Friday 21 June 2019

Land of the Midnight Dim...

We have a long, dark Winter in Orkney but are rewarded in abundance come Summer time. Our Northerly skies are bright from 4am until 10.30pm and the hours in between are never fully dark.

This long twilight is known as the simmer dim. The sun merely dims and never truly disappears.

The photograph of Kirkwall Harbour below was taken by Tom Kent on the 25th of June at Midnight:

The ability to garden until 10 and go for long evening walks well past tea-time makes up for the fact that, six months from now.. but no. Let us just enjoy the lovely, long nights whilst they last.

UPDATE: Apparently simmer dim is the term used in Shetland. A suggestion of grimleens has been offered, deriving from the Norwegian grimla, - to gleam, shimmer.

Friday 7 June 2019

Orkney After the Armistice - January to June 1919

The 14th (and final) instalment of our "Orkney at War" Exhibition series is now available to see in the Archive Public Searchroom under the new title of "Orkney After the Armistice - January to June 1919.
The display shows how Orkney and Orcadians were affected during the aftermath of the war and includes information about the German High Seas Fleet interned in Scapa Flow from November 1918 to the dramatic scuttling on 21st June 1919.
Items used are newspaper reports, town council minutes, photographs, school log books, and sections of books most of which were created at the time or just after.

Here are a few items from the main exhibition:


Extract from Rev. Dr. T Crouther Gordon's book Early Flying in Orkney - Seaplanes in World War 1:
"In the New Year's Honour's List of 1st January 1919, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded by HM King George V to Captain Macro, Lieutenant Guild and myself, and Lieutenant Sanderson got the Air Force Cross."
Dr T Crouther Gordon, pilot at Houton Seaplane Station, WW1

The Orcadian 2nd January 1919 p4

Reminder to Naval Authorities that War is Over
At the monthly meeting of the Zetland County Council, Mr Mouat said he was very glad to see that the Orkney papers had taken up the question of permits at Orkney. He thought this Council should take the necessary steps to have these restrictions removed at once. We have borne hardships and restrictions uncomplainingly, and they were now no longer required. There was still apparently no shortage of red tape.

He had travelled in the south and he was sure that no other county in Great Britain would have put up with the restrictions which had been placed on our travelling public. Passengers who were allowed to go about on the mainland freely could not be trusted to land at Kirkwall to have a meal ashore. The same hardships were imposed on soldiers and sailors who had been fighting for their country.

Last week, a month after the signing of the Armistice, he stepped onto the pier at Kirkwall in order to despatch some telegrams when a detective whistled on him. He replied that he would land and he did so and gave his telegrams to a gentleman to send off. He asked the detective if the naval authorities did not know that the war was over, but was told that the restrictions still applied. Mr Pottinger and he had just arranged to send a wire to the Admiralty requested them to inform the naval authorities at Kirkwall that the war was over and to allow passengers from Shetland to land, when a Customs official came on board and said a telegram had just been received stating that passengers coming and going to Shetland could land at Kirkwall.


The Orcadian 13th February 1919 page 5

A supplement of the London Gazette stated on February 1st, the award of the Military Cross is announced to Second Lieutenant T. W. Hepburn, Highland Light Infantry, attached 15th Battalion, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on September 5th 1918, at the crossing of the Somme. During the night he constructed a gangway on a broken bridge over the marshes under continuous machine-gun fire. He then crossed alone and reconnoitred the east bank of the river, the knowledge he gained resulting in the successful advance on to the ridge over the river by the company which he led. Lieutenant Hepburn is a son of Colonel Hepburn, Orkney Royal Garrison Artillery.

Orcadians will be pleased to learn that Captain T N. F. Hourston, M.C. Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, son of Mr and Mrs Hourston, Beaquoy Farm, Dounby, has now been awarded a bar to his Military Cross and mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's New Year despatch. This honour was won during the fierce battle of September 29th - October 2nd crossing the St. Quentin canal near Joncourt.

The Orcadian 20 February 1919 page 4

REGENT STREET AT SCAPA FLOW - A Floating Shop for the Fleet
With the berthing of the steam ship Borodino in the Surrey Commercial Dock on Tuesday last week, it is now possible to make known a story which is without precedent in the history of the British Navy.
In December 1914, Commodore [Cecil] Lambert, the Fourth Sea Lord, conceived the idea that the monotony of life in the Grand Fleet, stationed at Scapa Flow, might be greatly relieved by giving the officers and men opportunities for obtaining the simple luxuries of everyday life, which, naturally, could not be obtained in the remote hamlets of the Orkney Islands. An arrangement was made with the Junior Army and Navy Stores, Lower Regent Street, [London] to take out a floating store, replete with every commodity that was likely to be required.
Officers and men of the Fleet were permitted to come aboard daily between 9 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. These visits were usually productive of interesting incidents, and they were taken advantage of to an extent that the store was often overcrowded. On one occasion no fewer than 2,700 officers and men came to make purchases, and on another, when the American sailors boarded the SS Borodino in force the day's receipts amounted to £978. This turnover in the four years was at the rate of £10,000 per year.

One of the frequent visitors was Prince Albert, and he invariably bought a shirt or collar. When he had made his purchase it was customary for him to say that the articles were for an other officer on board his ship. Prince Albert was a "snotty" with the Grand Fleet - a term which has been used in the Navy for young midshipmen since Nelson's day. Mr Allen, who was the first supervisor, stated that the prince was plain "Mr Johnson" to his companions. Occasionally when in the shopping centre the prince gave his orders in dumb show by putting his hands in his pockets and whistling. This was because the manager once laughingly said to him during a very busy time, "Now then, Johnson, no pilfering; whistle all the time till you're out of the shop, and keep your hands in your pockets till you are asked to pay. While you are whistling you can't eat anything, and you can't pinch anything with your hands in your pockets."


The Orcadian 6th March 1919 page 4

On Monday night an Admiralty Trawler when coming into Kirkwall collided with the steam fishing trawler R. H. Davidson. The latter vessel which was lying at anchor in the bay at the time, had her port quarter seriously damaged, and the cabin, which is aft, is full of water. The vessel was taken alongside Kirkwall Pier to have temporary repairs effected. A naval launch lying at the entrance to the Basin filled with water during the gale and sank. The launch was raised on Tuesday, but was found to be considerably damaged, owing to the "puffer" Borderglen, alongside which vessel it had been lying, canting over on to it taking the ground at low water.

The Orcadian 13 March 1919 page 4

Influenza is rife in the parish and very few households have escaped. One or other of the doctors from Kirkwall has been in the parish every day for a fortnight, and on one day the services of three medical men were required. From Sunday, 2nd to Saturday 8th inst.[of this month], eight deaths occurred. In several instances whole households have been suffering from the complaint at one time.


At a meeting of the Stromness Town Council on the 12th April, the Town Clerk wrote:

Letters were submitted of 22nd March and 3rd inst. from the Naval Works Office, Stromness stating that Saw Mills had been vacated by the Air Force and on the subject of replacements required. The Town Clerk was instructed to write stating what was required in the way of reinstatement.
Extract from S1/5 Stromness Town Council Minutes 1910-1924


The Orcadian 8th May 1919 page 4

All the demobilised soldiers were entertained by the ladies of the island on Friday night, in the Drill Hall. The entertainment, which was very enjoyable, took the form of a tea and dance. Mr Scott, in his address of welcome to the invited guests, spoke warmly of the services they had rendered during the great war, and in very touching words expressed the great debt the country owed to those who had made the supreme sacrifice. Mr Scott was then thanked for his address of welcome, and the soldiers were called on to give three cheers to the ladies of the island. This was responded to in real army fashion. Thereafter dancing was engaged in with great spirit for several hours, excellent refreshments being handed round at intervals.
Altogether it was a most enjoyable evening, and the invited guests take this opportunity of thanking their hostesses for the splendid arrangements they made, and also for their uniform kindness and generosity to the soldiers not only on this occasion, but throughout the long stress and strain. Special thanks are due to the ladies committee, consisting of:- Mrs MacPhail, Mrs Baillie, Misses Sinclair, Burgher, Wilson, Fotheringhame, Clouston, Muir, Moodie, Swanney and Skea. Splendid music was supplied by Messrs James and William Grieve, Melville, Fotheringhame and meil. The excellence of the tea was due to Miss Scott and Mrs Garrioch, and Messrs Fairbairn and Baillie did their upmost to make the entertainment an unqualified success. [Sadly the names of the demobilised soldiers were not listed in this article]

The Orcadian 15th May 1919 page 5

Most of the American minesweepers based at Kirkwall proceeded to sea last Saturday morning to commence the work of cleaning up the minefields. On Thursday night the opening concert was given in the YMCA Hut. The first portion of entertainment consisted of a performance by the band of USS Black Hawks, under bandmaster R. W. Wilson. The programme submitted highly delighted the large audience. The jazz band and a portion of the minstrel troupe enlivened the remainder of the evening with their witticisms, humorous songs and catchy music. On Sunday evening the Rev. G. W. Dalgleish, M. A. conducted a service in the YMCA Hut for the Presbyterian sailors of the American Fleet.

A further match in the baseball league has been arranged for Saturday afternoon in the Bignold Park. At the close of play, there will be four boxing bouts. Among those who will take part is Johnny Dougherty, a well-known London Professional boxer, now with the K. of C. [possibly the Knights of Columbus]


German Fleet in Scapa Flow taken by Tom Kent Ref: TK4130

Extract from book Scapa and a Camera by C W Burrows:
"During the period of their internment, communication between the German ships and our own Fleet was restricted to a minimum, and no one from our own ships was allowed on board the interned vessels unless on duty of an urgent nature. The Germans were required to victual and store their own ships from Germany, coal and water only being supplied locally.
B98 Destroyer used on mail service between Scapa Flow and Germany
Ran aground in the Bay of Lopness, Sanday. Photo by Tom Kent Ref: TK4201
As German warships were not constructed for living aboard for long periods (the sailors being mostly accommodated in barracks when in harbour), the crews at Scapa must have had a rather unenviable time of it, though there was a certain element of poetic justice in interning them in the region where for so long our own Fleet had kept its lonely vigil. As one of their officers remarked in writing home and describing the bleakness and desolation of Scapa: "If the English have stood this for four years, they deserve to have won the war."
The German ships were patrolled by a number of drifters - a somewhat ignominious guard for the much-vaunted German Fleet.
The Germans' love of music was in evidence even at Scapa, and it was somewhat strange and at times rather pathetic to hear the unfamiliar strains of Die Wacht am Rhein and  Die Lorelei rising from the German ships, some which still retained their bands."
SCUTTLING - 21st June 1919
Stromness Public School Log Book (Infant School). Ref: CO5/93/5
"21st June: By kind permission of the Rear Admiral Commanding Orkney and Shetland, the pupils and teachers were conveyed by HMS Flying Kestrel to view the German Fleet in Scapa Flow.

Image of a tug which may be the Flying Kestrel Ref: L5128/4
They had the unique experience of seeing the Imperial German Ensigns flying at the mastheads, as their crews apparently by general agreement had made up their plans to sink them on this date. The crews were seen in small boats, pinnaces, rafts, etc.
By 4 p.m. only the Baden a light cruiser ashore on the West of Cava, and the turrets of the Hindenburg were to be seen from the School."

The turrets of the Hindenburg by C. W. Burrows Ref: L9522/3
The Orcadian 26th June 1919 page 4

On Saturday afternoon, through the courtesy of the ACOS, the teachers and children of the Stromness School were taken through the lines of the German Fleet in the Flying Kestrel. Leaving Stromness about 10:30, they were able to see a good deal of what happened in the course of the day. The Flying Kestrel, after leaving Stromness, called at the battleships Baden, Kaiserin, Kaiser and Konig Albert, and then proceeded to visit the battle cruisers Derflinger, Hindenburg and Seidlitz. When the party reached the Seidlitz, my informant was surprised to notice that great preparations were being made to launch boats.

He observed that the crew were collecting large numbers of suit-cases and bags together. This was in the neighbourhood of 11 o'clock. The party went on to visit the destroyers, and there also seemed to be great preparations for a change or swapping of crews. The skipper asked the party of they would like to visit the hospital ships attached to the base. This was done... and the Flying Kestrel began to return to Stromness.

A drifter which was sailing towards the flagship shouted out that the German ships were sinking themselves. This was hailed with incredulity, but a vessel was suddenly seen to heel over beyond the north point of the island of Cava, turn bottom upwards and disappear. The journey towards home was continued, and the noticeable feature was the display of German Ensigns of the largest size on all the vessels.
German Cruiser SMS Bremse turned turtle. Ref: L6848/1

Pinnaces, small boats and rafts were seen in the water alongside the ships, filled or being filled with men. The ships began to sink deeper in the water, generally settling more quickly by the stern than by the bows. When the water reached the level of the deck at the stern,... the ship generally heeled over and turned bottom upwards. For sometime the hull remained above the surface, with steam pouring through vents in the bottom, but soon the hulls themselves disappeared.
Photo by C. W. Burrows Ref: L951/2
Men guarding sunken boat by Tom Kent Ref: TK4165

The children on board, more especially the younger of them, were greatly excited at the sight of the sinking vessels and the sight of men in the water, and in many cases were reduced to tears.
More Witnesses
G.H. Wild: 

Extract from p133 of Scapa Flow: The Story of Britain's Greatest Naval Anchorage in Two World Wars. by Malcolm Brown and Patricia Meehan. Available to see in the Orkney Room under reference 941.09 Y.

Hugh "Ti" David: "Yesterday at 9.45 the squadron with all destroyers at Scapa, put to sea for torpedo exercises - at 12.45 we received a wireless informing us that a German battleship was sinking - we turned and at full speed dashed back to Scapa - we got back at 3.30 and the sight that met our gaze as we rounded the Island of Flotta is absolutely indescribable. A good half of/

D1/1485 - Letter from Hugh David to this mother from HMS Revenge, 1919

 /of the German Fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the 'Bayern' the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went."

D1/1485 - Letter from Hugh David to this mother from HMS Revenge, 1919

A series of events will take place this weekend to commemorate the centenary of the Scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet. More information here