HMS Pheasant (1917): The Making of a Documentary

Eighty nine crew were aboard HMS Pheasant when she struck a German laid mine off Hoy, Orkney on 1st of March 1917. There were no survivors and  only one body was recovered: that of Midshipman Reginald Alexander Cotter RNR. He was 20 years old and he is buried in the military cemetery at Lyness, Hoy, Orkney. 

Cotter photo of grave

There are plans to put together a Book of Remembrance and hopefully a lasting memorial to those who lost their lives. This is led by Kinlay Francis from Orkney Uncovered,  Kevin Heath of SULA Diving and Orcadian historian Brian Budge.

The Orkney News intends to make a documentary film telling the individual stories of those who died, what impact their loss had on their friends and families and why it is important  that their sacrifice is remembered today. The film will also chart the progress of those compiling the Book of Remembrance and the proposed memorial on Hoy.

To make the documentary we need help. The Orkney News is looking for businesses and individuals who would like to support the making of the film either financially, in kind or with relevant information. The film will be 45 minutes long and contain interviews from the descendants of those who died, new research, family photographs and an original musical score.

If you can help us in any way please email:

For businesses who would like to support the project we will be  applying to Culture and Business Fund Scotland for match funding.

The Orkney News would also love to hear from more families of those who died. Please get in touch so that the stories of the 89 men who died that day can be told.

HMS Pheasant (1917)

HMS Pheasant was an M class destroyer built by Fairfield Shipyard on the Clyde and launched on 23rd October 1916. At 0.15 on the morning of 1st March 1917 the ship left Stromness to patrol the waters to the west of Orkney. Steaming down the west side of Hoy at full speed she most likely struck a mine off Rora Head close to the Old Man of Hoy that had been laid on the 21st January 1917 by German submarine U 80.

Despite the ensuing explosion being reported by the watch of  the Trawler HMT Grouse this message was not relayed to her skipper until 08.00. And at  08.15 the trawler HMT Oropesa reported finding ‘’ Large quantities of oil and some wreckage one mile west of Old Man of Hoy.” The crew also picked up a life buoy marked HMS ‘Pheasant’.’

maritime survey conducted by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving  has located the remains of the First World War destroyer HMS Pheasant.

HMS Pheasant- Multibeam Echosound Image. Copyright ORCA

HMS Pheasant- Multibeam Echosound Image. Copyright ORCA

The research  was a collaborative effort involving many organisations: Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute,ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Kevin Heath of SULA Diving, Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

Marine Scotland Survey Vessel. MV Scotia

Marine Scotland Survey Vessel. MV Scotia

The wreck , which is protected as a designated vessel under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, can be viewed through the use of Multibeam Sonar technology. The archaeological maritime survey  was conducted from the decks of the Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia. The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 means it can be dived but not entered or disturbed without permission from the Ministry of Defence.

The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.

The tragedy of HMS Pheasant is an untold story which film maker Martin Laird and writer Fiona Grahame are determined to share. We should never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the  families who lost their sons, fathers, brothers and husbands on that fateful day in 1917.

Cotter grave marker HMS Pheasant

Reporter: Fiona Grahame



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