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.