Tuesday 12 August 2014

Orkney At War (Aug-Oct 1914) Exhibition Taster

As promised here are a few of the items we have used in our exhibition:


There has been great activity in Naval and Military circles in Orkney for over a week, and whilst it is not yet advisable to go into details, it may be of interest to state that so long ago as Wednesday of last week special service sections of the Orkney Artillery were called out and sent to their appointed stations. On Sunday the remainder of the force was mobilised, and further detachments at once sent forward to certain points which are understood to be of strategic value. The remainder of the men were allowed to proceed home but had instructions to hold themselves in readiness for an immediate call. The orders to mobilise came on Monday evening and all night long the men from the out-stations were arriving at headquarters, where the Kirkwall companies had already reported for duty. The calling out of the Orkney Artillery at such an early stage in the crisis created great excitement in Orkney, especially in view of the fact that at one time it was decided to disband the corps, and it was only with great exertion on the part of those concerned that this was averted.
The Orcadian, 8 August 1914

In his diary, James Marwick, Lieutenant/Captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Division) wrote on Monday 3rd August:

"Mobilised at Drill Hall Stromness 3pm. I was there in full marching order ready to go"

On Wednesday 5th August he was in Rackwick:

"The  tents were pitched on flat piece of ground between Mucklehouse and Black Neave near a low wall which Mr Taylor had built. Three tents for men to live in; one cook's store tent; one Guard Tent on level space...Serg. Mackay & I lived in Test house. There were a couple of chair beds and blankets &c in it and we just took possession of these..."

Orkney Archive Reference D1/1118

A very different perspective came from Stewart Isbister who was a new recruit to the Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Division) in 1914. In his memoir, having been posted to Kirkwall Drill Hall from Finstown,  he wrote: "I cannot begin to tell you of the lonesomeness of those days, my first away from home and the new Army life I found so bewildering. "

Orkney Archive Reference D1/1177

In Scapa Bay construction work was ongoing as, on 13 August 1914, less than two weeks into the First World War Admiral Jellicoe requested that anti submarine patrols by seaplane be flown in defence of the fleet in Scapa Flow.  As a result a seaplane base was quickly constructed at the head of Scapa Bay.
The canvas covered hangars used were, however, no match for the winter gales which often blow in Orkney and a more sheltered site was found at Houton Bay in the parish of Orphir.
Orkney Archive Reference CO7/7/4 (plan dated c.1920)

Our current exhibitions chart Orkney's experience of WW1 at home through the use of official documents, letters home, newspaper articles, diaries and photographs. We have three so far, each covering three months of the war.

Click on the label "Orkney at War" below to see more blog posts on this subject.


  1. I would have seen this a lot sooner, if I'd been paying attention. I find this type of article fascinating. The exhibit must be quite interesting.

    Did y'all survive the rain at the County "Fair"?


  2. Modesty forbids us from telling you how well-researched and fascinating our exhibition is Sue but we blush prettily at your comment.

    And we've just about dried off thanks.


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