We begin at the height of Empire with the Boer Wars, in which many Borderers fought. At the crossroad of the A68 and the A699 four trees were planted, with a plaque fixed to each, in commemoration of events in that conflict, which ended on the 31st May 1902. Further, a plaque, of which only a fragment remains, was affixed to a tree planted in July of the same year opposite the village hall, apparently declaring it a ‘Peace Tree’. We are grateful to John Pollock for providing this account of their significance – click for the PDF. (The first three photographs below accompany Mr. Pollock’s essay.) As he sadly notes, some twenty years later people would be commemorating a much larger conflict, the First World War, with memorials, including the one which villagers positioned near those trees.
The St Boswells War Memorial bears the names of 31 of the fallen from the First World War, and 5 from the Second. A commemoration service is held each year on Remembrance Sunday.
The oldest image here shows members of the WWI Machine Gun Corps, with George Oliver (d. 1974) on the left. Having volunteered in 1914, George saw service at Gallipoli and subsequently on the Somme.
It is followed by a picture of the 1914-1915 St Boswells Home Front Volunteers (roughly equivalent to the Home Guard of the Second World War). In the front row are: T. Balloch, T. Burns, J. Gibson, and W. Drummond. Second row: J. A. Porteous, J. Walker, Dr. Cullen, Sec. Lieut. W. Paton, Rev. J. Burr, J. Scott, J. B.Munro (?), and J. B. Glen. Third row: J. Mitchell, J. Young, P. Blain, W. Elliot, W.E. Ballantyne, R. Mitchie, J.M. Jones, A. Aiken, and A. Thomson. Back row: W. Burns, G. Ballantyne, W. Donald, A. Haig, T. Reid, J. Hogarth, J. Rookes, J. Stewart, A. Dickson, and O. Clark.
Then we have a photo of the funeral to Dryburgh Abbey (March 1928) of a controversial figure from the First World War, Field Marshal Earl Haig, who died on the 29th January 1928. After it comes a postcard imaging his grave in the abbey.
During WWII, troops were stationed in the village, Nissen huts being erected for them. The women of St Boswells opened a canteen in the Church Hall, and kept it open until the end of the war. Given the need to disperse factories engaged in important war work away from large conurbations, a munitions factory was built at Charlesfield, which actually remained open until December 1959. Only one enemy bomb fell nearby (close to Bowden), but failed to explode. A nucleus of the Home Guard was formed from village veterans of WWI. The Hall was made available to them and other military units. (In WWI it had primarily been used for storage.) ‘Some damage unavoidably occurred but full compensation amounting to £150 was paid’, according to Lt.-Col. Frederick G. Peake, Change at St. Boswells (1961), p. 121.
This PDF presents the reminiscences of George Oliver, son of the abovementioned George, who was in his early teens during WWII. He recalls the issuing of gas masks (schoolchildren being included), the formation of a unit of Air Raid Precaution wardens and of an Air Training Corps, and, later in the war, the billeting of Italian prisoners. St Boswells lost its old metal railings, supposedly to be forged into weapons of war, and the Victorian lime trees on the Green were used to camouflage the military lorries which were parked underneath them. Other items from the Oliver family archive record the work of young George’s mother, Margaret Oliver, for the Red Cross. The Red Cross nurses in the photo below are Lennie Scott, Margaret Oliver and Bella Mackenzie, standing with Col. Dove. The picture of the HOME GUARD is courtesy of Janet Breed.