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

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.



William Craigie

William Craigie was born on 6 August 1894, at Breck, Deerness, Orkney, the second son of William Craigie, Pa o’ Breck, and Margaret Craigie, nee Foubister of Mussaquoy, Deerness. Their oldest son, James, was killed at the Battle of Loos on 26 September 1915, aged 24. Their only daughter, Alice, was born in 1897. William started school in Deerness on 23 April 1900 and is in the school photo below, taken in either 1902 or 1903, fourth in from the right, in the second row from the front.

  Deerness 1902 03 boys at school

The 1821 census shows Craigies at Breck, when the land was owned by the Earl of Zetland. In 1851 Breck consisted of 15 acres and 12 acres of common land. In 1871 there are 60 acres, 6 daughters, 1 son (William), 1 aunt and 3 servants. By 1901 the farm was being run by William, Pa, and his wife Margaret, with their 3 young children and David Foubister, their horseman.

William Snr’s sisters all left their home at Breck and were variously settled both in Deerness and further afield; Jane became Mrs Armstrong in Fife and Helen, Mrs Penn in Australia. Euphemia married William Cromarty in Deerness and their son, James died as a result of wounds in December 1919; Ann married Robert Linklater of Upper Braebuster, Deerness and their son David was killed at Salonika in January 1918. All 5 of Ann’s sons saw service during World War 1.

Along with his brother James and his friend Tom Foubister of Little Grindigar, William joined up In September 1914, enlisting in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 44th Brigade 15th (Scottish) Division. William’s number was S/6341. The Battalion was formed at Fort George near Inverness in September 1914 and went first to Aldershot and then to Petersfield in November 1914, from where there survives a postcard from A Eunson at Halley, Deerness to William:

Dear Willie, How do you like your work now and how many Orkney ones are with you. I hope the weather is better with you than we have it. Wishing you a Happy New Year.

They were then moved to Chisledon Camp on Salisbury Plain in February 1915, to Tidworth in May 1915 and on 4 July 1915 the Battalion received their orders for France, arriving in Boulogne on 8th July. Prior to that, in June 1915, the Craigie brothers and Tom Foubister were given embarkation leave, home to Deerness and the photo below is of James and William, with their sister Alice, taken in June 1915.

Craigies 453x640

Photographs of the three men appeared in Our Roll of Honour section of The Orcadian newspaper that summer.

On their day of arrival in France, William drew up his will.

In the Event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to Mr Wm Craigie, Breck, Deerness, Orkney, Scotland.

Signed Pte W Craigie no 6341 8th Seaforth Highlanders, 8 July 1915

It is written on a printed paper, headed Will and these were given to the men to complete if they so wished, before going on active service. If James, William’s brother, and Tom Foubister made such wills, they have not survived.

On 6th August 1915, the Battalion took over a sector of the line from the 7th Cameron Highlanders with the transfer of men into the trenches accomplished by 11pm that night. On 9th August, William Craigie was the Battalion’s first casualty, when he was slightly wounded on the scalp and nose by shrapnel – see Battalion War Diary. Between early August and 20 September the Battalion spent time, occasionally under fire, in the trenches working to make them better fit for purpose and out again in billets where they also worked to make themselves battle-ready.

On 21 September 1915 they were in trenches at Grenay Vermelles and artillery bombardment of the enemy began. On 24 September, they moved into front-line trenches and at 6.30am on 25 September the men, having been previously fed and had an issue of rum, started the attack in splendid spirits and so began the Battle of Loos.

Prior to coming over the top, and the launch of their attack, the British had unleashed gas for the first time, the Germans having previously employed its hideous effect. For 40 minutes prior to 6.30am, alternate releases of gas and smoke were made but there was little wind to move the dreadful mixture into the German trenches and some of the Seaforths were themselves unable to attack, having been gassed by their own side. The Germans moved quickly back to Loos itself, emptying their trenches for the British to take, but with many losses. Hard hand to hand fighting followed and the village was cleared and the Seaforths and other regiments of the Brigade advanced onto Hill 70 beyond Loos, in error. The attack should have been against Cite St Auguste but confusion over maps and landmarks led to the move onto Hill 70 which was disastrous. The Hill proved impossible to hold and eventually it was abandoned on 30 September, and only, eventually re-captured in August 1917.

Records show that on 25 September 1915, 8 officers and 250 other ranks of the 8th Battalion were killed in action and 2 other ranks died of wounds. On 26 September 1 officer and 7 other ranks were killed, and 1 officer and 8 other ranks died of wounds; a further 3 other ranks died of wounds on 27 September, 2 on the 28th and 1 officer on the 29th. A further 1 officer and 13 other ranks died of wounds between 1 and 31 October. The Battalion therefore lost 285 other ranks, including Jimmy Craigie and Tommy Foubister, and 11 officers killed at Loos plus many more wounded or gassed - including William. At absolute full strength a battalion was made up of 1007 men and officers. At Loos the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders saw more than 1 in 4 of its number killed over a 30 hour period on 25 and 26 September.

The 8th Battalion remained in the trenches on the battlefield of Loos, the dead and wounded being replaced by new recruits from the UK, including volunteers pre January 1916, and men under conscription thereafter. It’s not known how badly William was wounded at Loos, nor where he recuperated, to then come back into service, but he also seems to have seen action at The Kink on 11 May 1916 and was involved in a gas attack at The Hulloch between 27 and 29 May 1916. The records for the Seaforths suffered badly in the Blitz of World War 2 and many, including William’s, were totally destroyed.

However: 15th Division was finally relieved in the Loos battlefield on 21st July 1916 and then marched 64 miles south to join the Battle of the Somme. During the night of 7th/8th August, 15th Division relieved the 23rd Division in the line east of Pozières, in 111 Corps front on the left of the Fourth Army and in touch with Australian troops on its left.

15TH Division attacked the German-held trench known as the Switch Line, between Pozières and High Wood, on 12th August, when the Germans also attacked its line. The German attack was easily repulsed, but the Scots took heavy casualties gaining footholds in the Switch Line. These were gradually consolidated and enlarged in difficult fighting, despite heavy German shellfire and numerous counterattacks.

8th Seaforth took heavy casualties holding the Switch Line against heavy German attacks on 17th-19th August….. Heavy German shellfire continued and took the life of William Craigie on 26th August. (Brian Budge, ‘William and James Craigie’).

The Orcadian, later that September, recorded that the sad news was received by his parents on Thursday last of the death of William Craigie, which took place on the 26th August, owing to the bursting of a shell near him....... Deceased was very promising young man, 22 years of age. Of a cheerful, and obliging nature, he was liked by everyone, and the deepest sympathy is felt for his parents and sister in this, their second bereavement. At the close of his sermon in the Established Church, on Sunday, the Rev. Mr Craig paid a very feeling tribute to the memory of the deceased, and also expressed the deepest sympathy for the bereaved parents and sister in their sorrow. Mr and Mrs Craigie have received letters of sympathy from Private Craigie’s platoon and section commanders, expressing the high esteem in which he was held by his comrades.

William was never found and is remembered on The Panel of the Missing at the huge Thiepval memorial of the Somme. Thiepval remembers 72000 men lost, literally, in the Somme sector up to March 1918. They have no known grave and the huge structure is inscribed with the names of the thousands of the dead. In September 2004, a new visitor centre was opened at Thiepval and William is commemorated there, along with the tragic fact that his brother James had also been killed, the year before.

James and William’s sister, Alice, married James Lennie Brass of Ducrow in Holm in 1927. Their son, William Craigie Brass married Isobel Rosie of Grind, Deerness and they had two children, Norman William Brass and Johanna, now Geddes. Norman’s son is William Craigie Brass, Johanna’s son Graham James Geddes. Both Norman and family and Johanna and family have visited Lievin Cemetery and Thiepval and keep their grand uncles’ medals and bronze memorial plaques. Johanna also purchased one of the memorial red china poppies from the Tower of London, in 2015, in memory of her grand-uncles and it is now framed (courtesy of Edna Panton) and displayed by the Friends of St Ninian’s as part of the ongoing commemoration of Deerness’s World War 1 dead and survivors.

Deerness is a small community and had a population of c. 650 during World War 1. There are 13 men listed on the War Memorial, all from World War 1, including the brothers, James and William Craigie, David Linklater, James Cromarty, John L Mowat and Tom Foubister. The Craigie boys were first cousins to David Linkater. They were first cousins to James Cromarty. Their grandmother, Robina Mowat was stepmother to John L Mowat. Their grandmother, Robina, was also a first cousin of Robert Foubister, father of Tom, with whom the Craigie boys signed up for what probably seemed like a very big adventure, in August 1914.

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