Postcards from the trenches another Lochaber link to Great War

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A series of postcards sent home to Ballachulish from the trenches in the First World War has added a local dimension to a travelling exhibition on the conflict.

The exhibition is on at the West Highland Museum in Fort William until the end of this month.

The postcards are part of a much larger collection sent by John McCallum to his wife Mary from France. John had married school teacher Mary Cameron at the United Free Church in Ballachulish on April 21, 1916.

Although John was also a teacher, at the time of his marriage during the First World War, he was serving as a sergeant in the 13th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Mary had been educated at Fort William Senior Secondary School and, after qualifying as a teacher, taught at Ballachulish until her marriage in 1916.

But the newlyweds were soon separated when, six months later, John was shipped off to fight on the Western Front.

Between October 1916 and February 1919, John sent Mary numerous postcards detailing his life in France. The postcards are addressed to Aulltshellach, North Ballachulish.

John and Mary McCallum. NO F11 Postcards soldier 02
John and Mary McCallum.
NO F11 Postcards soldier 02

This was the family croft where Mary had been born. Embroidered cards were popular with the troops.  They were made by local French women as a way of supplementing their income and sold to soldiers as gifts to send home.

After the war, John was discharged from the army and appointed headmaster at Kinlochleven School. The couple started a family soon afterwards.

They moved to Tobermory and then Innellan where John continued to teach. The couple went on to have two sons and three daughters.

On John’s retirement in 1938, the family moved to Glasgow as they felt their family would benefit from better employment and educational opportunities.

The postcards are on loan from John and Mary McCallum’s granddaughter, Catriona Bruce.

Museum curator Vanessa Martin says the postcards lend a poignant local element to the Highland Council’s touring exhibition about the Highland experience of the First World War.

‘Having been to France and seen these kind of embroidered postcards from soldiers and their loved ones before, I knew what they were like. But many people back here in Lochaber have been amazed by them and said they’d never seen anything like them,’ Ms Martin added. ‘This exhibition is very well worth taking the time to visit.’