‘Lest we forget’: Armed Forces Day 29 June 2024

On the last Saturday of June every year, Armed Forces Day emerges as an annual day-long commemoration of the service carried out by those within the Armed Forces community. As well as promoting vast recognition and awareness of the sacrifices they have made and the service they have provided in past wars and wartimes. It also fosters a national appreciation of the work they continue to do today. All throughout the year, the Armed Forces community works not only to provide national security and promote peace. They also offer national and foreign aid when needed, deal with drug smuggling and trafficking instances, and combat terrorism on both a national and global scale.


Showing our appreciation and support for the Armed Forces significantly boosts morale within the Armed Forces community. Both for the veterans, current personnel and their families. There is an abundance of opportunities as well in which individuals, society, organisations, and institutions can express and demonstrate their support. You can learn more about how to show your support on the Armed Forces Day webpage: Get Involved – Armed Forces Day.


Lest We forget: Our War Poets Collection…


Craiglockhart War Hospital hosted more than 1800 officers from the First World War suffering from shellshock and various other casualties which emerged from some of the horrific experiences they encountered in the trenches. This building now forms part of one of the three campuses of Edinburgh Napier University and hosts our War Poets Collection Exhibition.

This collection is made up of just over 800 different items and archival materials, including poetic works from former soldiers including Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. A signed copies of first-edition books, and three original issues of the famous Hydra magazine. What is so unique and interesting about this collection is that most of the materials and items give a very deep and informative insight into the social and personal experiences of those who served in and lived through the First World War. The accounts and perspectives provided by soldiers, medical staff, and families of the military community during these times bring to light the raw and very real experiences and hardships which they lived through.


Starting this year with a new yearly-recurring feature for Armed Forces Day, we will highlight a different member of the Armed Forces community who was linked to Craiglockhart War Hospital. First up is:


Lest we forget: Captain James Edgar Leach VC (1894-1958)…

James Edgar Leach VC, like the soldier poets Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, was a patient at the Craiglockhart War Hospital and had served as a sergeant in the First World War. A document written by his granddaughter Felicity, who conducted some recent research about his life, forms a significant part of our War Poet’s Collection. It serves as a memorial of remembrance of his life, achievements, and experiences during the war.

James Edgar Leach VC was noted to have been born on the 27th of July 1894 at Bowerham Barracks, Lancaster. His father, James Leach, was also noted to have been “a Colour Sergeant with the King’s Own Royal Regiment.”


It seems that James Leach VC followed a similar path to his father and was eventually promoted to sergeant himself during the War. His courage and distinguished conduct in the First Battle of the Aisne played a huge part in helping him achieve this promotion. On 29 October 1914, he and Sergeant John Hogan were also awarded the Victoria Cross for demonstrating bravery, resilience and effective forward-planning and strategy. When serving for the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment on the field and assigned to the unit on the Western Front. The announcement made in the London Gazette, 22 December 1914, notes their “conspicuous bravery near Festubert on 29 October”. There they  decided after two failed attempts at recapture to “recover the trenches themselves” on the afternoon. They were also said to have worked “from traverse to traverse at close quarters with great bravery”. And eventually regained possession successfully, having held their ground even when faced with heavy shelling. The Victoria Cross is recognised as the highest. It is the most reputable award for showing valour against their opponents on the battlefield.


James Leach VC eventually went on to receive the rank of Captain. The Victoria Cross which he was awarded can be found on display inside the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.  Located within the Imperial War Museum in London. More information can be found on the Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes | Imperial War Museums webpage.


Felicity, upon visiting the former Craiglockhart War Hospital, has described that this visit made her feel a “closer connection” to her grandfather James Edgar Leach VC. She also noted the ambience of the building. Particularly within the long corridor alongside the War Poets Collection and the Rivers Suite, which she described as “impressive.” And then implied that it had brought to life an image in her mind of what the building may have looked like over a century ago. She described how the doors in front of the War Poets Collection opening “on to the former main entrance to the hospital”. And the “beautiful black and white tiled flooring” made her feel like she was “walking in her grandfather’s footsteps.”


Based on Felicity’s description of visiting our War Poets Collection, it was a very moving and reflective experience. Both the building itself and the range of archival materials and items detailing the personal experiences and hardships faced by many patients of the Craiglockhart War Hospital. It all brought to life the very real horrors of the First World War. And sacrifices made by the veterans, their families, and the Armed Forces community.


You can view all the War Poets Collection items and materials through LibrarySearch. The collection itself can also be visited and consulted during general Craiglockhart campus hours. Our Exhibition and Visiting webpage also has more information. Felicity’s written document about her grandfather can also be read in full in the War Poets Collection exhibition area.


By Rachel Downie

Learn more about the War Poet Collection. 

And you can read previous posts to learn more about the collection.