How war brought Scottish descendants to the land of their ancestors

In the story of my great-uncle Colin Matheson’s First World War service, I noted that while recuperating from his wounds in early 1919 he visited Scotland, from where his parents had emigrated five or six decades earlier.  I found Colin’s diary from that period really helpful when researching another family history book, ‘Highland heritage’, as the focus of his visit was meeting close relatives — aunts, uncles and cousins — and his record helped me place them in the early 20th century.

Tanja Bueltmann is a prominent researcher of the Scottish diaspora, the massive migration of people from Scotland to many parts of the world including, of course, New Zealand.  Tanja knows the New Zealand story well, as she completed her PhD at Victoria University of Wellington a few years ago.  (It’s been published as ‘Scottish ethnicity and the making of New Zealand society, 1850 to 1930’).

Tanja has written a nice piece about how the tragedy of war connected many soldiers of Scottish heritage with their ancestral homeland, just as it did for Colin.  In it she tells how the presidents of many Scottish associations in New Zealand wrote a joint letter after the First World War to editors of some Scottish newspapers and the Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland.  In it they said:

New Zealand soldiers going on leave during WW1
New Zealand soldiers going on leave during WW1

“ … the members of the undersigned Scottish societies, on behalf of the people of New Zealand, desire you to convey to the people of Scotland their sincere and heartfelt thanks for the hospitality and kindness which was so freely extended to our New Zealand soldiers when on furlough in Scotland.  Every returned man has told us of the splendid fighting qualities and comradeship of the Scottish regiments, but, above all, they speak in the most affectionate terms of the genuine welcome and the untiring efforts made on their behalf while on their visit to your country. …  Our gratitude is due to you for making dear ‘Auld Scotland’ a second home to so many of our men while absent from their native land.”

Colin Matheson expressed the same sentiment.  He recorded his warm appreciation for the hearty welcome he received from everyone he visited, and his warmth towards the country.  At the end of his leave he returned to London “tired out, but pleased that I was privileged to see all Father’s people and also to see so much of the country; England and Scotland, but give me Scotland any time.  It is more like New Zealand.”  Later that year, when leaving England on the voyage home, he noted in his diary his gratitude for “the meeting of relatives and finding them all such excellent folk, without exception”.

As Tanja says, “While these trips had been facilitated by the tragic circumstances of war, they nevertheless document the increased popularity, in the early twentieth century, of roots tourism.”

2 thoughts on “How war brought Scottish descendants to the land of their ancestors”

  1. Hi Tanja

    Thanks for visiting the site. You article made me put Colin’s visit in a wider context, and it’s fascinating to learn that many other New Zealand soldiers of Scottish origin made the trip north. Even though his parents had left Scotland half a century or so earlier, it’s clear that Colin still felt a real connection to the place.


  2. I was delighted to hear of your family’s story and how the general piece I wrote resonates here. I’m still amazed how war facilitated connections, but as your story emphasises, home trips to Scotland at the time were cherished by those who went, with many, like Colin, writing of the warm reception they received.

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