With the commencement of the First World War a range of charitable initiatives developed that linked the Scots in Asia directly back to Scotland; many of these initiatives proved enduring long past the end of the war. In 1914, the Colombo St Andrew’s Day dinner organized by the Society was cancelled as a result of the outbreak of the conflict. Instead, it was suggested that those who had planned to attend the ball should donate the money they would have spent on a dinner ticket to the Ceylon branch of the Prince of Wales’ Fund. This was a practice followed in other centres in Asia, for example in Singapore. This type of activity in support of the British war effort, the President of the St Andrew’s Society of Singapore stressed, was crucial: they had to ‘cease for the time being to think of [themselves] as English, Irish or Scottish, and remember only that [they] are Britons’. Over $16,000 had been raised by the Singapore St Andrew’s Society by 1918 for war relief purposes, and designated collections were also made for ‘the purchase of Comforts for Scottish troops and to the relief of Scottish War Prisoners’, an initiative that was supported by the help of the Edinburgh St Andrew Society. In Hong Kong in 1915 $2,650 were raised for the Scottish War Charities at a St Andrew’s Day concert in the City Hall, and in 1917 the Society organized a Heather Day and a St Andrew’s Fair specifically for the purpose of raising funds ‘to help the ever growing needs of the Home hospitals in which our brave wounded soldiers are being treated’. At the fair there were shows and merry-go-rounds, and golf competitions; in the evening a dancing floor was put down, ‘and there the lightfooted tripped it merrily to the tune of the pipe until a late hour’. It was anticipated that $40,000 had been collected through raffles, auctions and fair takings. Further east, in Shanghai, in 1916, a mere eight people came together at the Astor House as guests of the St Andrew’s Society’s President Gavin Wallace to celebrate the saint’s day. The meeting was not public, however, but intended primarily to announce that $10,000 had been collected from Society members for the Scottish Red Cross Fund. The Shanghai St Andrew’s Society also responded to appeals from Scotland, for instance by the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society, for which a total of £500 were collected and ‘sent home’. Another way in which Scottish ethnic associations sought to support the war effort was through sponsoring hospital beds at the front, with the St Andrew’s Society of Shanghai sending £250 to establish ‘beds in the hospital at Rouen’.
It was partly as a result of the First World War—which had facilitated connections with organizations in the old homeland, and increased awareness of suffering there—that links with Scotland were strengthened through charity and donations: a sustained form of transnational charity developed that was maintained long after the war. The most impressive example comes from Calcutta, where Scots raised a significant £13,000 in 1917 in support of Scottish Women’s Hospitals. While this initiative was launched by a Mrs Abbott rather than a Scottish ethnic association, the Calcutta Caledonian Society opened the first subscription list. Moreover, the transmission of donations to Scottish hospitals became an established annual practice of the Selangor St Andrew’s Society (Kuala Lumpur) in the 1920s. While the sums were nowhere near as high as those raised in Calcutta, the Selangor Society continued its donations for many years. Amongst the hospitals that received support were the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the Dundee Royal Infirmary. As was reported in 1927, ‘Each year the Selangor St Andrew’s Society, Kuala Lumpur, sends a cheque to be distributed amongst the deserving Scottish hospitals, and yearly £5 is allocated to Dundee Royal Infirmary.’ The Scotsman newspaper at times served as the distributor of funds received from Scots in Asia. In 1928, for instance, the Negri Sembilan St Andrew’s Society, Federated Malaya States, had sent £50, which The Scotsman distributed to various hospitals throughout Scotland. This was a service it had already been doing for the Selangor St Andrew’s Society ‘for a number of years’ and, as was observed, ‘we welcome the further evidence provided by the Negri Sembilan St Andrew Society of the practical interest taken by Scotsman abroad in the work of Scottish charitable institutions.’