The Living Memory Association

Edinburgh's Reminiscence Project • Established 1986

A Century of Change: Memories and Experiences of Volunteer Work

A Century of Change is a celebration of volunteering by Edinburgh people over the last one hundred years.It looks at just a very small selection of the incredibly varied work that volunteers have carried out.

A Century of Change was a joint project between the Living Memory Association, Volunteer Centre Edinburgh and City of Edinburgh Museums and was generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. An exhibition was launched in November 2006 at The Museum of Edinburgh and ran until June 2007. A book has also been published and distributed to all participants.

One of the most rewarding outcomes of the project was exploring the wide variety of work done by volunteers. Volunteering involves such a cross-section of people, both in background and age. People give their time freely to help out in just about every part of our society and we are all helped in some way by people who volunteer. We feel it has been important to record and celebrate this often-neglected work.

Volunteering Your Life - Steve Fullarton

Steve Fullarton was born and brought up in the Shetteston area of Glasgow. In 1938, at the age of 18, he joined the International Brigade to fight for the Republican cause in Spain. He was eventually wounded and returned home.

Referred to as The Spanish Civil War the war in Spain was a bitter struggle between the existing Republican Government and right wing forces led by General Franco. The conflict ran from 1936 until 1939. Franco received considerable military support and aid from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Republicans were aided by Communist Russia. The British and French governments took the line of non intervention as it was ‘a civil war’.

The International Brigade, who fought on the Republican side, numbered 35,000 and was made up of volunteers from all around the world. More than 2300 came from Britain and the Commonwealth.

‘In Britain at the time, and before I volunteered, there were lots of Aid Spain committees all over the country and these committees were responsible for organising collections of money and non-perishable foods, such as tinned milk, sardines, bully beef and so on, and money. I helped in my own small way in the tenements of Glasgow where I lived. Someone would go round the street with a megaphone and say the purpose that they were collecting and people would indicate from their windows to come up, because they can"t throw a tin of condensed milk out of the window. That would be me, along with others; I would go upstairs and collect what they were giving in either money or tins. And that was me, that was my sort of tie-in.’

‘The motivation was just a follow-on that I was doing no good, that just collecting tins of milk and tins of sardines was not enough and that the Spanish Republic was losing, but to be honest, I never realised the extent to which they were losing until I got there and the first rifle I had was dated 1896 and it was a Russian rifle.’

‘We got ten pesetas a day, which was enough probably if there was a café within reach, you could probably get yourself a couple of cups of coffee or something. Money was not a consideration.’

Volunteering in a Crisis - Jenny Gaiawyn

Jenny Gaiawyn has been involved in non-violent direct action for the past ten years. Since 2001 she has volunteered as a peace worker in both Iraq and Palestine.

The problems of Palestine have a long history, starting from before the First World War. International powers, including Britain, the League of Nations, the United States and the United Nations, have attempted to resolve the political issues associated with this area. This intervention has unfortunately often resulted in further troubles. At the moment arguments over territory continue to cause death and destruction on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.

I've been involved in non-violent direct action in the UK since I was seventeen and I first got involved with that out of sheer frustration about writing letters and going on demonstrations and not getting anywhere.’

‘In 2002 me and this guy travelled across the hills to get into Nablos to join the medical teams and travel in the ambulances. Having an International made a real difference, I was able to negotiate through checkpoints and I saw first-hand how non-violent direct action was working out there. I’m a woman and I’m small, so I’m not offensive or threatening.’

‘I’ve been shot at and I’ve been hit by shrapnel and stuff like that. People do sacrifice a lot mentally for it. The way I deal with it is by talking about it, by giving presentations, by encouraging other people to go out there and also by doing gardening, pottering about in my garden and cycling a lot. When you see horrific things like that you really value the really nice things like going for walks.’

‘You don’t just go blindly into it thinking I’m an International, I’m going to be OK you go. Right, what are the risks and what am I going to achieve? And every situation I’ve gone into I’ve thought about it very hard. I think the people who it is hardest for are our families. You have to stay optimistic. Life is amazing, you know, and every time you do these things you meet people who are truly inspirational.’

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