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.

 

 

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.

Thomas Foubister

WW 1 Tommy Foubister

Thomas (Tommy or Tom) Foubister was born at New/Little/Peedie Grindigar in Deerness, Orkney on 30th November 1882. He was the son of Robert and Isabella Foubister (nee Foubister, of Cutpool, Deerness). His arrival in the world was overseen by Sarah Aitken, the local midwife, and he was Robert and Isabella’s fourth child, and third son, with a further 6 siblings to follow, one of whom died in infancy – five sons and five daughters.

Tommy started school on 24th April 1898 and he is the small boy at the far right of the front row in the photograph of the boys’ classes at Deerness Public School taken in 1902.

Deernes school

In the 1901 census the family were living at Peedie Grindigar but by the 1911 count the family had divided with Isabella (Isie), Tommy’s older sister, at Peedie Grindigar with another sister, Mary and two brothers, John and Alfred. The children of school age stayed at Peedie Grindigar being ‘mothered’ by their eldest sister Isie, whilst parents Robert and Isabella were farming on the island of Copinsay, with David, Tommy, Maggie and Edith living on Copinsay with their parents. Tommy is described as a farm worker in the census. His brother William, Willie or Billy, is at Gritley Cottage in Deerness, where he is described as a boarder, single and a journeyman blacksmith.

With sons in need of more work, Robert had taken on the tenancy of Copinsay in 1909, and was there for the next 10 years. There was plenty of scope for energetic young men, and there was a new, large double-storey farmhouse, with, after its completed construction in 1915, neighbours at the Copinsay Lighthouse.

Three of the Foubister men, David, Willie and their father, Robert, appear in a photo of egg collectors on Copinsay, safely returned from their dangerous cliff-side descent to collect sea-bird eggs, ‘running the lea’ of Copinsay. Willie certainly looks as if he had been down amongst the birds – a messy job leaving him spattered and stained white.

Copinsay egg collection 640x401

In 1911, at a time when there were no other organised clubs for young folk, Tommy and some of his contemporaries were members of the Star of the East Lodge, No 826, of the Good Templars, a temperance organisation very popular at the time. He was proposed for membership on 28th September 1911 and initiated later in October. He sang at the meeting of 28th March 1912, and again on 6th June 1912.

Tommy left Deerness at some point in 1913 to go to Canada, perhaps to join his older brother William, who had emigrated in 1911, settling in Duluth, USA, half-way between Minneapolis and the Canadian border. Their father had previously been to Canada, dates unknown, and it was said that following his return, Robert caused some amusement by always referring to horses as ‘’hosses’’, a carryover no doubt from his time in Canada.

By 4th December 1913, Tommy was back home in Deerness and asking his fellow Templars of Lodge 826, for ‘’restoration on his return from Canada,’’ and it was granted.

On 13th March 1914, Tommy’s sister, Isie, married Dod (George) Bichan of Oback in Deerness. Some extra dishes had been brought from Copinsay for the Wedding Supper, and Tommy, who was a witness to the marriage, was returning those to Copinsay when his boat was hit by a squall and capsized. His father, one of Tommy’s brothers and two of the workmen on the new lighthouse saw what had happened and a boat was immediately launched. The sea was very rough and they could not find the capsized boat but men on the crag of Copinsay could spy it and they guided them to Tommy, 30 minutes after his boat overturned. A motor launch had also set out and took the rescue boat in tow. According to The Orkney Herald report, ‘’it was only with the utmost difficulty that the motor boat could extricate itself and its charge from the powerful tide.’’ Tommy had had a very nasty experience and was brought home to the farmhouse, exhausted and cold and he immediately collapsed. He was revived but The Orkney Herald’s report concludes by saying that ‘’it is little short of a miracle that, in the heavy seas running, the rescuers were successful’’

August 1914 brought the start of World War 1 and Tommy, aged 22, with James and William Craigie of Breck, enlisted in November 1914, to the 8th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. The Craigie boys of Breck and Tommy Foubister were related to one another: Tommy’s father, Robert and the Craigie boys’ grandmother, Robina, were first cousins, their fathers being John and George Foubister, brothers, of Mussaquoy, Deerness.

Tommy was given the number S/6367 and after training in the south of England, the regiment was sent to France in July 1915. Prior to going there, the 3 men came home to Orkney on embarkation leave and a series of photographs survive of the 3 of them, together and individually, in their uniforms.

On 9th July 1915 Tommy drew up a Will, part of the stark preparation for going to France on active service. He left ‘’the whole of my property and effects’’ to his father. On the 9th of July, the 8th Battalion arrived in France, at Boulogne, and for the rest of July carried out further training and preparation for the battle ahead, away from any action.

On 9th August the Battalion suffered its first casualty when William Craigie suffered slight wounds from shrapnel – they were now entering the trenches and in early in August working parties set to, to improve these at night. The War Diary of the 8th Battalion relates the daily life of the Battalion throughout August, with lots of difficulties of supply and organisation and enemy shelling and sniper fire, but with very few casualties.

At the end of August they were brought out of the front-line, to billets which required much cleaning up, being described as ‘’in a filthy condition.’’ They worked on reserve trenches and digging latrines, carried out bombing training and generally prepared for and awaited the imminent offensive.

On 19th of September they returned to the trenches and artillery bombardment of the Germans began.

On 24th September they move into the front-line trenches ‘’in order to take part in the first line of an assault’’ and they are in position by midnight.

On 25th September, gas was released by the British for the first time, against their German enemy. The 8TH Battalion released their canisters in a light wind at 5.50am. Some blew back over them and one cylinder burst overhead and so ‘’a good many men of the leading Company were ‘’gassed’’ and were never able to leave the trenches at all’’

But at 6.30am ’’under German fire and quantities of shrapnel‘’ ‘’the men, having been previously fed and had an issue of rum, started the attack in splendid spirits.’’ The War Diary then gives a harrowing account of the Battalion overwhelming the German trenches and the village of Loos itself, followed by the desperate errors which led the Battalion, with others, onto Hill 70. There, the enemy rallied and inflicted terrible losses on the Seaforths, to the extent that when the order was given 30 hours later to the Battalion to withdraw from Hill 70, ‘’all that remained in being of the 8th Battalion was 1 subaltern and 35 other ranks.’’ At full strength, little over a day previously, it had consisted of upwards of 1007 men, of whom 30 were officers.

The 8th Battalion suffered grievously in the Battle of Loos with many wounded and many killed and of those, one was Tommy Foubister who died of wounds on Monday 27 September in 65th Field Ambulance.

Tommy was buried in Mazingarbe Communal Cemetery, in grave no 84. Mazingarbe is a small town between Lens and Bethune in the Pas de Calais and Tommy’s grave is one of over 100 World War 1 graves which have their place amongst those of the people of Mazingarbe in its Communal Cemetery.

The Orcadian of 23 October 1915 records his death and on 21 October his fellow-members of the Star of the East Lodge ‘’proposed that a note of sympathy be sent to the bereaved parents of our late brother Tom Foubister of the Seaforth Highlanders who has been killed at the Front’’

A notice appeared in The Orcadian in November 1915 recording his death,

‘’On Service – Foubister - Died of wounds in France on the 27th September Private Thomas Foubister aged 22 years, 3rd son of Mr and Mrs Foubister, Copinsay. Much loved and deeply mourned’’

James Craigie had also died at Loos but the news of his death did not reach Deerness until December 1915. Tommy Foubister was therefore Deerness’s first loss in battle. The impact of that death must have been profound on a small, tight-knit community with all its close family connections.

One week before Tommy’s death, on 21st September 1915, his older sister Isie Bichan of Oback, gave birth to her first child, who she called Tommy.

She placed an In Memoriam to her brother in The Orcadian of 30th September 1916

Perhaps some comrade breathed a prayer

Ere death forever closed his eyes

Though I am here my heart is where

My gallant brother lies

I mourn for you dear Tommy

Though with no outward show

For the heart that mourns sincerely

Mourns silently and low

Peaceful be thy rest dear brother

‘Tis sweet to breathe thy name

In life I loved you very dearly

In death I do the same

 

Like all the families of dead servicemen at the end of World War 1, Tommy Foubister’s parents were sent a Memorial Plaque, a bronze disc about 5 inches in diameter, inscribed with his name and the words ‘’ He died for freedom and honour’’. That plaque is held now by Bob Foubister, nephew of Tommy, son of his brother Alfie who, along with Tommy’s grand-nephews Alan and Rodney Bichan and Sidney Foubister, and Bob’s son, remembered Tommy on the centenary of his death, at St Ninian’s Kirk, Deerness on 27 September 2015.  

James H. Craigie

James Henry Craigie was born on 23rd June 1891, the eldest son of William and Margaret Craigie, nee Foubister, of Breck, Deerness, Orkney. William and Margaret were married at Mussaquoy, Deerness on 10th April 1890 when he was 24, she 16. William’s parents were David Craigie and Ann, nee Stove of Barebreck, Deerness and Margaret’s parents were James Craigie of Holm and Robina nee Foubister of Mussaquoy, Deerness. William and Margaret had another 2 children - William born on 6th August 1894 and Alice born 31st January 1896.

James started school in Deerness on 1st June 1897, leaving in May 1905, a month less than 14 years old. In the 1911 Census he is recorded as working at Breck with his father, brother William and his sister, Alice. Breck was a 60 acre farm and Pa o’ Breck, as their father was called, needed his family’s help to run the farm. The two-storey house at Breck looked much as it is today, with its views of Copinsay and the Bay of Newark, and south.

In 1910, James took part in the Deerness Ploughing match at Kitchen o’ Brecks and Yarpha, coming 12th for his ploughing, and 5th for his horse-grooming at. In 1911, he was 5th for his horse-grooming at the match at Braebuster, Deerness and in 1912, 6th for ploughing in the match at Greenhall, Yarpha and South Keigar, Deerness. His address is given as Aikerskaill for both 1911 and 1912, so it appears he was working there then, rather than wholly at home at Breck. He also competed in turnip hoeing matches at Barns o’ Ayre in 1911, coming in, in 5th place and 11th at Millfield in 1914.

The photo below, courtesy of Orkney Archive, was taken on the island of Copinsay, off Deerness, showing a group of Deerness men with baskets of eggs, collected from the cliffs of Copinsay, by men ‘’running the lea’’, roped down over the edge of the cliff to collect seabird eggs. The young man sitting at the front right is James Craigie. It’s difficult to know if he’s been over the cliff, or was he a helper at the top? His hands are dirty but his dark clothes clean by comparison to the white-stained clothing of young William Foubister, standing behind James, to his left.

Copinsay egg collection 640x401

When he was 17, on 3 June 1908, James joined No 6 Company of the Orkney Royal Garrison Artillery, the Territorial Army, at the Free School, Deerness and attended summer camps in Kirkwall. James’s enrolment records show he was 5’6’’tall, chest expansion 35’’ to 37.5’’, vision good and physical development good. His service no was 299. He was discharged on 2 June 1912, having completed his standard 4 years of service.

In September 1914, James, his brother William and their friend Tom Foubister of Little Grindigar, Deerness enlisted with the 8th (Service) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 44th Brigade 15th (Scottish) Division in Kirkwall. James’s number was S/6370. The Battalion was formed at Fort George near Inverness in September 1914 and went then to Aldershot, to Petersfield in November 1914, then Chisledon Camp on Salisbury Plain in February 1915, 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 appeared in Our Roll of Honour section of The Orcadian newspaper that summer.

alice and her brothers 324x450

A poem, Neuve Chapelle, appeared in The Orcadian in August 1915 attributed to Lance Corporal J H Craigie. The verses are not originally from his pen and appeared widely at the time in the Scottish counties from which the Seaforth Highlanders were recruited but adapted to suit each location. Jimmy Craigie may have made the Orkney adaptation and brought it home. What did his parents think, reading it, with 2 sons and Tommy Foubister heading to France?

neuve chappelle

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 his scalp and nose by shrapnel. 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 then took place 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 eventually re-captured only 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 in action, 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 James’s brother, 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.

James Craigie died, a prisoner of war, of stomach wounds on 26 September 1915 in a German field hospital in Harnes, 20 kilometres from Loos. The International Red Cross was notified of his death and burial at Harnes on 30 October 1915.

150925 J Craigie POW record 1 C G1 E 04 01 0018 0152 479x640

He was buried there by the Germans and lay there until post 1918 when he was laid to rest in Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension, now under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is buried in plot 1, row F, grave 8.

His friend Tommy Foubister died on Monday 27 September 1915, and is buried at Mazingarbe, approximately 6 miles from Lievin.

In the 18 December 1915 edition of The Orcadian the following report appeared

‘The parents of Lance Corporal J H Craigie (a native of Deerness) of the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders have been notified that their son was killed in action at Loos in September. Lance Corporal Craigie was first reported missing and it was stated at the time that he was neither killed nor wounded, and the presumption was that he had been taken prisoner. No news came from him however, and a few days ago the relatives were officially notified that he had been killed. Lance Corporal Craigie is the third of four young Deerness men who has fallen. The fourth, his brother, has been twice wounded and is still in France. The relatives have the sincerest sympathy of the whole community in their bereavement.’

William was killed 11 months later, on 26 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was never found and is remembered on The Panel of the Missing at the huge Thiepval memorial to the lost of the Somme. 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, and it is currently held 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, with 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 two Craigie boys, David Linklater, James Cromarty, John L Mowat and Tom Foubister. The Craigie boys were first cousins to David Linklater, whose mother Ann was their father’s sister. They were first cousins to James Cromarty, whose mother Euphemia was also their father’s sister. Their grandmother, Robina Foubister/Craigie/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.