“A pity you didn’t have a sheet of paper and paints with you Andy. Isn’t that a great picture?”
“I’ll store it in my memory and send it on to you when I have it finished”
So went the conversation between young Andrew (Andy) S Winton and his uncle as they surveyed with some satisfaction, field of ripening crops on the latter’s farm prior to World War II. This is detailed in Mr Winton’s fascinating memoir ‘Open Road to Faraway: Escapes from Nazi POW Camps 1941-45’ (Cualann Press, 2001)
Andrew Winton was a lover of the Scottish countryside, an art student and a devoted fan of Robert Burns. It was this artist’s ability to recall scenes so vividly to memory that helped sustain him through the dark days of WWII. Drafted into the RAF, Andy became part of a bomber crew. Shot down in 1941, he was to spend the next four years in POW camps. His desire to see his beloved Scotland again drove Andy to escape no less than four times, once in 1942, twice in 44 and the fourth occasion in 1945, this occasion being a success.
That same ability to recall scenes means that – at times – Open Road to Faraway is a difficult read as the author describes scenes of horror and brutality in war-torn occupied Europe. He retells the horrors of Buchenwald where he and a fellow escapee were beaten and tortured as part of a Gestapo interrogation, or Brno, where he witnessed the brutal murder of Gypsies. Difficult to read, but captivating and compelling none the less, these horrors left their mark on young Andy who suffered flashback inspired blackouts in the years following the war.
His final escape in early 1945 saw him picked up by an advancing Russian tank column near the Oder delta on the freezing, winter Baltic. Andy, along with his escape companion Pete, were taken along, with the view that they would be useful in communicating with any British service personnel the Russians might encounter in liberated POW camps. It was during this period that a truly remarkable thing happened. For those of us in the Robert Burns world, the love that Russians have for our national Bard is well known. As a Scot, Andy was drafted once again into service, this time as a performer at a Burns Night celebration held by the Soviet troops in the tank column! As the night drave on, Andy recited ‘To a Mouse, ‘Red, Red Rose’, ‘A Man’s a Man for A That’ and then he finished off in a sung duet of ‘Ye Banks and Braes’ with a female Russian Tank Commander providing a ‘Jean’ to his ‘Robert’!
This bizarre, even slightly surreal event took place amidst the greatest horror of the 20th Century, yet, a shared love of a poet provided comfort and some shared understanding in a frozen hell. Mr Winton’s own words sum it up best:
‘…I was completely shattered. Here was I, shut in with a group of people who had travelled hundreds of miles in tanks fitted with guns, with the sole intention of wreaking vengeance on a country that had dared destroy them; and a freezing wind blowing snow from the Baltic ocean bringing everything to a standstill and kindly covering the dead and dying women and children lying in groups along the roadsides. And a sad little song with a Scottish air and words by Robert Burns, written two hundred years before, had changed the world around us!’
Hi my name is Catriona and I am the Learning and Volunteer Intern at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum !
How long have you been volunteering for at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum?
6 months, I volunteer along side my job here in the Learning Team.
Why did you start volunteering at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum?
I volunteer with the Learning Team to gain invaluable experience in Heritage and Museum education. Also get to work alongside an excellent team of staff and volunteers and contunue learning about 18th century Scotland (one of my favorite things ), and I get to understand Robert Burns and his work abit better. I grew up in Ayrshire and Burns featured strongly in my school education, it is nice to learn the more gritty things about his life !
What kind of things do you get up to when you volunteer?
I do a variety of things, from maintaining school stats to delivering workshops to organising events to drinking lots of tea and eating biscuits!
What has been your most memorable experience volunteering here?
It is really hard to pick out one experience. I think the whole of January and most of February was memorable experiance – we were ran of our feet with schools, events and Burns ‘fans’ coming to the museum. I discovered that I love being part of museum education although it was the sheer enthusiasm of the school pupils and visitors which kept me going !
That whole month and a bit is a blur!
What is your favourite thing about RBBM?
School workshops, particularily when you get a class who are very disengaged at the start and by the end they dont want you to leave because they are loving what they are learning it makes the volunteering all worth while ! …… close second is the catering though…. the scones and cakes are pretty awesome.
5 years ago, I saw an ad in the Ayrshire Post . Volunteers needed for a new museum opening in Alloway, this was the New Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
I had just retired and was looking for something to fill my time, not just to do charity work but to keep the learning ethos on going , hence I started on the journey (I shall call it ), my knowledge of Robert Burns was very limited. As a school girl we were bused down from Paisley to visit the cottage, I was so bored I threw toffee papers at the film of Tam and Meg as they galloped over the fields.
Today it is a different story ,I am now a guide at RBBM .I am often to be found taking school groups around the site in all kind of weather, I was standing on the Brig O’Doon ,the snow swirling round me ,I was telling a class of 6yr olds about Robert Burns, one little schoolgirl tugged my coat and asked “are you Robert Burns sister” as I knew so much about him
Now another hat I wear is shop assistant in the “Burns an’ a’ that ” shop in the town, we sell NTS goods and local crafters work .
Its a great way of interacting with the public, I am often to be found at the Highlight Talks held in the Museum every Wednesday where one of the volunteers will give an in depth talk on one piece in particular ,it’s an excellent way of getting the knowledge to enhance the visitors experience.
So I would say to anyone thinking about volunteering with the NTS, jump on board ,the journey is amazing.
I am so glad I answered the advert in the Ayrshire Post!
I have been volunteering at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum as a Guide since it opened in November 2010.
Being an Ayrshire Lass I was fortunate to be brought up learning about Burns, his life and his poetry. I also took part in many Burns Schools Festivals and still perform at many Burns Suppers in Ayrshire and beyond.
As a Volunteer I carry out many varied duties – my main one is guiding visitors around the museum, the wider site which includes the Cottage, the Auld Kirk, the Brig O’Doon, the gardens, the Monument, the Poet’s Path etc., etc.
My Guiding role involves taking school parties, adult groups, overseas visitors, dressing up in costume as and when required for various events and activities – for example Evening Hallowe’en Tours, Mini Burns Suppers which are held in the Cottage and various Burns events centred around the museum and wider site in January.
My most memorable experience and honour was being asked to record “The Cottar’s Saturday Night” for one of the exhibits in the museum.
I carry out many varied duties but first and foremost I try to give all our visitors a memorable experience. This involves passing on knowledge about Burns – his life, family, poem, letters etc. I also inform visitors about the products and services provided e.g. brochures (for all National Trust for Scotland properties), guide books for the Museum and wider site, the resteraunt shop, Garden Shop, Education Tours, etc.
Providing information, advice and assistance to visitors is invaluable.
I always try to present a friendly and positive image to visitor to ensure that they are receiving excellent Customer Service and feel genuinely welcome. At the outset I want them to know they will be well looked after and receive the necessary information and an enjoyable and informative visit.
Asking children if they are learning about Burns or other Scottish poets at school is so special, particularly hearing them recite what they have learnt – after a little encouragement!
I inform/direct visitors to other NTS properties – remembering to mention membership of the NTS. This is so worthwhile especially for visitors who are just beginning their holiday and hope to visit other places of interest.
If visitors leave having learnt something they did not know before this is so satisfying and I feel I have done a good job. Also if visitors leave wanting to return that is a bonus.
It is so enjoyable meeting people from other parts of the world and passing on knowledge,
I have many favourite things about RBBM – the contents of the Museum, the Cottage, the Brig O’Doon, the beautifully kept gardens.
I am so fortunate to be working in such a warm friendly environment with such excellent, helpful colleges and staff.
I retired from full time work 6 years ago and having spent the first 5 of those with The Conservation Volunteers, I came to the RBBM just over a year ago as a “Buggy” driver which involves meeting and greeting visitors, transporting them on the buggy between the Museum and Burns Cottage, or any other places the buggy will reach, and helping with other information and advice where I can.
As with most volunteering the role rarely stops there and I now find myself helping out from time to time in all sorts of other ways which I find very rewarding , stimulating and helps me feel part of the team.
Driving the buggy allows me to meet a whole range of interesting folk from all four corners of the planet and I am constantly amazed at how well Robert Burns is known even in the smallest and most remote of islands but these global travellers offer a wide range of stimulating conversation which is rarely restricted just to the “Bard”.
The Volunteers at RBBM also help run a Garden shop, situated in the grounds of the museum, and a gift shop in the nearby town of Ayr which offers a wide variety of goods manufactured by local crafters and is also a shop window for the RBBM itself. The main purpose though of both these venues is to raise funds for the restoration and improvement of the Burns Monument which is just one of the bold and innovative ideas being developed by the management team at RBBM.
One variation on the theme, which I particularly remember, was the great fun we all had on Halloween: volunteers and staff together, creating and acting out a costume drama incorporating the Burns Cottage, Poets Path and “Auld Kirk” and providing lots of “bloodthirsty” and scary moments for those visitors brave enough to come back after dark !
I find volunteering a great way to keep fit, active ,meet new people and maintain a standard of life which rarely falters and you may go a long way before finding a better place to do all this than with the team at RBBM and the beautiful countryside surrounding it.
Got more Haggis than you know what to do with? This last recipe in our January series looks to Poland for culinery inspiration. Pierogi are dumplings, usually filled with simple ingredients like potato, ham, or cheese, and can be either fried or boiled. They are very popular, and for good reason!
To make a Haggis version is very simple, so this recipe shouldn’t be at all difficult.
3 cups flour
3 quarters of a cup water
Cook your Haggis according to package instructions and leave it to cool.
Seive the flour into a bowl
Beat the two eggs in a separate bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the beaten eggs.
Stir the flour and egg mixture, adding in water as you go until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Use your hands to work the crumbly dough until it starts to come together.
Form it into a big bowl and rest for 30 minutes.
Once the dough has rested, put some flour on your counter and rolling pin and roll the dough thinly.
Cut with cookie cutter.
Spoon haggis into each circle, and pinch the edges down.
Put a frying pan on the stove with some oil, and once the oil is hot start firing in the pierogi.
This is an Italian take on the traditional Scottish meal of Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. In Italy sausage and potato is a common pizza topping, so this seemed like the perfect Burns Night experiment!
For the pizza dough (enough for 2 pizzas):
- 300g. strong bread flour
- 200ml warm water
- 1tsp instant yeast
- 1tbsp olive oil
For the topping:
- Haggis for 2-3 people (I used vegetarian)
- Grated turnip (1/3 average size)
- Grated potato (1 medium sized)
- Olive oil
Cook the haggis according to package instructions. Once cooked scoop the contents of the package into a bowl and separate with a fork. While the haggis is cooking (usually it takes over 50 minutes) prepare the pizza dough.
To make the pizza bases:
1. Put the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the yeast and salt.
2. Make a well, pour in 200ml warm water and the olive oil and bring together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft, fairly wet dough.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like, but it’s not essential for a thin crust.
Putting it all together:
4. Once you have prepared the pizza dough, grate the turnip and potato and set aside.
5. Roll out the pizza dough, making sure you cover the pizza trays with flour.
6. Once the Haggis is ready, increase the oven temperature to 200C.
7. Sprinkle the haggis, turnips and potatoes (in that order as the potatoes will moisten the rest of the ingredients) over the pizza bases. Drizzle plenty of olive oil on the pizzas.
Cook for 8-10 minutes and Buon appetito!
Recipe by Elena Trimarchi Learning Intern
Thanks to Christine Jones for the photographs and for the pizza dough!