Friday, 3 June 2016

Orkney at War - The Hampshire Sinking

As part of our Orkney at War series of displays, we now have one dedicated to the Sinking of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener.

This display has been compiled from existing records and books which we hold in the Orkney Archive, some of which are very new to us, such as the photograph and biography of William Cake, one of the unfortunate men who perished in the tragedy. We are very grateful to all the depositors of "new" records and photographs we have received since the beginning of our WW1 centenary displays.

Field Marshall Earl Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, in 1914.
Photo and caption from The Kitchener Enigma by Trevor Royle
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
Kitchener set sail from Scapa Flow bound for Archangel, Russia on board HMS Hampshire on the afternoon of the 5th June 1916. Less than 3 hours after departure the ship suffered a massive explosion after hitting a mine 3 miles off the coast of Marwick Head, Birsay. The ship sank within 15 minutes and all on board were lost except for 12 very lucky survivors.
The 737 men who died in the tragedy consisted of the crew of the Kitchener and Lord Kitchener's entourage, including Lord Kitchener himself.
Kitchener was very well known at the time of the tragedy,
"If it be difficult to explain, it is impossible to deny that Lord Kitchener inspired multitudes who had never set eyes on him, who knew of him only by hearsay, with a sentiment something akin to passionate personal devotion."
 Quote from Sir George Arthur, Bt., M.V.O. from the foreword of
The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
HMS Hampshire
Captain: H J Savill; Dimensions: 10,850 tons, 450 x 68.5 x 25.5 feet;
Guns: 6 x 6", 2 x 12 pounder, 20 x 3 pounder; Completed 1905.
Archive Photo reference: L3787-4

Leaving Scapa Flow
Lord Kitchener disembarking from a ship, shortly before his departure from Scapa Flow, June 1916.
Archive Photo reference: L4315/3
"It was 3pm on Monday, June 5th, 1916, that news got round the ship that we were sailing at 4.30pm to convey Lord Kitchener and his staff to an unknown Russian Port. The excitement was great. One and all were very proud to think that our ship was the one selected for such a mission."
 Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y  
The Weather
"The weather of June was cold, misty, sunless and wet; but vegetation made good progress. There were several strong winds during the first fortnight, but the strongest was on that fateful evening of the 5th, when at 8pm a north-west wind was blowing with a velocity of 52 miles. Not one day of the first 20 passed without wind from some northerly quarter."
Extract from the Met Report from June 1916. Archive Reference: D1/692 WW1 Scrapbook

"We cleared the Harbour and were then met by our escort, which comprised two fast destroyers. The sea was wicked - the two destroyers as they steamed along parallel with us suffered terribly; at times the mountainous waves washed over them completely.

I passed the remark to my mates that they surely would not come much further, and as we expected, they were ordered back to Base, much to the relief of their crews."
Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
Route of HMS Hampshire from The Kitchener Enigma by Trevor Royle
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
The Explosion
On board: "a terrific blast went through the ship, shaking her from stern to stern. Something out of the ordinary had happened, and the fumes which began to spread gave evidence that we had probably struck a mine. The force of the explosion had extinguished all the lights, and I shall never forget that dreadful jolting walk in the darkness and fumes, which the mine had given off, to that glimmer of light coming through the hatchway."
Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
On shore: "He [her father] came in, he was back on then you see, he didn't see the explosion, and he saw her, but didn't see the explosion, and he came in, he said "There's a big warship coming smashing past Marwick Head." I went out and I said, "I think she's not doing much smashing". And then she headed for the shore, she just headed herself for coming in on the Birsay shore then, but unfortunately she fell off, for you see she was only 3 mile out, that if she'd gone further in we surely could have rescued some. And she fell off and then she started to go down by the bow, like this, and it seemed as if she stopped to me, stopped just for a few minutes, when I thought that her bow might have touched the bottom. And then she just disappeared like that, she turned turtle, they said."
Quote from Mrs Hunter interviewed for Radio Orkney by Brian Flett and Ann Manson, 23 Dec 1981. Transcription by James Irvine. Archive reference OSA/TA/26/3
"And I said to my father "Where will the rafts go?", he said, "Down the Flow", so I said, "Oh that should be all right", for there were ships coming out to look for, after the Hampshire, she would meet in with them, but they didn't because the wind changed and drove them into the next parish of Sandwick. And unfortunately they knew nothing, they'd seen the Hampshire but they didn't know anything had happened to her. For as one of the young men said to me, it was a pity as they could have done something, him and another young man that could have done a lot."
Quote from Mrs Hunter interviewed for Radio Orkney by Brian Flett and Ann Manson, 23 Dec 1981. Transcription by James Irvine. Archive reference OSA/TA/26/3
Illustration from The Mystery of Lord Kitchener's Death by Donald McCormick
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y

Out over 700 men who were on board HMS Hampshire, only 12 survived.
"Now the exposure was beginning to take effect ... The night was drawing on and men were dying very swiftly now. Two hours had passed ... At last one large wave swooped us against a very high cliff and the raft caught on some rocks. I remember lying on a rock ... and the feeling of hands pulling me up over the cliffs."

Quote and photo from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
(Photo- Four of the survivors with W C Phillips sitting on the right)
Loss of Life
Our Archive does not hold many stories of the men who died on the Hampshire, but we hope with the such projects as the Kitchener and Hampshire Memorial Project, more information will come to Orkney.
Here are a couple:
 Frank Glover, Sea Transport Officer 1st Class, lost his life in the Hampshire sinking, seen here in HMS Hampshire Football League. Photo Archive reference: L3736/1

Acting Stoker Petty Officer William Cake

After the sinking of HMS Hampshire, William's body was found on the shore. It is said in the family that he died of hypothermia as his finger and nails were very much cut and broken through his efforts to pull himself over the beach.
Archive Reference: D1/1211
Loss of Lord Kitchener
 Photo Archive reference: L5090/2

Poems from John Fraser's WW1 Scrapbook, Archive Reference: D1/692
On 2nd July, on behalf of the people of Orkney and dedicated to Lord Kitchener and the crew of HMS Hampshire, the Kitchener Memorial was unveiled on Marwick Head, Birsay.

Photo Archive references: TK1888 and TK1905

There is more in the display about the reactions from locals and those further afield about this tragedy. Please do pop in to see it if you are in Kirkwall.
The display will be up until the end of June 2016.

This weekend will mark 100 years since the ship went down, and to commemorate every man who perished, The Orkney Heritage Society and the Birsay Heritage Trust are mounting a series of events at the Birsay Community Centre and the Kitchener Memorial culminating in the unveiling of a new curtain wall which will include all 737 names of the men who died that night, as well as the 9 members of the crew of the Laurel Crown which sank there on 22nd June 1916.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Orkney at War - Wartime Visitors

As part of our Orkney at War exhibition we have a few original items on show in the Archive Searchroom.

One gift we received a couple of years ago which we are quite excited about is a Visitor's Book from the Y.M.C.A. in Longhope.

"Long Hope Bay during the war was the headquarters of the auxiliaries of the Grand Fleet, and never in its history were so many vessels of such varied types assembled in the harbour. The village of Long Hope, where there is a good pier, naturally became much frequented by officers and men from the ships, and eventually a commodious Y.M.C.A. was erected, which did much useful work. Tea on the beach was always a pleasant change from ship life (and tinned milk!), and the Post Office at Long Hope became a favourite rendezvous for informal tea-parties."

Quote from Scapa and a Camera by C W Burrows, p51. Orkney Room reference 941.09 Y

The book records many visitors and volunteers to the Y M C A from August 1916 - 1939. The first page contains some well-known names:

It is signed on 1st August 1916 by Admiral John Jellicoe, Commander in Chief. It is also signed by his wife Gwendoline Jellicoe and her sister, Freda Cayzer from Tarbert House, Ross-shire. I do hope they enjoyed their cup of tea.
Archive reference: D1/1207
Other items on show are:
John Fraser's record of Orcadians service in the 1914-1918 war which is an indexed scrapbook of soldiers deaths and officer ranks of Orcadians in WW1 containing mostly press cuttings, which include photographs of soldiers and officers from all the parishes of Orkney who served and died.
Archive reference: D1/692
Lily Gunn's Souvenir and Autograph book which contains drawings, poems, photographs and messages from patients of the British Farmers Hospital and the Number 2 Anglo-Belgian Hospital, Calais, France from 1916-1918.
Archive reference: D1/983
An extract of Military Tribunal Register of Cases
A Technical Instruction Committee of the Secondary Education Committee was formed in 1910, which in the following year became the Advisory Committee concerned with extension work in Orkney of the Aberdeen and North of Scotland College of Agriculture. On account of its links with agriculture this Advisory Committee was in turn metamorphosed into the District Agricultural Committee on Food Production in 1916, and had thrust upon its various functions far removed from secondary education, including matters pertaining to military recruitment and the supply of labour for farms. By an extension of this aspect of its work the committee was used, according to the Agricultural Military Service Act , 1916, for the hearing of appeals for exemption from military service on grounds of agricultural necessity.
Two men mentioned in this particular extract are:
John Sabiston, aged 19 from Northbigging, Swona, a ploughman, fisherman and boatman was refused exemption from military service on 28th April 1916. He appealed on 19th May 1916, but his appeal was dismissed on 2nd June 1916.
Peter S Garrioch, aged 40, from Grindally, Orphir, a farmer, was granted conditional exemption on 11th April 1916.
This extract contains about 25 names and we have about 20 pages of names in the whole register. Our friends at the Orkney Family History Society have kindly volunteered to transcribe all the pages for us.
Archive reference: CO5/3/8
This small exhibition of original items will stay on display until the end of August 2016.  

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Orkney at War (May, June, July 1916)

Here are some items from our eighth instalment of our Orkney at War Exhibition. The display attempts to show how World War One affected Orkney and Orcadians using items from the Orkney Archive collections. Items such as newspaper reports, scrapbooks, council minutes, photographs, letters and diaries.

This quarter of May, June and July 1916 is dominated by reports of tragic events at sea: The Battle of Jutland on the night of 31st May - 1st June and the sinking of HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener on the night of 5th June.

HMS Hampshire

But first from Margaret Tait's diary:

Sunday 1st May 1916:
Have been in bed for three days with a cold. Since last writing Willie has been twice to Edinburgh with German prisoners. I went down to the drill hall and saw three of them, one of whom winked at us. He was a black tinker looking character. One of the prisoners was found in a trunk, supposed to be his wife's travelling trunk and had come all the way across the Atlantic only to be caught at Kirkwall. How disappointed his wife must have been. Oh dear I wish my cold was better, I'm so tired of lying in the house.
Tomorrow is feeing market day. [where farmers engaged servants and labourers for the coming term]

In the RNR (Royal Naval Reserve) recruiting rules changed again:

Then from the diary of Margaret Tait:

Saturday 3rd June 1916:
Rumours were afloat that a naval engagement was going on on Wednesday 31st May but I could not believe it true. Last night Jim and I worked until 11pm putting new glass in a large picture for one of our Fleet men on the Bellerophon when Maggie came in and told us a battle had really taken place and 10 of our ships were sunk. After that I could do no more work for thinking of all our men who had pictures to be framed and who, poor souls, might never come back. Such a lot of Fleet men come in with pictures to be framed.
I kept hoping all night the sad news might prove untrue so this morning one of the men of the Royal Oak, one of the ships in action, came in with some pictures to be framed and told me it was too true. They can't tell very much so he said, "It's all very sad and that's all I can tell you".
We had heard the Malborough was sunk but he said she would come back all right in a little while. Poor chap he was so hurt because he could not get words to his friends of his safety. All day on Saturday the Territorials were burying the dead in Longhope, so we were told. What a gloom was cast over the town and how depressed we all were to think of our noble ships and brave sailors and officers going down that summer night on the North Sea or off the coast of Jutland.

And in the Orkney Herald, the first local official report:

And a personal report in a letter to A W Cursiter written on the 9th June:

HMS "Duke of Edinburgh"

My dear Mr Cursiter, I guess you may like to know that I am alive & well which is a real full blown miracle & nothing less; thanks to the Almighty & the skipper under Providential direction we got off without a scratch.
It just rained big shells all around us & we missed at least one torpedo by a few feet.
However all's well etc: but I couldn't help thinking when I looked at your book, "Prehistoric Scotland" of what I said...
...last time we met about the ships perhaps being lost. By the way I've not finished it yet. I hope to come & see you presently all being well.
Every other ship in our squadron is now at the bottom of the North Sea: awful isn't it? But what an escape! Poor Center[?] died of burns from the explosion of the mine 24 hours later.

Kind regards to Mrs Cursiter,
Yours sincerely K A Jones

Back home in Stromness on the 6th June the local town council met to discuss the price of Gas:

After hearing a report from the Gas Committee the meeting unanimously decided that the price of gas should be 9/7, per 1000 cubic feet from 28th May last and that a circular should be sent to consumers, intimating the rise and that the same has been caused through the increase in price of coals and freight. The Gas Collector was instructed to give three notices to consumers of gas.
(sgd) Andrew Wylie P. [Provost]

Then from Margaret Tait's diary news of another tragedy:

Wednesday night [7th June]
Just as I was preparing for bed last night [Tuesday 6th] word came by wireless that a Cruiser was blown up off Marwick Head. A wild storm was raging so I could not sleep for the thinking of the poor souls struggling in the water and such a wild coast that no help could reach them in such a storm. This morning we heard that it was the Hampshire and later we heard that Lord Kitchener and all his staff were on board. I kept hoping such a calamity would prove to be untrue.

Thursday [8th June]
Alas it is true and every sailor on board perished except 10. Willie was up at Birsay today looking for the bodies who might be washed ashore. This seems to be a black week in the history of the Empire.

Then the official report was printed in the newspaper:

The Orcadian 10th June 1916
H.M.S. Hampshire Sunk
Lord Kitchener and Staff Feared Lost
Viscount French Probable New War Secretary

The secretary of the Admiralty has received the following telegram from the Admiral Commander in Chief of the Grand Fleet:-
"I have to report with deep regret that H.M.S. Hampshire (Capt. Robert J Savill, R.N.) with Lord Kitchener and staff on board was sunk last night about eight pm west of the Orkneys, either by mine or torpedo. Four boats were seen by observers on shore to leave the ship. The wind was N.N.W. and heavy seas were running. Patrol boats and destroyers at once proceeded to the spot and a party was sent along the coast to search but only some bodies and a capsized boat have been found up to present. As the whole shore has been searched, I fear there is little hope of there being any survivors. No report has yet been received from the search party on shore. The Hampshire was on her way to Russia."

And in Margaret Tait's diary:

Sunday 11th June 1916
There's a memorial service in the cathedral tonight for Lord Kitchener. His loss is the greatest calamity the nation has got since the war began. The weather keeps very cold, not like June.

Orkney Archive References: Margaret Tait's Diary D1/525; Royal Naval Reserve Memo CE55/4/31; The Orkney Herald special edition D1/547; Jutland Letter D8/4/2/4; Stromness Town Council Minute book S1/17; Hampshire Photograph L3787-4.

Note: this blog post contains personal viewpoints and reports issued at the time, so some of the information my be inaccurate. 

The exhibition in the Archive Searchroom also contains postcards from a POW in Germany, more newspaper reports of the time, a plan of the ships locations at the beginning of the Battle of Jutland, other wartime photographs and naval reserve memos. Please do come in to see it if you are in Orkney this summer.

Click on the label "Orkney at War" below to see more posts in this series.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Orkney at War (Feb, Mar and Apr 1916)

A little late this time, but here are some items from our seventh instalment of our Orkney at War Exhibition. This display attempts to show how World War One affected Orkney and Orcadians using items from the Orkney Archive collections which were created at the time. Archives such as newspaper reports, souvenir books, Military Tribunals, photographs and council minutes.

Sadly there are no entries in Margaret Tait's diary for these months, so instead I can show you some more pictures and comments from Nurse Lily Gunn's souvenir book.

"What! Write in a book where ladies look, And critics spy, not I, not I." by Sgt Major W Stephenson.
From the newspapers:

Orcadian, 5th February 1916 - Snippets from Soldiers Letters
An Orcadian who is serving with the Edinburgh Battalion Royal Scots guards, writes: On arrival at our port of disembarkation we were placed under canvas for the night. Canvas in January came as somewhat of a surprise, but as we were given an extra blanket, we were very comfortable, though we slept 14 to a tent. The morning after we arrived in France we were marched to the station and embarked in cattle trucks, 30 men in each truck. Our billets are scattered over a large area, and are mostly barns through a distillery is also used. The great drawback to life in a barn is the want of light. No lights are allowed as there is the great danger of the straw catching fire, and things are continually being lost. Work here is much the same as in England. We do platoon drill and bayonet fighting, and have already found out that the words "rest camp" is a misnomer. The climate is fine and healthy, and so far has been dry and we are enjoying ourselves fairly well. There is a village near our billet, and we are allowed to visit at night.

Orcadian 12th February 1916 - Eggs for our Wounded Soldiers
From the following list for eggs collected in the various country districts in the north of Scotland, it is gratifying to notice that Orkney takes first place in this splendid work. The figures are fir the first five weeks of the present year:- East Aberdeenshire, 107 dozens; West Aberdeenshire, 94; Banffshire, 50, Elgin and Nairn, 78; Inverness (Mainland) 75; Ross-shire (Mainland), 36; Sutherland and Caithness, 39; Orkney, 204; Shetland, 40.

From the Kirkwall Town Council Minutes:
The following letter was read:- "Registered No. 23832 General Post Office, Edinburgh, 8th February 1916. Sir, Orkney Mail Service. With reference to your letter of the 17th ultimo addressed to the Postmaster of Kirkwall, I am directed by the Postmaster General to state, for the information of your Council, that, while much regretting the inconvenience occasioned by the recent interruptions in the steamer service between Scrabster and Stromness, due to weather conditions, he fears that he cannot see his way to take action as regards the revision to a service through Scapa Flow. This is a matter which rests entirely with the Admiralty, and is not one in which the Postmaster General can interfere. I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, (sgd) J E Kirkwood, Secretary."

The Clerk stated that he had as instructed written the Admiral Commanding the Orkneys and Shetlands and Mr Munro and Mr Wason and that he had received a formal acknowledgement from the Admiral's Secretary and letters from Mr Munro and Mr Wason stating they would do their best with the Departments concerned.

From February 1916, local authorities hosted Military Tribunals which decided whether some men with particular trades could be exempt from enlisting. The results were publishing in the newspapers.

Orcadian 15th April 1916 - The Orkney Tribunal met at Kirkwall on Monday - Baillie McLennan presiding. The other members sitting were Messrs James Johnston, W.L. Hutchison, G Bain, R Houston, and Rev. G R Murison. Lieut. Munro, Seaforth Highlanders was present as military representative.

Application by a Shapinsay Farmer A Shapinsay farmer with 200 acres arable and 10 pasture, 6 work horses, 4 young horses and 11 ewes applied for exemption on his own behalf. His wife was 35 years of age. His father aged 75 and his mother aged 71 were on the farm with him. He had a male servant aged 18, another aged 24 (a discharged Territorial on the termination of agreement).
Conditional exemption was granted applicant and temporary exemption until 10th August to the younger of his servants.
An Application Refused A young man of 25 years of age, married, applied on his own behalf. He worked his father's place of 23 acres arable land, rented at only £4. Only his father, aged 55 and his mother age 50 were on the farm. On the place were 1 horse, 6 cattle and 2 sheep. he took a few days with the road contractor when not required on the farm. A medical certificate was produced to the effect that the tenant of the place suffered from chronic bronchitis.
On applicant being informed that his application was refused, he said they would just have to give off the place.
The Chairman replied - that is a matter upon which we cannot advise you.

Fighting by Invitation A Deerness farmer applied for the exemption of his brother. He has 67 acres arable, 3 work horse, 1 young horse, 18 cattle and ten sheep. On the farm was applicant 41, married and his brother, single, his mother and a delicate sister.
Applicant said: "My brother was never canvassed"
The Military Representative: "and he had to wait until he was asked did he?"
The Clerk: "Would he have enlisted had he been canvassed?"
Applicant: "I don't know"
The Military Representative: "Fighting by invitation"

From a Stromness Doctor's scrapbook:

From the newspapers:
Orkney Herald, 29th March 1916 - Captured at Kirkwall: German Who hid in a Trunk
It was reported a fortnight ago that a German had been arrested in a lady's trunk in his' wife's cabin on board a Scandinavian liner which had arrived in Kirkwall for examination. A Copenhagen telegram now gives publicity to some particulars of the incident:-
Among the passengers on board the steamer Frederick VII which arrived at Copenhagen on Monday afternoon, the 20th inst. from New York, was a German lady Fran Roewer, whose adventures occupy columns of the local papers. Her husband, a German engineer at Kiau Chau, escaped from a Japanese Internment Camp to New York, to which place the lady proceeded from Europe to fetch him to Germany. The couple evolved a novel plan to evade British inspection at Kirkwall. It was arranged that Roewer should cross the Atlantic in his wife's cabin trunk. In order to effect this he was obliged to undergo a preliminary anti-obesity cure for three months before embarking.
At first the scheme proved successful. The lady occupied two special rooms on board ship, and Roewer hid in the ordinary large trunk during the daytime breathing through a specially made ventilator under the name plate and enjoyed liberty at night. No-one on board suspected anything though some passengers expressed surprise at the lady's huge appetite. All the meals were served in her cabin and an extra supply of sandwiches were desired every night.
At Kirkwall Roewer left the trunk as he feared British inspection, and was caught in a small packing room. He has been interned, but his wife was allowed to proceed.

From the Register of Sasines:
In April 1916 a feu disposition for a piece of ground of about 6 acres in North Walls was recorded in the Register of Sasines. The ground was entrusted to the Office of the Lord High Admiral by Thomas and Theodosia Middlemore of Melsetter "to be used only as a cemetery".

This was the land now called Lyness Cemetery:
Archive references: Lily Gunn's Souvenir Book D1/983; Kirkwall Town Council Minutes K1/1/17; Orcadians serving from Flotta D1/1127; Lyness Cemetery photo by Tom Kent TK1749
Click on the label "Orkney at War" below to see more blog posts on this subject.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Fascinating Friday - Fetching Fencibles

Today's fascinating Friday takes us back to 1793 when Major Thomas Balfour (father of author Mary Brunton) was recruiting for the Orkney and Shetland Fencible Battalion. This list pertains to 19th July - 24th November of that year.

This list contains names of men, their age, height, colour of hair, eyes and complexion, trade, where born and date of attestation. The description of the men helped in the gruesome but necessary task of identifying them if they died in battle. But now this information is highly valuable for family history researchers who can find out what their ancestors looked like in a time long before photographs.

For example: Thomas Craigie, aged 25, was 5 feet 4 inches tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. His trade was labourer. He was born in Rousay in the County of Orkney and enlisted on 19th July 1793.

And these lists do not just list men from Orkney or Shetland:

Alexander Sutherland, aged 37, was 5 feet 4 inches tall, with brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. His trade was weaver. He was born in Thurso in the County of Caithness and enlisted on the 20th July 1793.


Donald McKay, aged just 14, was 5 feet 1 inch tall, with black hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. His trade was labourer. He was born in Tongue in the County of Sutherland and enlisted on the 26th Oct.

We have found a quite few of these lists in the Balfour of Balfour & Trenabie papers and have recently been passing copies onto the wonderful volunteers of the Orkney Family History Society who have agreed to transcribe them for us. Hopefully we will be able to add this information to one or both of our websites in the future. Watch this space!

Archive Reference: D2/22/1

Friday, 8 April 2016

Fascinating Friday - The Maltese Orkney Hut

While researching for our WW1 exhibition, I recently read this interesting letter from the Orcadian Newspaper from 29th Dec 1917.

"To the Editor of the Orcadian, November 23, 1917.
DEAR SIR,- For more than eighteen months I have had the privilege of being Y.M.C.A. Leader in the large convalescence camp on this island where the Orkney Hut is situated. Before I leave Malta, I should like to write a personal word of thanks to the people of Orkney for the work they have enabled the Y.M.C.A. to do in this corner of the war area.

When I came to the camp, the Orkney Hut was in course of erection by the convalescents. Hardly had it been opened, when the number of men in the camp began to increase by leaps and bounds. The camp is in an unusually isolated position, opportunities for getting into town are few and expensive, and centres of recreation were at that time few. Such as there were, were all packed out from early morning until late at night. It is difficult to imagine, as men themselves have often said to me, what they would have done in those crowded days without the Orkney Hut.

It was at this time that we had the pleasure of welcoming the Rev. Robert Steen as a worker in the Hut. He is still remembered by a few men in the camp and many who are now scattered on different fronts carry with the memory of this genial and kindly personality, and are glad to have been his friends.

All through the long evenings of last winter, the Hut was uncomfortably full. It was often difficult to push one's way through the crowds of men who, after all the chairs and forms had been occupied, were quite content with "standing room only" provided they could enjoy the warmth and light of the Hut. They greatly valued the opportunity for a smoke, which was denied them under canvas. Our refreshment queue would often stretch right down one side of the Hut and out the far door, and would continue without break from six to nine in the evening.

Last March it was decided to add twenty-four feet to the length of the Hut, and to build a tiled verandah along one side. For the funds to carry out this enlargement the Y M C A was again indebted to Orkney. The Hut is now the largest hall in the camp, and the camp authorities have asked to be allowed to use it for all camp concerts and entertainments. During the hot summer months the cool shade of the verandah has been a real boon to the men, and the enlargement of the Hut itself has made all the difference between uncomfortable stuffiness and roomy ventilation.

While a great deal of our time has naturally been taken up in providing tea, cakes, and cigarettes for the men - not forgetting the egg and sausage suppers for which the Hut gained quite a local reputation last winter! - we have tried to bear in mind also their intellectual and spiritual needs. Last winter a small but enthusiastic men formed the "Orkney Literary Society" which met once a week to discuss all kinds of subjects from Prehistoric Monuments to the Modern Newspaper. This society has been revived this winter. On New Year's night and on Burns Night, special celebrations were arranged for the Scottish Troops, organised by one of the chaplains, who was himself a Scotsman. Classes have also been held in French, shorthand, book-keeping and arithmetic. Every night at 9 o'clock a halt is called in the evening's business and pleasure, and in a brief service of hymn and prayer we seek to turn the men's minds to those things which are unseen but Eternal.

During the last eighteen months, men from all parts of the British Isles and from hundreds of units of the British Army have passed through this camp. Almost every mail brings letters from those who have left us, expressing gratitude for the work that has been done. I would pass on their gratitude to the people of Orkney, and thank them, in the name of the men and in my own name, for their continued interest in the Orkney Hut. - Yours sincerely,
H. C. Oakley, Y M C A Headquarters, Valletta."

I showed my colleague the letter, and he in turn showed me the following archive photograph of a group of workers calling themselves the "Convalescent Men". My colleague did not know where the men were or when the photo was taken.

Perhaps they were on Malta? Perhaps they built the Orkney Hut?

A quick search on the internet gave me this website about Malta Military Hospitals where I scrolled down to Voluntary Help and found that an Orkney Hut was built at Ghain Tuffieha in Malta.

Location of Ghajn Tuffieha on Malta

Another search gave me this website about Military Hospitals in Malta where I scrolled down to the section on Convalescent Camp Ghajn Tuffieha and found photographs of the camp and more information about its size and the people that ran it. It doesn't mention the Orkney Hut in particular, but it may have been one of the "recreation rooms erected by the Church Army".

So far these are all dots which I am not sure connect up. If anyone has any more information, please do get in touch either by commenting below or by email to

References: Orcadian newspaper 29th Dec 1917, page 2; Orkney Photographic Archive negative number L9986/1; Google maps of Malta. YMCA = Young Men's Christian Association

Friday, 1 April 2016

Fascinating Friday - Vampire Dogs and Wartime Sabotage

Two articles caught my eye recently from our local newspapers, The Orcadian and The Orkney Herald which I thought you might like.

This first from 1st October 1915 from a page of WW1 news from Europe an unusual story of war sabotage:

An Old Woman's 'Comforts' for Soldiers - Paris, Wednesday. A woman of Montmartre known as Old Susan, received such numbers of letters from the front that curiosity was aroused. She pretended she was acting as godmother to a number of soldiers without families, but a discreet inquiry revealed the astounding fact that Susan was a German named Krialager, and packets of comforts she sent to the front contained cocaine, which she was supplying to devotees who, even fighting, could not wean from the drug habit. Susan was arrested.

The second from 9th May 1946, a report of a disturbing nature from Harray:

HARRAY - WILD DOG NOW A "VAMPIRE" - Harray's wild dog was still at large yesterday, according to reports from the West Mainland.
The spaniel raider has not been seen at close quarters, however, since Sunday, when he escaped from a big party of guns out seeking him.
The dog's keen sense of scent enabled him to make a get-away.
The latest report of attack upon poultry occurred early on Saturday when three fowls were the dog's victims. This occurred at a farm in the Lyde Road district.
This time, instead of carrying off the carcases and devouring them or burying them for future eating, the dog sucked the blood and left the dead birds at the scene.
With the tightening up of the guard upon fowl yards, it is feared that the dog may now turn to attacking lambs.
Meanwhile there is considerable nervousness among women who will soon be needed to help with the peat work in the hills.
References: Orkney Herald, 1st October 1915 - An Old Woman's Comforts; Orcadian 9th May 1946, p3 - Harray Wild Dog.

Friday, 25 March 2016

A Wedding Trousseau

Fearne Kinnear and William Edmonstoune Aytoun were married on Christmas Eve 1863 at St John’s, Princes St, Edinburgh. She was 27 years old: he was 50. Fearne was a niece of David and Eleanor Balfour, of Balfour Castle through her mother Mary, David's sister. Aytoun was a lawyer and poet, Sheriff of Orkney and Shetland and his first wife had died in 1859. They had had no children and neither did he and Fearne. He died in 1865, less than 2 years after his marriage to his young bride. She went on to marry Captain James Arthur Forbes, grandson of Sir William Forbes of Monymusk, with whom she had 7 children. She died aged 68, in 1904. 

Fearne's mother was a widow - her husband had been James Kinnear and he was a Writer to the Signet, a lawyer. He came from a family of bankers and the Kinnears were wealthly members of the Scottish upper middle classes, as were the Balfours.

The wealth of the Balfours and of the Kinnears is clear in the arrangements for Fearne’s wedding, described by her mother in various correspondence around December 1863. Fearne receives gold jewellery from various relatives and writes to her uncle David to say thank you for such a magnificent present of money.

But the best detail we have about Fearne’s wedding is in her mother’s letter of 18 December 1863. Mary describes her daughter’s trousseau ‘for Eleanor’s behalf’ and over 150 years later, the richness and luxury of that trousseau remain vivid.

‘The wedding dress is of the richest white watered silk, trimmed with Honiton lace…

Queen Victoria had specified English lace for her wedding dress in 1840 and its use in wedding dresses and other special robes e.g. christening gowns, continued for many years. Honiton lace was made in East Devon, by hand – bobbin made lace, of fine threads, created by women working at home, a cottage industry, with Honiton the main collection point for work from the wider geographic area. Factory-made imitation of a lesser quality became available as a result of the demand created by royal patronage but it seems unlikely that Fearne’s wedding dress of gorgeous white silk was trimmed in anything other than hand-made lace, taking up to 5 hours to make every square centimetre. 

In 1863 fashion demanded a cage crinoline, dresses draped over a spring steel framework, to create a very full skirt, up to 6 yards in circumference. The framework was amazingly light and created a fashionable shape, without the need for heavy, hot and unhygienic underclothing and padding of previous fashions. It's hard to imagine navigating the world encircled in spring steel and confined by the corset, petticoats, drawers and stockings which fashion and modesty demanded. (Light steel crinolines could lift and reveal all very easily). The width of the church aisle must have been a factor in how a Victorian bride approached the altar.

The marriage of Fearne and William took place in St John’s Episcopal Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh, with Dean Ramsay officiating. The church interior is spectacular with a strikingly lovely plaster ceiling in the nave, inspired by Henry V11’s chapel in Westminster Abbey. Between 1857 and 1861 the most beautiful array of stained glass windows of any Scottish church had been inserted where previously there had been plain glass. Fearne’s uncle Thomas Balfour, had died, aged only 28, in 1838, and he is buried in the cemetery there. The Balfours had strong ties to St John’s and the wealth of the Kirk’s ornament reflects the wealth of its mid-19th Century congregation and contrasts starkly , as does every other aspect of Fearne’s wedding, with the living conditions and expectations of thousands of Edinburgh’s poorer inhabitants.
It’s very likely that Fearne’s wedding day hairstyle was a centre parting, tied into a low chignon at the back of her neck and with loops or ringlets covering her ears. She wore turquoise earrings, necklace and brooch on her wedding day, turquoise being much favoured by Victorian girls with diamonds worn more by older women. And over it all, she wore ’a large and beautiful veil, from head to foot, of Honiton Lace.’

Fearne and William left Edinburgh and ‘set off south’ after the wedding meal, probably by train. Her travelling outfit was a blue camlet dress, embroidered with velvet, a blue camlet cloak and a white bonnet trimmed with lace and fern leaves. Camlet was a fine fabric of wool, probably mohair, and silk – luxurious, warm and beautiful.

For evening wear, she had dinner dresses of peach silk and of blue silk. She visited friends outfitted in violet silk, perhaps wearing her ordinary bonnet of mauve terry or her pale, fawn crepe dress-bonnet with roses and one white feather, with her black velvet pelisse or coat. She received visitors in a gown of corded blue silk. She had another dress of striped, pale lavender and, saving the best for last, one of white alpaca and black lace. It sounds stunning and I hope it looked like this:

She is dressed in the finest fabrics – silk, mohair, alpaca and velvet. She favours blues, mauves and lavenders which would suit fair hair and a fair complexion, or were these simply the fashionable colours of the day?
High style was easily accessible to the 1860s Victorian lady via magazines with wonderful fashion plates, such as Samuel Beeton’s The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine with which he also included paper dress patterns. Fearne Kinnear’s engagement was announced in early December 1863, and she had less than 3 weeks to prepare for her marriage. Both her level in society and the limited time for preparation make it certain that Fearne did not create any of her own outfits. She would have gone to a firm of dressmakers from whom she selected styles and fabrics and who then, quickly, created the beautiful outfits she took with her into her marriage. There is barely a page of the Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory for 1862-63 without a listing for a dressmaker, or establishments such as Blythe, Yule & Co (Misses), milliners and dressmakers, 112 George St, Edinburgh.
Her clothes would have been cared for by her servants, or those of the houses and hotels she visited. They would have been brushed and pressed, mended and looked after as befitted their quality and she would have expected them to last, but augmented by each Season’s new fashions and styles.

The Balfour Papers contain no photographs so we don’t know what Fearne looked like. She was however the grand-daughter of George Kinnear and Fearne Gardiner and her grandmother is the woman in the portrait of Mrs George Kinnear by Sir Henry Raeburn on display in the Scottish National Gallery: a striking woman in her early 30s looking wistfully out beyond us and the artist. Did Fearne look like her?

Fearne’s mother, Mary, had told her brother that she never saw a better prospect of happiness in a union. …. It is completely a love match on both sides and it is a pleasure to see two people so happy! The Balfour papers don’t reveal more (so far) about Fearne and her marriage but she set out into it, beautifully dressed.

Fearne was widowed on 4th August 1865. Prince Albert had died in 1861 and Queen Victoria mourned him deeply for another 40 years – in black. Fearne’s blues and lavenders would have given way in August 1865 to black also and she probably stayed in deep mourning for a year and a day, until 5 August 1866. She would have worn no jewellery and either a black veil or widow’s cap. Second mourning followed, for another year and again her wardrobe was black but her widow’s veil could go and some jet jewellery was permitted. In August 1867 she would have entered the third period of mourning and half mourning when greys and mauves would become her main choices. But on 10 July 1867 Fearne remarried, to Captain James Arthur Forbes. There is no detail, as yet, in the Balfour boxes about her second wedding but the conventions of the day would have made it a subdued affair, with bride and groom mindful of the memory of William Aytoun, her first husband who had died only two years previously.

One last detail: in this centenary year of the Battle of Jutland, with Britain’s national commemoration to take place in Orkney, we need to remember Fearne’s grandson, James Arthur Charles Forbes who died, aged 18 on 31 May 1916, in the Battle of Jutland.

Posted by Dusty on behalf of the Balfour Blogger.

Archive reference: D2/21/14 - excerpts from a letter dated Decr 18th, 1863 from Mary Kinnear to her brother David Balfour in Shapinsay. Image of dress taken from this website.