaper clipping of Walter Urquhart from the Evening Despatch, 1915, was pasted in after his death. Only 18 years old he was among those killed in 1/5th Royal Scots. Using records held in NRS, we know that on reaching the age of 14, Urquhart left school and on 24 July 1911 joined the census staff at the General Register Office (GROS). Around this time he posed with colleagues for a group photograph in the garden beside New Register House. On 11 October 1913 he left the GROS to become a packer at Jenners, a well-known Edinburgh Department Store.

Photograph of Walter Urquhart from the Evening Despatch, 1915.
Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland GRO4/27/2
Group photograph of 1911 census staff with Walter Urquhart seated
on the ground at the right. Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland GRO6/464/10

The photograph printed in the Evening Despatch, 22 September 1915, records the fact that months later Urquhart was still officially ‘missing in action’ in the Dardanelles. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles War Memorial.

Currently the roll lists 14 serving and former members of staff who died, but also more than 50 others who served on many fronts, survived and resumed civilian work on their return.

Jack Adams is one such individual. Born 22 July 1870, at Old Craighall, Inveresk, son of Archibald Adams, coalminer, and his wife Janet Ewart. After leaving school he was apprenticed as a confectioner before enlisting, aged 18, in the Royal Scots in 1889. He served as Private 3182 in the Second Battalion at home, in Malta and India, and finally in South Africa during the Boer War, thereby earning the South Africa Medal. The war extended his 12 years’ service by one year, and soon after being discharged from the Army, 9 January 1902, he was appointed Porter in Register House, 6 March. He married Christina North, a soldier’s widow, 1 July 1902. They later separated. Appointed Messenger, 1 July 1912, he seems to have continued in post until at least February 1916.

His wartime service is unclear, but his family understand that he served as a Sergeant in the Royal Scots at Passchendaele (1917). He was promoted to Deputy Superintendent of the Messengers, 8 April 1919. In 1922 Adams was in charge of the front door of General Register House, and had the ‘great tact, firmness and discretion’ needed to handle the many visitors. He served as Superintendent Messenger, with a flat in the basement of New Register House, in his final years before retirement in about 1935. After the death of his estranged wife in the USA, he married Helen Healy, at Edinburgh, 2 April 1934. He died in Edinburgh, 29 March 1944, aged 73.

New Register House, Basement Plan, 1858. Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, RHP140609/1

The NRS Roll of Honour can be viewed here at our website. If you have further information about the men already listed, or of past members of staff currently missing from the list, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch by writing to education@nrscotland.gov.uk.

Jocelyn Grant


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