Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Meet David McNay - The SMRG Team

Another one of those articles where we have to talk about ourselves. This time, it's my turn...
Any excuse to post this photo again...
I have always had an interest in military history of some description: from an early age I remember playing at soldiers with my brother – we had a huge bag of plastic toy soldiers and would arrange battles with them in endless row where they were gunned down in increasing number until there were perhaps only one or two left among a huge pile of the “dead”. Like other children, we would build model planes and hang them from our ceiling and have imaginary dogfights, and we would lap up films like “Battle of Britain” and The Bridge at Remagen”.

As I got older though, my interest faded a little as I pursued other interests. It was only when I began working on my family tree that my military interest was rekindled. The spark of my interest was ignited when my mother and I visited a cemetery in Renfrewshire, looking for an elusive family stone. One finding it we discovered a name on it which was listed as having died in South Africa in 1900.

What had caused a relative to be there at that time? I had a vague idea that the Boer War had been fought at that time, but knew next to nothing of the conflict. I decided therefore to find out more. That in turn led to me trying to find out more about the men from Scotland who didn’t survive the conflict – I was aware that men from the First World War were commemorated but anyone from conflict pre-dating 1914 were almost ignored. That resulted in my starting a project to compile accurate lists of Scotland’s Boer War dead.

I think that’s where my interest in War Memorials came from. I had travelled around photographing the few Boer War memorials there are in Scotland, and I had come to appreciate the styles and designs of different war memorials. From there it was a short step to photographing memorials wherever I saw them.

Around this time I had noticed a post on the Great War Forum from someone working for the Archives of the Royal Bank of Scotland. They had compiled a list of their war dead and were looking for further information. I work for the Bank of Scotland and was curious to find out if my employers had a similar list. I therefore contacted the banks archives and five years later I am still working on completing a list of the war dead of the constituent banks that make up HBOS (as it was at the time, now part of Lloyds Banking Group).

That research led me to cross paths with Adam Brown, who works for RBS and was doing similar work with his employers list. That initial contact has led to a very good friendship and an almost daily email correspondence that covers many projects, ideas, suggestions and outright fantasy of what we’d do if we won the lottery and could jack our jobs in to do research full time!

For me, this sort of research takes military history beyond the bare bones of places, dates and campaigns. For me, history is about the people who lived it; what they did, how they reacted, what they thought. I’m not sure if it’s a quote that I lifted from somewhere, but whenever I am asked why I spend all my time in libraries, compiling lists, I simply say this: these men have stories to tell, and they did not live to tell them. We have to tell the stories for them.

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