James Wilson: Meritorious Conduct at Sea

Who: James Brunton Wilson
Job: Skipper
Where: Cellardyke / Adriatic Sea 
Repository: Scottish Fisheries Museum

Grand Order of Peter 1st Certificate. Image © Scottish Fisheries Museum

Grand Order of Peter 1st Certificate awarded to James Wilson
Image © Scottish Fisheries Museum

From 1915, Cellardyke man James Wilson was the skipper of the ‘Craignoon’, one of the many drifters requisitioned by the Government for war duties during the First World War. This certificate was presented to  James Wilson along with a gold medal for his brave actions in the Adriatic during WW1. The certificate and medal was issued to skippers based at Otranto but the details of the action which took place on 23rd July 1916 are not known.

Grand order of Peter 1st
Gold medal
Awarded by King Alexander of Serbia
For an action that took place on 23rd July 1916
For meritorious conduct on His Britannic Majesty’s vessel “Craignoon” this medal is presented to
James Wilson
Signed and dated 6th May 1921

However, James Wilson was certainly deserving of a certificate for ‘meritorious conduct’ as his actions during the Battle of the Strait of Otranto on 15th May 1917 demonstrated. When Austrian Cruisers attacked the drifter fleet, his ship the Craignoon was hit, James Wilson ordered his crew into the lifeboat, remaining at the wheel himself until they had been safely removed. He narrowly escaped with his own life as, while making his way to join the other men, a shell struck the wheelhouse he’d vacated only seconds before.

The men in the lifeboat were only 60 feet away from the vessel when the fatal shell struck the Craignoon’s boiler and, soon after, she sank. The crew were taken on board an Austrian ship, landed at Trieste and marched for 48 hours to an internment camp.

James Wilson was awarded the medal by King Alexander of Serbia for his ‘meritorious conduct’ three years after the end of the war having spent the remaining war years in the camp where they relied on Red Cross aid and parcels from home to keep them going until the end of the war. When hostilities ceased in 1918 the camp commander simply announced that the prisoners were free to leave. They made their way by train, first over the border into Italy, then on to Paris and thence home.

James Wilson on board the steam drifter William Wilson, c.1930s Image © Scottish Fisheries Museum

James Wilson on board the steam drifter William Wilson, c.1930s
Image © Scottish Fisheries Museum

De-mobilised at last, James Wilson resumed the life he had known prior to August 1914. Over the next 20 years he became a very successful skipper with shares in several fishing vessels.

He was called upon for war duties once again, however, in 1939. James Wilson died of natural causes aboard the drifter ‘William Wilson’ while serving at Scapa Flow on 25th March 1940.

Since it was established in 1967, the Museum Trust has collected artefacts connected to the history of fishing from all around the coast of Scotland, as well as from the Western and Northern Isles. The collection was officially recognised as being of National Significance in 2007.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum collection now consists of over 66,000 items covering the Scottish Fishing Industry from around Scotland with a particular focus on the East coast, and comprises archives, photographs and objects. Many of our archives are housed in our Research Library where visitors can access a wide range of material from primary sources (e.g. newspapers, Government reports, and boat registers dating from the 19th century to the present) to secondary sources (books and journals written on various aspects of the industry).

Also available is the Museum’s large (16,000) collection of photographs and slides showing fisherfolk, boats and harbours around the coast from the 19th century to the present. Additionally we have archive material relating to individuals and businesses linked to the industry. The library is open by appointment and is usually staffed on Mondays.


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