Flotta serviceman to be remembered at Scapa Beach commemoration
A courageous Orkney soldier who lost his life during the First World War has been chosen as the face of Armistice commemorations in the islands.
A large-scale sand portrait of Lieutenant Robert William Taylor MC, from Flotta, will be created at Scapa Beach on Sunday November 11 – and then washed away by the rising tide.
Seriously injured in 1917, he was 24 when he died of his injuries. His Commanding Officer remembered him as one “one of the most unselfish and cheerful fellows” he had served with.
The portrait of Lieutenant Taylor will be one of six created on beaches in Scotland as part of film and stage director Danny Boyle’s Armistice project Pages of the Sea.
People in Orkney are invited to gather at Scapa at around 3.30pm on Armistice Day and join an informal, nationwide gesture of remembrance for the men and women who left their home shores during the First World War.
National Theatre of Scotland is leading events on 11 November on the six Scottish beaches, supported locally by Orkney Islands Council.
In addition to the portrait of Lieutenant Taylor, there will be the opportunity for people to create their own silhouettes in the sand, remembering the millions of lives lost or changed forever by the conflict.
Lieutenant Taylor was born at Mounthoolie, Flotta, on 14 September 1893, the only son of Robert Taylor and Jane Taylor (née Sutherland).
He joined the National Bank of Scotland before enlisting in Kirkwall on 6h July 1915. He travelled to Glasgow to join No. 6 Depot, Royal Field Artillery as a gunner. He was soon promoted to Bombardier, then Lance Corporal. After his commanding officer recommended Robert for a commission, he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Special Reserve on 1 October 1915.
Robert joined D Battery, 83rd Brigade R.F.A. in the 18th (Eastern Division) in the field on 26 February 1916. His Division attacked at Montauban on 1 July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, when it was one of the few British divisions to succeed in all its objectives, at the cost of 3,115 casualties.
Robert earned the award of a Military Cross during the Battle of Passchendaele and was promoted to full Lieutenant before his division returned to the front to begin the relief of 11th Division on 10 October at Poelcapelle.
He was seriously wounded by German artillery fire and died of his wounds on 24 October 1917. His Commanding Officer was greatly saddened by his death and recorded a touching tribute to Robert that was published in The Scotsman on 19 November 1917.
It read: “Lieut. R.W. Taylor, MC, R.F.A. (died of wounds) was a highly popular and efficient young officer, who had been through nearly two years of the hardest fighting, and won the Military Cross last August by a rare exhibition of tenacity and skill in sending back information of the highest value while acting as forward observation officer.”
Robert Taylor was buried in at Dozinghem Military Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. He is commemorated on Stromness War Memorial, and also on a gravestone and on the war memorial in Flotta churchyard. His Military Cross is held at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.
In all, portraits will be created at 32 beaches around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. They will commemorate men and women who served or were casualties of the First World War. Most died during active service. Chosen by Danny Boyle, they represent the millions who gave their lives to the war.
The project is the culmination of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.