On 11th of November 1914, Peter (Pat) Shearer, Chief Officer of the steamer Hangchow lost his life whilst attempting to save a Chinese sailor who had fallen into the water outside Newchang Bar, China. He was only 35.
Peter (Pat) Shearer was the son of the Kirkwall coal merchant also Peter, living at 17 East Road, Kirkwall.
In recognition of his bravery President Yuan Shi Kai of the Republic of China (1912–16) awarded a box scroll of honour to the family of Pat Shearer. The scroll in Chinese was translated :
“The Shui- wu Ch’u (Board of Customs) upon receipt of a report from the Superintendent of Customs at Newchang to the effect that the Commissioner of Customs asks on behalf of Mr Shearer, chief officer of the British steamship Hangchow, who lost his life in an attempt to rescue a sailor, who had fallen overboard, from drowning, that an honorary medal be conferred upon Mr Shearer for his family as a recognition and in token of his prowess, states that as a rule no medal can be bestowed after death, but, as we consider that Mr Shearer has set so noble and example to the public, we hereby recommend him for high praise and appreciation. By Presidential mandate, dated 25th April 1915, sanction for the bestowal of an honorary tablet bearing the four characters ‘ To sacrifice one’s life to acquire righteousness’, has been given, which hanging having been handed over to us by the Department concerned is herby sent to the Superintendent of Customs, who is directed to hand the same to the family of Mr Shearer. The Superintendent of Customs, acting upon the above instructions sends the hanging and the Shui-wu Ch’u report to the Commissioner of Customs for transmission to the bereaved family of a token of high esteem. “
There is a plaque in his memory presented by his brother officers in the China Coast Officers Guild in St Magnus Cathedral.
The Shearer’s were a large family but suffered loss when Pat’s younger brother William died in 1910 aged only 27. And like many families they also lost a son in World War I when Leslie Shearer was killed at Vimy Ridge on 13th of April 1917. He was 23.
Private Leslie Shearer died serving in the Canadian Infantry and is commemorated at the Petit-Vimy British Cemetery. It contains 94 First World War burials, 23 of them unidentified. He is also listed on the Kirkwall War Memorial.
Leslie Shearer emigrated to Canada at a young age. He joined up when the call came for recruits and before being sent to France he was able to spend a short time with his family. In a letter from The Front a comrade wrote:
“Just a few lines to express my deepest sympathy in your recent loss. I just went past him in the morning with the rations and he was in fine spirits; and about three hours after I hear that he was hit, and I went up, but he was gone. He was always cheerful wherever he was, and talking about what we would do when we would get back.”
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