Monday 30 November 2015

Orkney At War (Nov 1915 - Jan 1916)

Here are a few items from our sixth instalment of our Orkney at War Exhibition which describe how World War 1 affected Orkney and Orcadians. These archive items are taken from records during November, December 1915 and January 1916. We continue with the diary of Margaret Tait and introduce the souvenir book of nurse Lily Gunn. We see the construction of an airship station, stories from the front, elections postponed and football banned.

Electric Theatre, Junction Road Kirkwall

Cinema Ambulance Day
The Orcadian newspaper, 6th November1915: The proceeds of this theatre on Tuesday, Nov 9 will be handed over to the Cinematograph Trade Ambulance Fund. The object of the fund is to raise  the sum of £30, 000 in order to present the British Red Cross Society a complete Motor Ambulance convoy with appurtenances, consisting of  50 motor ambulances for the use of the army in Flanders or elsewhere.
Along with the usual programme of pictures, there will be songs by Mrs Rintoni, Miss M. Gibson. Mr J Lennie, Mr W. Burgess, duet by Miss Cecilia Sinclair and Mr J. F. Shearer and music by a small orchestra. The above songs will be illustrated on the screen by lantern slides. Note change of opening. Doors open at 7.30. Commence at 8. Prices 6d and 1s. No reserved seats.


Introducing a Souvenir Book containing drawings, poems and messages from patients of the British Farmers Hospital and the Number 2 Anglo-Belgian hospital, Calais, France from 1916 to 1918.
The book belonged to Elizabeth (Lily ) Gunn, ( of Glaitness) an Orcadian nurse
The picture above shows a soldier's feelings of the war early in 1916. Some of the pictures are grim and some are quite pretty, see below.
K1/1/17: Kirkwall Town Council minutes, 5th November 2015
 "The Clerk stated that while under the provisions of the Elections and Registration Act 1915 Town Council elections are postponed for a year the office of Provost, Bailies and Honorary Treasurer is not affected by the Act i.e. the holders of these offices do not continue in the office beyond the date at which they would in ordinary course have demitted office though their term of office as Councillors is extended for a year. In these circumstances Bailie Flett becomes by law Senior Bailie and the offices of Bailie and Honorary Treasurer now fall to be filled up. Councillor Maclennan was elected a Bailie of the Burgh and having accepted office thanked the Council for the appointment"
The Orcadian newspaper, 27th November 1915: R.N.R. Officer Assaulted:- before Sheriff Mercer at the Orkney Sheriff Court at Kirkwall on Saturday, Charles Spiers, fireman onboard the drifter Dardo, was charged that on 18th November  at St Margaret’s Hope he assaulted an assistant paymaster R.N.R by striking him with his clenched fist; and at the same time and place committed a breach of the peace. Accused pled guilty and was sentenced to seven day’s imprisonment.

Some serving Orcadians:

A local shopkeeper offers topical Christmas presents:
Xmas Presents for Men on Active Service
Marwick The Tailor, Stromness can supply you with specialities
The Orcadian 4th December 1915: Grease proof linings for caps: extra light, prevent unseemly grease spots on top, 6d each
Brass supports for cap fronts; greatly improve their appearance; easily fixed unbreakable, 2d each
Waterproof covers (khaki) for service caps; splendid for wet weather; make old caps like new
Proof cloth 1s; all rubber
Knife, whistle or revolver lanyards (khaki and white) very special, ordinary 3d and 4 ½d each; silk finish 1 d each
Button sticks all brass, indispensable when cleaning buttons, no kit complete without one, 3d each
Button brushes, always handy 4 ½d and 9d each
Balaclava helmets; very cosy, just the thing for watch keeping during winter: 1s and 2s 6d each
Belts- elastic or plain with pocket 6d and 2s 6d each
Sox suspenders- keep up your sox 1s
Warm woollen gloves- keep your hands warm which is an important point in military efficiency, all prices.
Fleecy khaki mufflers- prevent cols, various prices
Oilskin coats and sou’westers- defy the rain and wind, a fine selection on hand from 12s 6d to 30s
[s = shillings; d = pennies/pence]
In Kirkwall and Stromness, the local council banned the Ba' and football playing:
K1/1/17: Kirkwall Town Council minutes, 15th December 2015
 "It was agreed to recommend that there should be no ba' playing on Xmas or New Years day in the Burgh"
Stromness seemed a little more strict:
S1/1: Stromness Town Council minutes, 23rd December 2015

"The meeting agreed unanimously that football should not be played on the streets either on Xmas or New Years day and the Provost was instructed to see the senior Naval Officer of the Port that he may lend assistance in carrying this out"
A report from the front of an Orcadian being starved:
Lance Corporal W J S Leask of Coldomo, Stenness was a prisoner of war in Germany by Christmas 1915

"Up until a fortnight ago he wrote cheerful letters and postcards, but I noticed when he was removed to another prisoners' camp his postcards were not so cheery, and today I have one from him which has annoyed me very much as it hints unmistakably that he is being starved"


Mr Ford’s Kirkwall Impressions
Britain Wants Peace
The Orkney Herald  22nd December 1915: Christiania, Saturday.- The steamer Oscar II with the Ford expedition, arrived at half past three this afternoon at Christiansand. There was no official or other reception, and only pressmen went on board. Mr Ford spoke cautiously regarding the manner in which he will act. He said the British were very gracious at Kirkwall, but none of the party were allowed to land and there was no official reception. Mr Ford said he had the impression at Kirkwall that the British wanted peace, and he expressed the opinion that this was also the case with the people in other belligerent countries. The basis for peace must he added, be the status quo ante bellum. Madame Rosika Schwimmer said the intention of the expedition was to agitate for a peace conference with representatives of both sexes from neutral countries. The platform must be accommodated to circumstance.
The Orkney Herald 29th December 1915: The Observer in its “At Random” column of December 19 says:- It is a pity that Destiny did not arrange that the Ford Peace Party should be detained at Kirkwall for another week or so. Kirkwall possesses one tree, a fine assortment of wintery breezes, and several interesting ruins. A man of lofty aims and hardy constitution could have spent quite a merry Christmas there.
In early 1915, Henry Ford began to publicly express pacifist sentiment and denounce the ongoing war in Europe. Later in the year, American peace activist Louis Lochner and Hungarian journalist Rosika Schwimmer approached Ford, now commonly recognized a pacifist, with a proposal to launch an amateur diplomatic mission to Europe to broker an end to World War I.
Killed in Action:
Major James L. Harcus from Heatherbank, Westray was killed in Anzac, Turkey on  11th December 1915
Private Robert Harcus from Backaland, Eday was killed on 17th January 1916
D1/382/1 The S.G. Hall papers - Caldale Airship Station

Caldale Airship Station was built in 1915 and was operational from July 1916. Mr Hall was one of the construction workers on the site and is one of the many soldiers and workmen pictured in the photograph above. We don't have any other names of the men in this photograph.

D1/525  - Diary of Margaret Tait, sister of James Tait, cabinet maker, lived at 6 Broad Street, Kirkwall at the outbreak of the First World War and would have been 44 years old in 1916 – according to census returns in 1911.
30 January 1916
(Sunday) It’s over 3 months since I’ve written anything down here and many things have happened since. The war is still going on as brisk as ever and conscription is passed. Jimmie has joined the Navy for the period of the war, has been shipwrecked in a dreadful storm and is in Aberdeen undergoing repairs (I mean his ship). I’ve had all my upper teeth filled and am looking forward to getting a new set. Jim senior went south yesterday morning so we are all alone we three womenfolks. I don’t ever remember such a stormy winter with so many high gales of wind. Kirkwall bay is still as full of ships as ever. This has been an unusually fine day for the time of year. Bunty and I had a walk up the Willow Road as far as the pond.
Sunday. Just after tea Jim and I were sitting quietly one on either side of the fireplace when a knock came to the door. I rose to answer it and saw Tullock the police constable half up the staircase. “Will you put that blind down in your front window” he said. “Certainly” I replied. I had forgot to pull down one of the front blinds but I just thought it was nothing special but because all the windows have to be darkened at the present time. A little later Willie came up the stairs 3 steps at a time and said a Zeppelin had been sighted coming northward and all the Territorial were ordered out to the country to watch and wait for whatever was in store for us. Each of them got 15 rounds of ammunition and had to be out all night. I hurriedly got some tea made for him and while he was taking it I washed out his flask and filled it up with milk, made up some sandwiches for him and helped to strap it on thinking all the while that little I thought when he was a boy staying with us on Scapa Road that the day would ever come that I would have to help buckle him up to go out to fight the Germans. Just as he went out Maggie came in and said every light was out off every ship in the harbour and the street lamps were all out. Jim put on his boots and went out but I calmly sat down and took my supper. Meanwhile I had my coat and hat handy and meant to nip up Bunty and run if the Zepps came. No Zepps came however so I went to bed and slept peacefully until morning.
On Monday forenoon came a wire to say Edinburgh had been raided and bombed the night before with considerable damage to property, a few killed and several injured.

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 six 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.