History: In remembrance of someone I never knew

Drewie Laurenson recounts the story of his great uncle, James Scott Jamieson, who lost his life in the sinking of the Active, 94 years ago.

Some readers of this magazine may recall the article written by James Irvine entitled “Last Voyage of the Active” in Issue No. 312 (October 2006).

I, along with my sisters, May Anderson, Lerwick and Nessie Taylor, Tain, Ross-shire are the only surviving relatives of the late James Scott Jamieson, who lost his life through the sinking of HMW Active on 25th December 1915. Jamie Scott, as he was known to his family, was an uncle to my mother, the late Margaret C. Laurenson, and a brother to Andrew Jamieson (my grandfather), after whom I am named.

I hold the letter which Jamie Scott wrote whilst the ship was sinking and for those who may not have read it already, or even heard of the incident for that matter, I will reproduce it here:
“Dear Family, this will be my last letter to you. We are sinking to the North and East of Lerwick. God bless you all as he has given me strength to die, my soul is resting on the finished work of Jesus. A navy boat passed us and we told him we were sinking. I have been under the boat all night trying to get the water out . . . filled . . . (blanks illegible). The water is at my knees on the cabin floor. Don’t mourn for me, meet me in heaven, Mother, Father, Agnes, Andrew, Ann, Margaret, Coventry. Again God bless you all. I leave everything among you. Ta ta.  James S. Jamieson.”

What courage it must have taken to have the presence of mind to sit down and write such a poignant letter to his family in the face of what was inevitable. It was thought that the letter had been put in a bottle and thrown overboard, but some think it was in his pocket when he was found off the coast of Orkney. However, it eventually ended up in the hands of the Jamieson family, where it belonged.

Jamie Scott was a second officer on the HMW Active. The Orcadian, in its issue of 16th January, 2003, carried an article entitled “Tragic truth of a wartime wreck”, which told the story of the loss of the Active. It was stated that the body of Jamie Scott Jamieson, along with another crew member by the name of Peter Brymer, were washed ashore on Rousay in Orkney just after Christmas, 1915. It further stated that “those two bodies now lie in a small graveyard in Rousay where two tall stones mark their graves”.

I have been a seaman myself, having followed in the footsteps of my father, the late Magnus Thomson Laurenson, who also tragically lost his life at sea during World War II,  leaving my mother to care for my two sisters and myself, all under the age of three. Over the years I have had a desire to find out more about where my grand-uncle was buried and to visit his grave some day (unfortunately, due to Dad’s ship being torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean, he was not afforded a resting place where we can visit).

Earlier this year my wife Elizabeth contacted Sheena Marwick, the registrar in Rousay, to make some enquiries, and we were told that he was buried in the Glebe Churchyard on Rousay. We were then able to print off a list from the internet that gave the names of all those buried there and the inscription on the tombstones. It stated that Jamie Scott’s inscription read “In loving memory of James Scott Jamieson who was drowned through the foundering of the S.S. Active on 25 December, 1915 aged 37. Son of Andrew Jamieson, Longhill, Sandwick, Shetland”.

Our son Scott Magnus Laurenson (who is named after his great-grand-uncle Jamie Scott, his late grandfather, Magnus T. Laurenson and Elizabeth’s brother, his uncle Magnus) and who now lives in New Zealand, was also very interested in finding out more. We did some further research and also bought a book entitled The Dundee Whalers, where there is also a mention of the Active.

Having thought about it long enough, Elizabeth and I decided to make the trip to Rousay, Orkney, in July this year to visit the grave of Jamie Scott. We were given directions to the graveyard by Sheena Marwick, who, unfortunately, we didn’t get an opportunity to meet.

We found the graveyard, which was a short walk from the road, down through a field and beside the sea. This graveyard is of course no longer in use and hasn’t been for many years. The entrance had been closed off and the graves were surrounded by a solid wall, where steps up one side and down the other had been put in. We climbed over the wall and anxiously read all the tombstones, soon falling on that of Jamie Scott.

It was indeed a tall tombstone, with the inscription barely readable, and standing right next to that of Peter Brymen. It was a wonderful experience – if that’s the correct thing to say. Although obviously we never knew him it felt as though we had done the right thing.

The tombstone was showing its age and was covered in green moss, which we scraped off as best we could until we could read the entire inscription and take some photographs. I have to admit it was quite an emotional time, just to stand there and think about how such a young man had lost his life so tragically and how he could have had the presence of mind to sit and write a letter to his family. What courage.   We stood there at the grave for a while in the quietness of a beautiful day with our thoughts.

Before leaving we laid some flowers in remembrance of someone I never knew, but whom I felt was close to my heart that day. It was quite special.
Elizabeth took some photographs of that special day, and we have no doubt that this is something that our son Scott will hold onto for the future.


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