By David McLaughlan
In the north east corner of the small windswept cemetery at Evie, some 6 miles north west of Kirkwall, Orkney is a rather weathered lichen covered headstone embossed with the emblem of the Royal Flying Corps.
The inscription reads:
“To the memory of 2nd Lt James Stevenson RFC who gave his life for his Country 1st May 1917 Aged 20 years.”
Situated on the North West Ayrshire coast is the town and fishing port of Girvan, and to the south of the town lies Girvan (Doune) cemetery. Within this cemetery and sheltered between two high sandstone walls is a headstone in the form of a cross to the memory of Sgt Christopher William Henry Bowers who had been a member of the Royal Flying Corps since 1913 (RFC roll No 932. Royal Aeronautical Certificate 3960) and had served in France from 12th August 1916. This airman was also lost on 1st May 1917.
Both had been occupants of a Boulton – Paul, Norwich built Royal Aircraft Factory FE 2b aircraft, serial 6975, that had been on charge with No2 School of Aerial Gunnery at Turnberry.
They were airborne that day conducting a training exercise, with Sgt Bowers as pilot and 2/Lt Stevenson, a RFC pilot himself, occupying the forward observers position.
From all accounts the exercise that day had proceeded according to plan, when suddenly the Beardmore engine began to develop problems. Whilst presumably looking for a place to land, the aircraft entered an uncontrollable spin during a turn and dived into the ground from around 30ft, it immediately burst into flames on impact as the fuel tank ruptured and exploded approximately 300 yards to the north of Turnberry lighthouse, sadly killing both occupants instantly.
2/Lt James Stevenson, born in 1897 was the son of Thomas and Ann Stevenson (nee Reid) of Evie. He had two brothers, Thomas and David , and two sisters, Peggy and Isabelle. His parents were originally from Westray, before moving to a farm at Newton, Costa, Evie on the Orkney mainland.
James had attended Kirkwall Grammar School and had planned to go to university prior to the outbreak of war. He was also a Late Patrol Leader in the 2nd Orkney Scout Troop.
His brother Thomas was in the Merchant Navy in WW2 and ended up in Australia while his other brother David stayed on at Newton to Manage the farm. His sister Peggy went to Alberta, Canada, but his other sister Isabella stayed in Orkney, got married and farmed at Sandwick.
After the accident James was resturned home for burial in Evie Cemetry, paid for by his mother Ann.
In addition both Stevenson and Bowers were commemorated on a memorial erected by the people of Turnberry to the RFC. RAF and United State Air Service casualties sustained by the School of Aerial Gunnery and Fighting. Designed by Colonel H.R. Wallace of Bushby and unveiled on 28th April 1923, this is situated near the shoreline overlooking the Firth of Clyde.
Related story: Routes of Remembrance: Marine Norman Isbister
A huge thank you to all who have supported The Veterans Charity moving act of Remembrance on Orkney, we have been very moved to see the places it has visited and can’t believe how much was achieved with such short notice. My hope was the wreath would be able to visit a few memorials but the local Armed Force and Veterans Breakfast Club were superb in their support and so much was achieved, thank you! Look out for 2022, the wreath will return and it is thanks to those who took part for making this “moving” act of Remembrance “move”! Iain, Trustee, The Veterans Charity.