The Next of Kin exhibition opened at its final venue Orkney Museum on 18 February 2017.
Orkney’s strategic role in the First World War makes this a particularly fitting home for the exhibition, joining a wealth of other events taking place in the islands to commemorate the conflict. In 2016 Orkney hosted the national commemoration of the Battle of Jutland, the key naval engagement of the Great War, and Poppies: Weeping Window was installed at St Magnus Cathedral, part of the UK-wide tour of this emotive artwork by 14-18 NOW. Find out more about Orkney’s role in First World War commemorations on the Orkney Islands Council website.
At Orkney Museum the core Next of Kin displays from National Museums Scotland’s collections have been joined by two fascinating local stories told through objects from the museum’s own collections. The first story recalls the kindness experienced by servicemen at the home of the Clouston family at Caldale Farm near Kirkwall. A Royal Navy air station was constructed near the farm, coming into service in July 1916.
Caldale Naval Air Station provided cover for shipping around Scapa Flow and into the North Sea. It was equipped with three Sea Scout Pusher or Submarine Scout Pusher, non-rigid airships, as well as kite balloons that were moored to ships to look out for U-boats and to direct gunfire. The high winds experienced in Orkney made flying dangerous; tragically, two of the three airships stationed at Caldale were lost with all six crew members in November and December 1917. After that the air station was used for providing kite balloons only.
The Clouston family welcomed the men into their home, treating them to local produce and giving them a taste of the family life they were missing far from home. Before they left Orkney the men signed a tablecloth for the family and their signatures were later beautifully embroidered, a labour of love which expresses how much this gift meant to the family. The men also wrote messages and made drawings in two autograph albums. These treasured possessions were donated to Orkney Museum by Miss Margaret Clouston.
The second local story concerns Able Seaman Stanley Cubiss from Keighley in Yorkshire who joined the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth at the age of 14. He was an Engine Room Artificer on the destroyer HMS Opal, stationed with the Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow, and had served at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
On the night of 12 January 1918 the ship was on Dark Night Patrol to the east of Orkney with the destroyer HMS Narbourgh and the cruiser HMS Boadicea, on the look-out for German submarines. A blizzard forced the destroyers to return to Scapa Flow and in poor visibility they ran into cliffs at South Ronaldsay. There was only one survivor from the two ships; 188 men, including Stanley, were lost.
Stanley’s widow Florence (Flo) made the journey from Yorkshire to Orkney after the war to see where her husband died. The couple had married on 28 June 1917, less than seven months before Stanley’s death. A collection of objects kept by Flo until her death in 1971 was gifted to Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum by Stanley’s nephew, Brigadier Malcolm Cubiss, together with a gold ring found by a diver at the wreck site in 2007. The inscription inside the ring reads: ‘To Stanley from Flo – 6 March 1916’.
The exhibition can be seen at Orkney Museum until 20 May.