Winners announced in “Letters Home” competition

1st March 2017 Fraser Bedwell

The names of winners of Poppyscotland’s national schools competition have been unveiled from an entry list of more than 1,000 schoolchildren. Our Letters Home Competition 2016 was an opportunity for school-age children to reflect on what life was like for soldiers fighting in the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago. They were invited to write their own letter home, describing life in a trench during the battle and their thoughts on war, while considering the effect these words would have on their families. There were two categories – Primary School and Secondary School – with Poppyscotland receiving 1,048 entries from 46 schools across the country.

Every year Poppyscotland provides schools throughout Scotland with a wealth of resources to support learning around Remembrance and the vital work of the charity today. As part of that, Poppyscotland runs a competition every year focusing on one of the Learning programme’s key themes.

This year, the winner of the Primary School category was Rowan Harbottle, a Primary 5 pupil at Portpatrick Primary School, in Dumfries & Galloway and the winner in the Secondary School category was Finlay Waddell, a third year pupil at Aberdeen Grammar School.

Photo credit: Jim Ryder Rowan with his proud mum and dad and his little sister Erin at the prize-giving in Portpatrick Primary School.

Finlay Waddell, an S3 pupil from Aberdeen Grammar School and winner in the Secondary School category of the Letters Home Competition proudly holds up his official Poppyscotland Winners Certificate.









Both Rowan and Finlay each receive a tablet computer, a framed official Poppyscotland Winners Certificate and their ‘letter home’ will be printed on a Poppyscotland Learning poster that will be sent to more than 2,000 schools in Scotland later in the year.

The full list of our confirmed winners and runners up of the Letters Home Competition 2016 are below:

Primary School Category

Winner – Rowan Harbottle, P5, Portpatrick Primary School

Runner up – Olivia Marat, P6/7, Pitreavie Primary School

Runner up – Vera Gyorfi P6, St Peter’s RC Primary School (Aberdeen)

Runner up – Robyn McGovern, P7, Kilmaurs Primary School

Secondary School Category

Winner – Finlay Waddell, 3F, Aberdeen Grammar School

Runner up – Marni Robertson, 2L, The High School of Glasgow

Runner up – Imogen Roach, 2EN1, The Glasgow Academy

Runner up – Freya Hannay, S3, Mid Yell Junior High School

Photo credit: Jim Ryder The whole of Portpatrick Primary School waits for the build up to the announcement via DVD by Kirsty Wark that someone in their school has won the Letters Home Competition in the Primary School category. Also in photo is Stephen Shirres, Community Fundraiser – West, Poppyscotland and Sheila Baillie, Portpatrick Primary Head Teacher.

Surprise prize-giving ceremonies were organized by Poppyscotland and the respective schools of our two winners and took place on Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th February. With a bit of careful planning we successfully managed to keep the names of the winners a secret until the start of the prize-giving presentations. Our winners were both overcome with the news of their win which was announced via DVD by Kirsty Wark in front of their teachers, classmates, year group and  parents. Our Poppyscotland staff and local press were there to help us captured some of these wonderful moments.

Photo credit: Jim Ryder Rowan Harbottle, a P5 pupil, sitting extreme left on bench when he hears the surprise news that he has won the Letters Home Competition in the Primary School category.

Rowan’s headteacher, Sheila Baillie, said: “All of us at Portpatrick Primary School are delighted that Rowan has achieved such success in a national competition. We are a very small school by the sea with the motto ‘anchored in excellence’. It is fantastic that excellence demonstrated in literacy and historical knowledge and understanding has been recognised in one of our pupils. I am very proud of Rowan, and I know his parents are, too.”

Photo credit: Jim Ryder Sheila Baillie, Head Teacher of Portpatrick Primary School presents Rowan with his prize of an Ipad Mini.

Rowan’s letter, which was entitled “My life: The trenches”, captured the scene of the front line: “There is jagged barbed wire all around the top of the trench. I have just returned from going over the top and I am a very lucky man. When I was up there I saw the debris of the rotting horse carts, squelching mud and bomb pits. There are rats everywhere and I hate it.”

The competition judging panel, led by television presenter Kirsty Wark, met in January to decide on the names of the two winners and six runners-up from the shortlist of 24 entries. The panel also included Mark Bibbey, CEO Poppyscotland, Ruby McCann, Chair of Scottish Writers Centre, and Yvonne Caddell, the Learning & Volunteer Coordinator at Poppyscotland.

Ms Wark has a special connection with the competition. Her great uncle, Sergeant James Wark, served with the 47th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery. He survived the First World War, only to die in France of Spanish flu on November 29, 1918 – 18 days after the Armistice. Before his untimely death, Sgt Wark had been a prolific letter writer from the front line.

Photo credit: Jim Ryder The whole of Portpatrick Primary school celebrates Rowan’s achievement as he holds up his official Poppyscotland Winner’s Certificate. Also in the photo is Stephen Shirres and Sheila Baillie.

Ms Wark commented: “Learning all about this period in my family’s history really has connected me to it. It is now part of the tapestry of my life, so it was very special for me to have been a part of the Letters Home competition. We had so many wonderful entries. It was hard to choose, but, in the end, the decision was unanimous. We congratulate not only our winners, but all of those who took part.”

Mr Bibbey added: “The Letters Home competition provided a great opportunity for children to show what they’ve learned about life at the front. The standard of entries across the board was exceptionally high and we were able to choose some very impressive young writers to award for their stand-out efforts.”

Finlay said: ‘While I can’t say I expected to win the Letters Home competition, I do think it is great that competitions like this take place and increase awareness in schools of the Poppyscotland cause. I think it is very important to honour those that have fought for our freedom and to support those who still do.’

Alison Murison, Aberdeen Grammar School head teacher, said: ‘I am delighted Finlay has written such a well thought out and high-quality submission, and has won the prestigious Poppyscotland Letters Home Competition in the secondary category.’

Finlay’s history teacher Jean Irvine added: ‘Finlay and all the other S3 history pupils were very engaged. Finlay’s letter showed a particular empathy with how a soldier might have felt writing a letter home to his loved ones.’

An extract from Finlay’s letter read: “I saw my first of real warfare today, and I daresay I’m the worse for it. I have to say I’d rather still be bayonetting straw Germans. Fritz in the flesh is much scarier. Our plan was simple, but it failed utterly… They just mowed us down with their machine guns. The first day, and already it seems the dead outnumber the living.”

The full winning ‘letters home’ by our winners will be published on the Poppyscotland Learning website tomorrow.

Photo credit: Jim Ryder Rowan reading his ‘letter home’ at the War Memorial in Portpatrick.

Letters home to their loved ones provides us with a unique insight into what soldiers were thinking and experiencing during the First World War. The wartime post was very effective at keeping servicemen in touch with home, with 12.5 million letters being sent to the front line every week. It made a big difference to their morale to both send and receive letters.

The six competition runners-up will each receive a £30 National Book Token and an official Poppyscotland Highly Commended Certificate both of which will be posted to their schools. The remaining 16 shortlisted entries will also be sent official Poppyscotland certificates to acknowledge their achievement.

The shortlisting process for the competition was completed for Poppyscotland in kind by the Scottish Writers Centre (, while National Book Tokens donated in kind to us £30 National Book Tokens to be given to each of the six Runners Up of the competition (