“Cheer up, it will soon be over” were the words scrawled on a postcard sent to a house in Lochee in 1918.
It was a message that must have been written on thousands of letters sent during the First World War but, in this case, the author George Finlayson was absolutely correct.
It was sent on November 11, the very day the guns fell silent on the Western Front.
The card, which was sent to a home in Dundee’s Balgay Street, has been in the family of city councillor Norma McGovern for nearly 100 years and is a treasured memento.
But for decades she had no idea who George Finlayson was.
Norma, who has meticulously researched her family’s past going back more than 160 years, said: “The name Finlayson had cropped up in the family down through the years.
“This particular Finlayson sent postcards to my grandad and my dad who was just a toddler at the time and to his younger brother.
“So it’s clear he was very close to the family, even referring to the brother as ‘Wee Dennis’ and signing himself ‘Geordie at the Front’.
“One of the cards he sent was actually bought in Dundee and he carried it all the way to France before using it to send greetings to my family.”
But who was he?
Norma’s maiden name was Ward and the family lived in Balgay Street in ‘Tipperary’, where nearly everyone had Irish roots. The Wards themselves had come across in 1871.
The family tree was complex Norma’s great-grandad was Irish-born Michael and he married three times, for example.
The breakthrough came when Norma discovered that the first of Michael’s wives, a widow, had two children from a previous marriage. George and Elizabeth Finlayson.
Was this the George Finlayson from the postcards?
Poring over birth and death records, Norma discovered that this George Finlayson was a literal dead-end he’d drowned in the Tay in 1895 as a young man so clearly never sent any First World War postcards. But it was then established that Elizabeth later had a child and named him after her dead brother.
Elizabeth died in 1902 leaving little George an orphan with nowhere to go.
He wasn’t a blood relative of the Wards but they took him in and he was brought up as part of the family.
When the First World War started in 1914 he was only 18 but enlisted immediately. He gave his address as “care of” Norma’s grandad, Thomas Ward, in Lochee.
The cards he sent home were full of affection so he clearly felt part of the family and cared for those who brought him up.
Further research revealed that he served with the Royal Field Artillery, qualified for the 1914/15 Star and was Mentioned in Despatches in 1917, his certificate bearing the signature of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill himself.
George Finlayson survived the war, married in Dundee in 1926 and made a new life for himself in Edinburgh where he died on June 10, 1969.
His wife, Letitia, died in 1993. Records show that they had three children and several grandchildren.
Although the families drifted apart over the years, Norma’s painstaking work has re-established where the Wards and the Finlaysons were linked.
The sender of the cards is no longer a mystery and she is continuing to find more out more even tracking down George’s granddaughter in the United States.
The most heart-warming thing in the story is that it highlights the old community spirit that existed in that part of Dundee at the time.
Had it not been for the Ward family, young George could have ended in a corporation orphanage or under the crushing discipline of the Mars Training Ship which was essentially a maritime borstal moored out on the Tay.
Instead, he had hearth and home and a family.