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.
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.
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.