Cataloguing Reverend James MacMorland, a rebellious chaplain

Guest blog post by Olivia Howarth, digital preservation trainee with the SCA Opening Up Scotland’s Archives programme


Rev James MacMorland (bottom row, 2nd from right) [UGC 224/1/8/1]

Over the past year, I’ve been privileged enough to work on cataloguing the Papers of Reverend James MacMorland, who was a University of Glasgow alumnus. Graduating in 1909 with a BD from the school of Divinity (a hundred years before I started my own undergraduate degree), MacMorland began a career as a minister in the Church of Scotland. The collection features his church and army records, photographs and academic certificates, but some of the most prominent materials are his own writings. His autobiography, which he intended to publish, encompasses his active life of service and spirituality. In particular, his earliest autobiographical writing, A Padre with the Highland Division in France, provides insight into his experience of WWI, occasionally tinged with pathos and playfulness.

Not long after taking up his second ministry, MacMorland joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and served in Salonika.  His description of urgently returning home after an illness, to help his home Presbytery, establishes his voice from the outset.

I had the unusual privilege of over-hearing my funeral arrangements being made, by the Mortuary sergeant declaring in a broad Aberdeen accent: “but there’s seven boadies in the mortuary a’ready!”. That helped my recovery somewhat […]

A visit from Lady Hunter-Blair, wife of the General in command of forces in the island, […] recognised my name as a fellow-native of my home village, and persuaded her husband to get me temporary leave for home, and having collected an ill-fitting uniform to replace my hospital blue, I caught a leave boat next morning for Marseilles, narrowly missing a U-boat just outside the port.



ugc224-2-7_ (a)_title page-cropped

Title page of memoirs [UGC 224/2/7]

Having completed arrangements for another minister to serve his parish, MacMorland awaited instructions to deploy, but none came. Contacting the administration, he found that his removal from Salonika was unaccounted for and, unable to provide the medical records that were held at the hospital, he was ordered to serve in training new recruits.

It wasn’t long until his appointment to serve as a Chaplain arrived, but despite the more senior rank of Captain, disagreements with senior officers still arose. He describes one occasion where he redirected ambulances in order to help men in his care and narrowly avoided court martial.

Col. Rorie’s other hobby was music.  He had written several songs.  I asked him to preside at my concert and he accepted.  Then came my master-stroke.  He had written a dialect song with the intriguing title of “The Lum Hat Wantin’s the croun”, and I sang it to the immense delight of Col. Rorie, who forthwith forgot all about courts martial.

MacMorland’s account of his activities during the war, and the interactions he had with more senior officers, have helped to make sense of some unusual annotations on his Recommendation for the Military Cross. He was denied the Cross, having contravened the rules more than once, but appeared to hold no ill-will or regret his decisions.

Meantime I had been recommended for a M.C., but my “crime” stood in the way, and eventually they made a compromise award of a “mention in despatches”, which I treasure along with another crime sheet from Salonika.



Recommendation for Military Cross [UGC 224/2/5]

As a cataloguer these papers provided an intriguing insight into the life and work of a progressive minister and were exciting to work with. It is fortunate that such a unique voice is now housed in the archive and publicly accessible.

Find out more about Reverend James MacMorland on University Story, or visit the archives to study the Papers of Rev James MacMorland, 1886-1975, Minister and Chaplain to the Forces.

Categories: Archives and Special Collections

3 replies

  1. Very interesting post. However, RAMC = Royal Army Medical Corps (not ‘Military’)

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