Leith at War: Memories make History

Last year’s Age Scotland Award winners; Citadel Arts Group are proud to promote their latest inter-generational project. Author Laure C. Patterson tells us more about the project, from the script through to performance week! Thanks too to Director Liz Hare for the pictures and background.

Leith at War Flyer

Yesterday I was in Leith’s Hermitage Court sheltered housing complex with a class of Primary 6 children mixing with residents old enough to be their grandparents. The children were performing scenes from a play based on the living memories of these and other residents. The laughs and tears and shouts of appreciation were for real. Many were mine!

Dress Rehersals

Mark Kydd as Grampa, Angus Skakle as young Eck at Dress Rehersals

As a kid I loved listening to stories. The best were true, told by my dad and my great-aunt, who talked of their adventures in earthquakes, train wrecks and perilous sea journeys. My mum created fairytales full of magic and dreams. Now, in my sixties, I’m listening to stories again: stories of excitement, daring and courage. And they’re all real! They were told to me by Leithers who lived through blitzes, blackouts and bombs in the Second World War, right here on the Leith Home Front.

Pupils from St Mary's Primary and residents of Hermitage Court

Back in March, children from St Mary’s Primary came along to Hermitage Court to enjoy the reading, socialise together and give us their thoughts about the play.

When I joined Citadel Arts Group some years ago I learned a great deal about courage, patience and humour from helping run living memory sessions with Leithers up to 91 years of age. Citadel Arts, with a history of producing community dramas from living memory, kindly offered me the chance to write. So I wrote ‘Leith At War’. Three classes of primary and secondary children have come together to share these stories with their tellers, and one of the pupils stars in ‘Leith At War’. So I was really proud when Age Scotland honoured Citadel last year by voting us Member Group of the Year in a Parliamentary presentation!

Living Memory Group

First read through with our script advisers whose ages ranged from 70s to 90s.l They advised us closely about the events of the play, the way people spoke, details of dress and RAF uniform, to achieve authenticity.

Thank you to all the lovely people who shared their stories with me, to Citadel for taking these stories onto the stage, and to Age Scotland for the great work they do with the older generations who enrich us every day. I hope you can all come and see the play.


‘Leith At War’ is being performed in the Leith Hub (foot of Leith Walk) on 19, 20 June at 7.30pm and 21 June at 2pm. Tickets £7/£5. Click on leithatwar@gmail.com to reserve tickets.



Painting Leith with memories

Morvern Cunningham, Event Coordinator and Festival Producer for LeithLate writes a blog post for us explaining how their new mural came about and the part that older people had to play in ensuring it reflected the history and memories of the local community.

 Halmyre Street Mural

Photo of Halmyre Street Mural by Eoin Carey

A team of (mostly) Leith based artists have revealed their final design for a new mural on Halmyre Street.in Leith, and with public art becoming a proud part of Leith’s identity the artists decided that it was important to ground the design by involving Leithers of all ages.

The artists met with a group of older women from Jamieson Place; Port of Leith’s supported accommodation.

Some of the main items of reference in the final mural came from this research with the older women, things like the reference to policeman Willy Merrilees disguising himself as a baby (see The Mural Project explained below) and many other stories about long-dead Leithers which none of the Leith-based artists had heard! You could say that the tentacles were also a reference to this.


What was really important though, was the grounding of the artists’ final design very much in Leith, and these research sessions with folk that had lived in Leith all their lives really contributed to that for the artists.

I also know for a fact that the ladies had a great time coming along and contributing to the sessions, and it was great to see them take ownership of the final piece at the unveiling: they were all lining up and getting their photos taken with it! Great stuff

Find out more about the Mural project on their Facebook page: LeithLate 

More about the background and meaning behind Leith’s latest mural:

The project was realised in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council (who provided the majority of the budget) and Police Scotland, and funded by CEC, Leith Neighbourhood Partnership, Port of Leith Housing Association and Scotmid. A total of 6 artists were involved: Fraser Gray, Skint Richie, Rabiya Choudhry, Martin McGuinness and the duo known as DUFI. The collective worked on the design of the mural for around 8 weeks, a period of time which included research sessions with older Leithers from local housing associations, a tour of Leith’s pre-existing murals, and trips to local points of interest such as maritime museum Trinity House and the last steam ship registered to Leith, the SS Explorer.  A series of art workshops are due to take place with young people from the local area, in response to the mural’s artwork.

The final artwork is a nautical one, with busy seascape, a serene skyscape above and a ship moving forward beyond the design. The outline of the sun above the ship can also be seen as a giant head, itself moving forward in time. Points of interest in the final artwork include:

The mural as a whole is a large reworking of the Leith Persevere crest, and depicts a ship sailing across a striped sea.

The ship in the mural is based on the SS Explorer, the last steam ship to be registered to Leith and which is currently undergoing restoration by a team of volunteers and enthusiasts. The initials L.H. are on the boat, pertaining to Leith Harbour, and a nautical flag to the rear tells its readers ‘Open For Communication’.

A large sun broken by clouds rises up behind the ship. Its curve on the left follows the original arch on the tunnel, but on the right slips down into a human silhouette. This personification of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ represents the strength of character and identity typical of the average ‘Leither’.

Beneath the sea all is busy, much like life in Leith itself. A Newhaven fishwife’s song ‘Wha’l Buy My Caller Herrin” dips beneath the waves, a toilet seat (both a reference to the film adaptation of Trainspotting, and the Garde Loo boat that used to tip waste into the Firth of Forth) dwells at the bottom.

Tentacles, referring to the many stories and urban myths that abound in Leith swirl up from the depths. Unexploded mines (which are still present in the Forth today) loom menacingly while a pram (which refers to the story of Willy Merrilees, a below-stature policeman who once disguised himself as a baby to catch a criminal) bobs away on the tide.

A crab, representing the stalwart image of an older Leith and its Perseverance, as well as the zodiac sign of the majority of the artists, floats by a spaceman helmet – a reference both to the alienation of certain communities within Leith, as well as to an absent member of the artists’ collective: Mike Inglis. The gramophone on the left hand side acts as a counterbalance to the toilet and nods to the many antique shops and record shops along Leith Walk and Easter Road.

A swan in the top right hand corner, which is a reference to Swanfield and previous murals in that area. The heron refers to the sizable heron population that can be regularly seen along the Water of Leith.

A cat in the top right hand corner links this mural to the previous mural which stood on the site, as it is the only image that is retained of the original artwork which was painted by artist David Wilkinson (sadly subsequently obscured and defaced by graffiti tagging, prior to the new mural installation).

Celebrating real life stories

John McCaughie introduces us to The Living Memory Association; a reminiscence project based in Leith, but covering the whole of Edinburgh.

Bessie, who is 98, has attended some of our social events. Her daughter Pearl describes how much these outings mean to her mum: ‘Mum had a lovely time at the Burns Supper. The Living Memory Association has given her a new lease of life.’

Bessie and Pearl

Bessie and her daughter Pearl. Bessie is holding a photo of her, her husband Harry and daughter Pearl.

As part of a 2nd World War project with local primary schools we invited George, a ninety-one year old, to meet a class of P.7s and tell them about his experiences in the Merchant Navy during the war. The children listened to George’s first hand account of what it was like to sail on the convoys bringing supplies from America to Britain and where torpedoes from German submarines were a constant threat.

Win was born in 1916 in London. She worked in an aeroplane factory during the 2nd World War and campaigned for better pay and conditions for women workers. We made Win a Life Story Book and she was delighted with the results. ‘This is really special to me to have my stories and photos collected in this book. It’s wonderful, truly wonderful.’

Edinburgh Dynamos – a women's football team from the 1950s

Edinburgh Dynamos – a women’s football team from the 1950s

These are just some of the activities we offer to older people living, sometimes isolated lives, in the community. Through reminiscence work we bring people together to share their memories, make new friends and learn form one another.

The charity also offers training in reminiscence skills for anyone interested in working with older people. Our next training day is on 13th September 2013. Please contact John for further details on 0131 553 4580 or john@livingmemory.org.uk.