David Cormack

David Cormack, 9th Royal Scots, killed at Passchendaele 20 September 1917

Can anyone help us remember David?

Over the weekend of 23 to 25 September 2017, Deerness will be remembering 3 Deerness boys who were killed at Passchendaele, David Cormack, Robert Foubister and James Scott. We are in contact with family of both Robert Foubister and James Scott. We would like to be in touch with anyone related to David.

David was born in Deerness, Orkney on 22 November 1893, the son of John Cormack of Delday, and Wilhelmina Annal of Mossater, South Ronaldsay.

In July 1915, David was with his parents, living at 353 Easter Road, Leith, Edinburgh when he enlisted in the 9TH Royal Scots.

At the time of his death his parents had returned to Orkney and were living at Hilldale Cottage, Melsetter, Longhope.

David had one brother, John, and 7 sisters. David was unmarried when he died.

David’s surviving sisters were:

Jane Elizabeth Skea Cormack, who married Peter Curley from Kingussie. They had a son, Alister John Curley. Jane died on 24 July 1946.

Margaret Ann Spence Cormack, who married John Skea from Burray. They had 2 sons, being Edwin and John.

Elizabeth Cormack, who married Eric Sutherland of Ferrier St, Leith in 1903.

Mina Robertson Cormack, who married James Robertson in Leith on 20 December 1907.

Jemima May Turnbull Cormack, who married Harry Lawrence, a Royal Navy stoker in Leith on 28 July 1916.

Mary Ellen Kennedy Cormack, who married James Matches Anderson of Pools, Walls on 31 January 1923.

We only have a poor quality newspaper photo of David as a young man.

If you have any information about connections, information, photographs of David, please Messenger or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Many thanks.

War memorial

Tower of London Commemorative Poppies


As part of the WW1 commemorations FOSN has been the recipient of one of the Tower of London poppies, bought specifically to remember James and William Craigie by their grandneice, Johanna Geddes, and framed by the further generous gift of Edna Panton.

John L. Mowat

John Langskaill Mowat was born on 19 October 1878 at Cellardyke, Deerness, Orkney. He was the third son of Thomas Mowat and Barbara Langskaill who had married in Holm on 4 December 1873. Thomas Mowat’s parents were Thomas Mowat and Catherine Bichan of Newhall, Deerness. Barbara’s parents were Charles Langskaill and Jane Heddle.

Thomas, father of John and his siblings, was a maker of Orkney chairs and whilst untrained, had a knowledge of animals such that he was called upon where a vet would be relied upon nowadays. Cellardyke extended to only 18 ¾ acres, including Trowietoon, and Thomas farmed it as a tenant farmer, but was also a mason to trade.

John’s brothers were Charles born 1874 and Thomas born 1876, and one sister, Catherine (Katie) born 1875. Both Thomas and Catherine emigrated to America, Catherine having married James H Croy from Stronsay. Thomas married Jane Stevenson.

John Mowat went to school in Deerness, starting there in August 1884, aged 5, and leaving in May 1893 aged 14. Barbara, his mother, had died in 1882 of tuberculosis and in 1888, Thomas Snr remarried, to Robina Craigie (nee Foubister) of Mussaquoy. Robina was the grandmother of William and James Craigie who were both killed in France during WW1.

In 1901 John, aged 22, was working at the Hall of Essonquoy, known as the Barns, now subsumed into Kirkwall Airport. His employer was William Bichan, a Deerness man, and John is described in the 1901 census as a servant/ploughman.

In the 1911 Census, taken on 2 April 1911, John is working at the Hall of Essonquoy, for William Bichan and he is described as a horseman. On 1 June that year, John married Euphemia Mary Robertson (sometimes Robson). They were married at Euphemia’s home, East Greaves where her father Donald was a farm servant. Her mother was Betsy, nee Foulis. Euphemia herself is described as a domestic servant on their marriage certificate and she was 20 years old. Later that year, on 23 August, their only child, Mary Jane was born at East Greaves.

When World War 1 broke out in August 1914, John was already 35 years old. In October 1914 his cousin James Traill, Highland Light infantry, was killed in France. In January 1916 conscription into the British armed forces was introduced, for single men and childless widowers up to the age of 41. In May 1916, conscription was extended to include married men. There were categories of exemption and one category included farm workers. Orkney Archive holds records of those applying for exemptions, both successfully and unsuccessfully but John Mowat is not amongst them. From his Regimental number, S/16012 it appears he joined the Seaforth Highlanders, in Kirkwall, in August 1916, aged 37.

The only known photograph of John L Mowat is the photograph of him, in uniform, with Euphemia and Mary Jane. It was probably taken during his embarkation leave, prior to going to France, so perhaps around January 1917.

john l mowat and family 2

None of John Mowat’s Army records have survived, burnt during the London Blitz of 1940 when an incendiary bomb hit their storage place destroying 4 million World War 1 British Army records. It is probable he trained at Fort George, and then shipped to France in February or March 1917. On 20 March 1917, within days or a few weeks of his arrival in France John died of spinal meningitis.

John was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery which was the burial ground of the 36th, 38th and 2/2nd London Casualty Clearing Stations from May 1916, and the Army notified Euphemia of his resting place on 14 June 1917 in a letter, addressed to Mrs E Mowat, Drill Hall Cottage, St Mary’s, Holm, Orkney.

It seems likely that John took ill and died quickly given that he was buried in the cemetery used by casualty clearing stations i.e. there had not been time to move him to a hospital, over on the French coast. Meningitis was widespread in the cramped conditions of war-service and particularly prevalent in the first quarter of the year. It was mostly fatal.

On 21 November 1919 Euphemia received £4/1/9 War Gratuity calculated on the basis of John’s short Army service and even shorter overseas service.

Euphemia remarried in June 1919, to Andrew Flett and had a further family with him. She did not however forget John Mowat. Their grandson, Arthur Gunn from Stromness, recalls his grandfather’s commemoration scroll, memorial plaque and service medals on display in his grandmother’s home.

John Mowat medals



David Ritch


KIA Corporal David Ritch

David Ritch was born on 14 January 1893, at 7 School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney. He was the second son of David and Mary Ritch who had married at Tiffyhall, Deerness on 26 January 1880. David Snr was the son of Robert Ritch and Mary Stove of Netherstove, Deerness and Mary the daughter of John Smith (deceased) and Isabella Delday, nee Craigie of Tiffyhall, Deerness.

David and Mary had 4 children: John, born January 1881, Mary born May 1888, David born January 1893 and Robert born February 1895.

David Snr was a miller at the time of his marriage, a mason on his son John’s birth certificate of 1881, and then a postman on the birth certificates of Mary, David and Robert. At some point, he left Mary and his children, probably around mid-1898, as their daughter Mary was admitted to the Deerness School on 9 May that year, followed by David Jnr on 1 June. Their addresses are given as Tiffyhall, then Little Quoys, Deerness. The Deerness 1901 Census does not include their father, and their mother is recorded as a grocer, living at the United Free Schoolhouse, with her 3 younger children. In 1911 she is still there, on her own account, still a grocer. John, the oldest son, is not accounted for in either census. There is no trace of David Snr in the Scottish nor English censuses of 1901 and 1911.

David is the boy in the light shirt, in the second row from the front, beside Miss Stevenson and Miss Seatter, in this 1902, or 1903, Deerness School photo. His brother Robert is furthest left of the 3 boys in the right hand window, at the back of the photo.

Deerness school

There’s little information so far about David as he grows up, but in 1911, aged 18, he was a boarder at 2 Fraser Place, Kirkwall and working as a draper’s assistant to Peter Shearer. His brother Robert was also in Kirkwall, aged 16, a stationer’s apprentice.

David sailed for Canada on 20th April 1912, aged 19. He is described as a labourer in the passenger list of SS Lake Manitoba, sailing from Liverpool to Quebec. He was accompanied by Mollie Ritch, aged 23, profession domestic. Mollie was David’s sister, Mary.

Mary/Mollie settled in Winnipeg. She married Magnus Russell Maxwell there on 20 January 1913. He was born and brought up in Victoria St, Kirkwall and he and Mollie came back and forth to Orkney throughout their lives. Magnus died in Kirkwall in 1962.

Magnus Maxwell was the son of James Maxwell, ship’s carpenter, from Shapinsay and his wife Margaret Russell. Magnus had 2 sisters, Jane and Edith, and 2 brothers, Peter and James and they ran Maxwell’s Boatyard at Great Western Road, Kirkwall.

Magnus and Mollie had 4 daughters: Hilda born in February 1913, Rosa born May 1914, Edith born October 1915, all in Winnipeg and then, in February 1920, born in Deerness, Orkney, their final child, Vimy Ridge Maxwell.

Magnus Maxwell joined the Canadian Army on 19 July 1915. He had 2 years’ previous service, presumably in Orkney, in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was 24 years old, married with 2 small daughters and conscription did not become fact in Canada until 1917. He went to England in October 1916, a soldier in the 179th Battalion, the Cameron Highlanders of Canada. They crossed to France early in 1917 and he fought at Vimy Ridge, choosing then to name his youngest daughter in memory of some of Canada’s darkest days https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge

Magnus Maxwell survived Vimy, Passchendaele and more, as did Robert Ritch, youngest brother of David and Mollie. He also left Orkney for Canada, on 29 April 1913, from Liverpool on the SS Arabic. He was 18 years old and on the 14th of February had married Jessie Ann Slater of Kirkwall. Their son, Robert, was born later in 1913 and was not until 1920 that Jessie and Robert Jnr joined Robert Snr in Manitoba.

Robert, like Magnus Maxwell, joined the Cameron Highlanders of Canada on 19 July 1915. David had already arrived in France – on 17 July 1915. Robert also had 3 years’ service with the Royal Garrison Artillery back in Orkney according to his attestation papers. His profession is given as teamster, probably driving horses, but maybe trucks – hard to know at this point in vehicle advances. But his Army record states that on 18 October 1918, he was sentenced to 2 days unknown punishment because when on Active Service, contravention of First Army Routine Order 529, failing to have his horses bitted while proceeding along a main road.

Robert ended up in France in February 1916, with the 43rd Battalion, 3rd Canadian Division. He too may have been at Vimy Ridge and slogged through the rest of 1917 and 1918 suffering minor shrapnel wounds, finally being allowed home to Manitoba on 12 March 1919. He had had 3 home leaves, to Jessie and Robert in Orkney; 11 days in August 1917, 14 days in January 1918 and 16 days in January 1919. And, at last, on 19 August 1920, more than 6 years after their marriage, Jessie Ann and Robert Jnr set sail from Liverpool on the SS Melita, bound for Quebec.

Robert Snr died on 23 March 1966. Long after his death, a letter written by Robert to the parents of a friend in the trenches, William Heron, came to light amongst Heron family papers. Robert had written to them on Will’s death on 4 October 1916. Below are 2 newspaper articles from 2001 in which the story of how the Heron family traced Robert Ritch are told.

Robert Ritch and Will Heron 1

Article from the Orcadian - Undated.

  Robert Ritch and Will Heron 2 640x451

Article from the Orcadian - 31 May 2001.


David Ritch died in the Battle of the Somme. He had arrived in France on 17 July 1915 to become part of the strength of the 16th Battalion, 1st Canadian Division. He had joined the 43rd Battalion Cameron Highlanders of Canada on 5 January 1915, sailed to Britain on 1 June and then to France and into the thick of trench warfare in July.

On 10 July 1916 David was promoted to Corporal, and on 31st August to Sergeant. His Battalion was then at Brickfields, near Albert, close to the horrors of the front line of the Battle of the Somme. On 4th September they moved into the front line, under heavy German shelling. It’s not known when David was actually killed – his death is given as between 4 and 7 September – but his body was found and he is buried at Serre Road Cemetery, one of the huge burial grounds of those killed at the Battle of the Somme.

Whilst he was in the Canadian Army, David assigned some of his pay to his mother, Mary, at Free School, Deerness. She received a gratuity of $180 following his death. She was confirmed as David’s widowed mother by the Deerness minister, the Reverend A P Bathgate, in 1915 but in fact she was still married to the long-gone David Ritch Snr, and it was only in the early 1920s that the marriage ended, in divorce, his whereabouts still unknown.

The final part of the story relates to David’s older brother John, born in 1881 and 12 years older than David. John doesn’t appear in the 1901 Orkney census but in August 1917, his mother, Mary, was with him and his wife and son at 351 Hawthorne Road, Bootle, Liverpool. John’s wife, Isa (Isabella Elizabeth Grieve, Rousay) had been in hospital and their son Jimmy needed care, so Mary made the journey from Deerness to them and made it, describing her achievement, in a letter home of August 1917, as most wonderful to be an old woman. She wrote in the same letter that Robert (Bobby) was to be home in Orkney on leave whilst she was in Liverpool and she had a good cry to begin with, but later in the letter she could confirm Robert was going to come to Liverpool. She was back in Liverpool in December 1921.

In 1941 John was pier master of Liverpool’s Canada Dock and lived at the Dock. On 8th May 1941 Canada Dock, Liverpool was heavily bombed, part of the May 1941 Liverpool Blitz. Isa and John both died in that air raid, survived by Mary in Orkney, their son James and his wife Rhona, Mollie and family and Robert and family in Winnipeg.

The tribute inserted by their mother in the Orcadian in September 1917 stands good for both Mary’s sons, be it David or John

He sleeps not in his native land

But ‘neath a foreign sky

Far from the mother who loved him dear

In a hero’s grave he lies

Sweet be your rest, my David dear

Tis sweet to breathe your name

In life I loved you very dear

In death I do the same.

God’s will be done, we faintly cry

Our longing hearts may break

We deemed him ours, but he was thine

For he who gives can take.



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