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HMS Pheasant 1917

Drawing of HMS Pheasant, an Admiralty M-class Destroyer, with a mine
HMS Pheasant, chalk & charcoal on watercolour, 2019.

HMS Pheasant was an Admiralty M-class Destroyer based in Orkney during WW1. Due to its strategic importance, Scapa Flow was the main base of the British Grand Fleet during both World Wars.

In the early hours of the 1st of March 1917, HMS Pheasant exploded with the loss of all hands. It had only recently been launched, on 23rd of October 1916. It is thought that the ship hit a mine.

Only one body was ever recovered, that of Midshipman Reginald Cotter, who was still alive when pulled from the water and is now buried in the Lyness Naval Cemetery on Hoy.

What happened to HMS Pheasant was virtually forgotten until a maritime survey conducted by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving located its remains off the coast of Rora Head, Hoy.

The background of the ship’s 89 strong crew is a slice of early 20th Century society in Britain. The men were from varied cultural backgrounds. There is currently no memorial to them, and many of their relatives never found out what happened. Since writing about the subject for The Orkney News, Fiona Grahame has been contacted by some family members, and has been uncovering their often remarkable stories.

A documentary about this tragedy, to focus on the lives of the individual crewmen, is currently in pre-production by The Orkney News team. We are seeking financial backing to take this project forward – if you are in a position to help with this, please get in touch via the contact form on this site or https://theorkneynews.scot.

This project follows on from our animated telling of the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society, A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm, which will shortly be showing at the Scottish Short Film Festival at the Art School in Glasgow, on Saturday 27th of July. Tickets are for the film festival are available from https://www.scottishshortfilmfestival.com/. A trailer showcasing the short films to be featured can be viewed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNW5I7DuJcY.

black and white photograph of Rora Head, Hoy
Rora Head, Hoy.

Art, design & animation. Contributor to The Orkney News and iScot magazine. Director of 'A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm', the animated story of the Orcadian Woman's Suffrage Society.

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