Dundee reservists remember Great War sailor-soldier

Watched by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Charles Webster, Lieutenant Commander Niall Bennet lays a wreath on the grave of a sailor-soldier a century after his death in Dundee.

Sailors from HMS Scotia’s Tay Division joined Sea Cadets of TS Duncan, local dignitaries and historians to honour the sacrifice of fellow Dundonian George Oakley.

He’s one of more than 1,500 men from Tayside who answered the call in the Great War and signed up for the Royal Naval Division through HMS Unicorn in Dundee.

Oakley survived the horrors of Gallipoli – like many of his comrades he was sent home with dysentery and spent months recovering – Passchendaele where he was gassed (and spent another two months in hospital) and the great retreat of March 1918.

His luck ran out when taking part in a raid on German trenches near Albert on the Somme front in May 1918. His company suffered heavy casualties from machine-gun fire; George Oakley was struck several times.

He was evacuated to hospital in Dover from where his mother Maggie received a telegram: May be visited – three words which suggested the casualty was not expected to live.

Mrs Oakley made the 500-mile journey from the family home in McVicar’s Lane, Dundee, to the Channel port and arrived on June 6 1918 just in time to have a few final words with her son before he passed away.

George was still conscious when Maggie Oakley arrived from Dundee on 6 June 1918 and was able to speak to her, but died a few minutes later.

As he died on British soil, George Oakley was buried in his native city.

The memorial service was prompted by historian Dr Andrew Jeffery who regards the 10,000 Scotsmen who served in the Royal Naval Division during the Great War as ‘Scotland’s forgotten heroes’.

More than 1,600 Scots died serving with the division – which fought on the Western Front in 1914 and from 1916 to the war’s end, plus in the Dardanelles in 1915 – a casualty rate of nearly one in every six Scotsmen.

As part of WW1 centennial commemorations Dr Jeffrey and fellow local/naval historians are working to create a digital roll of honour listing the officers and ratings from Angus, Dundee, Perthshire and Fife who lost their lives serving with the RND.

It’s the intention of the reservists from Tay Division to attend further ceremonies commemorating RND fallen between now and Armistice Day on November 11.