By Fiona Grahame Images By Martin Laird
It was a story that in the winter of 1942 would set the printed presses rolling from its beginnings in Orkney, south to Edinburgh and onwards to London. In amongst a plea from Tom Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland on the importance of Domestic Science lessons in schools, an advert from Dr Carrot and numerous accounts of Burns Suppers was a ‘monster’ of a story.
On Christmas Day 1941 two young lads were walking on a beach in the East Mainland of Orkney when they came across an horrific sight. Lying at the high water mark and entangled with seaweed was the remains of a giant sea creature.
Going home and saying nothing about the find, it was not until well into the New Year, 1942 that the remains, now badly decomposed and smelling , were rediscovered and duly reported. The local newspaper, The Orkney Herald despatched a reporter to the scene where Mr Charles Eve from Kirkwall, the Receiver of Wreck was taking photographs.
What became known as ‘The Deepdale Monster ‘ was about 25 feet in length with a skull that resembled that of a large sheep. It was lying stretched out with its head, neck ,back and tail in a straight line. It was also evident that some of the tail and bones had been removed.
Its shape and size led many to believe it to be the remains of a plesiosaurus and perhaps ‘a brother’ of the Loch Ness Monster.
Sea Monsters make regular appearances in the folklore of Orkney and many a strange remain is washed ashore on an Orkney beach. In 1808 the carcase of the Stronsay Monster when found was measured at 55 feet with a neck of 15 feet in length.
The Orkney Herald reported that the cylindrical, creamy white Deepdale Monster ‘bears no resemblance to any creature known to be living on Earth today.’
Charles Eve sent his measurements and photographs off to the Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in London. A report and remains were also dispatched to Dr A.C. Stephen, Keeper of the Natural History Department at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. On seeing the photographs Dr Stephen stated that it was most likely ‘a big shark’.
A telegram sent to Charles Eve from London stated:
“Many thanks for photographs. Large body is that of a basking shark, two small ones seals. No further interest. Writing you later.”
Many were sceptical about the conclusions of the experts. Mr Walter G. Grant, described as an Orkney antiquary was of the opinion it was a plesiosaurus and Robert Neish writing from Peterhead vividly described his encounter with the Loch Ness Monster, to add to the evidence that the Deepdale one was an ancient beast from the deep.
By the end of February 1942 the national Press were losing interest in the story but not so in Orkney which was said to be ‘seething with theories’. It was suggested the monster could have been encased in ice thousands of years ago, floated down to the islands, gradually thawing out and finally coming to rest on a beach in Holm. Another theory was that it was of a yet unknown species normally living in the farthest depths of the ocean which by some means had found itself in waters too shallow to survive.
It is said that people in Orkney were disappointed at the findings of the experts but that those who had seen it for themselves, and indeed smelled it, would not have agreed with the scientists.
The reports revived interest in creatures unknown to science with some like Robert Neish who had seen Nessie, writing at the time ‘It is hoped the “monsters” whatever they are will multiply and survive the war.”
At the beginning of 1942, Britain had been at war for over 2 years, the USA had recently joined in, Japan was on the advance in the East with the fall of Singapore and in Europe Germany was transporting Jews to its concentration camps. The Second World War had 4 more years to run. Much worse things would be washed ashore on many a beach across the world than happened one Christmas Day, at Deepdale, Orkney in 1941.
This story was first published in iScot Magazine