Wednesday, 14 October 2009

HMS Royal Oak

On 13 October 1939, the Royal Navy's HMS Royal Oak, at anchor in Scapa Flow, Orkney, was struck by four torpedoes from German submarine U-47. The first torpedo did no major damage when it struck just before 1 am. The last three torpedoes, fired at 1.16 am, proved fatal. Within 13 minutes, Royal Oak turned turtle and went to the bottom, taking 833 crew with her. She currently still lies in 100 feet of water, upside down, reaching 5 metres / 17 feet below the surface of the water. The site is marked by a green wreck buoy and has been marked as a wargrave.

Tomorrow, the 70th anniversary of this tragedy will be remembered in Orkney's main town, Kirkwall. Last year, I visited Orkney and called in at the Royal Oak memorial ashore at Scapa, near the local Coastguard Station. I'll share some of the pictures I took at the time, dedicating this entry to the memory of all those lost there in 1939.

The wreckbuoy

Monday, 5 October 2009

Who is who?

Researching the two Rolls of Honour for the Isle of Lewis yielded a strange piece of confusion. Neither the historical society in Uig nor the one for East Loch Roag were able to clarify this for me.

The two servicemen pictured below are both described as John Macleod from 1 Enaclete and Finlay Maclean from 36 Breasclete.

1916 Roll of Honour
Finlay Maclean, Breasclete, Roll of Honour 1916

1921 Roll of Honour

Finlay Maclean, 36 Breasclete - Roll of Honour 1921

1916 Roll of Honour
John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1916

1921 Roll of Honour
John Macleod, Enaclete - Roll of Honour 1921

Friday, 2 October 2009

In recent years, I have assisted someone to trace their ancestors, using census returns. In Scotland, censes are taken every 10 years, starting in 1841. They are publicly available up until 1901; the 1911 census will become available in 2 years from now. A census provides an eerie look back down the year, showing a very narrow insight what was going on in the land on a specific evening. A babe in arms in 1891, for instance, living in a town in northeastern Scotland turns up visiting his aunts in Stornoway as a lad of 10 in 1901. The inaccuracies can provoke furious conjecture, particularly as the census takers in the Western Isles may not have been familiar with the Gaelic names and their spelling.

A different, more poignant insight, was created by an interim Roll of Honour here in the Isle of Lewis. There are actually two Rolls of Honour, one published in 1916 and the final one (for the First World War) in 1921. The 1916 Roll, which I finished transcribing this week, lists 4360 names, as opposed to 6030 in the 1921 list. Not all the names in the 1916 list are present on the 1921 list, and the total number of these discrepancies could run in the hundreds. The poignancy lies in seeing names of men, still alive in early 1916, who would die in later years of the war. The Battle of the Somme, which commenced on 1 July 1916, would claim many, as would the Iolaire Disaster on 1 January 1919. Quite a few other names are not on the 1916 list, as they had not yet joined up. I remember the case where one brother signed up for military service after his brother had been killed on the Western Front. Both never returned.

Image courtesy Daily Mail