Otaki Centenary

Posted: Thursday 16 March 2017

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Friday 10 March 2017 saw several events centred around the commemoration of the Centenary of the sinking of the SS Otaki in World War I, and the loss of two Gordonians; Captain Archibald Bisset Smith VC and William Esson Martin (aged 14). Senior School Assemblies saw a video recounting events of that day in 1917, and heard the Otaki Lament composed by Mr Sumner, RGC Piping Instructor.

Seventy guests, all of whom have some connection with the SS Otaki and The Otaki Scholarship, gathered in The Craig Centre for Performing Arts. We were particularly pleased to welcome descendants of Captain Smith. A service, relayed to the Craig Centre by video link, was held in the Scholars’ Corridor, in the Auld Hoose, and Dr Gordon Farquharson (Otaki Scholar, 1944) and Fraser (Otaki Scholar, 2017) laid wreaths in memory of Captain Smith and William Martin. The Chamber Choir sang the Seamen’s Hymn – Eternal Father, strong to save – and The Last Post was sounded.

Guests then had some time to meet each other and to view the displays about the SS Otaki created by Junior School classes.

The focus for the next event was at the Front Gate of the College where a commemorative paving stone was unveiled as part of the national scheme to honour recipients of the Victoria Cross from World War I, on the anniversary of the action. A poem ‘The Waves, They carried a message’ written by S1 pupil Ella, was recited by Anna (Head Girl), before the stone was revealed. In his remarks, The Lord Provost said that the stone would act as a link between the past and the present, reminding the citizens of Aberdeen of previous acts of gallantry. 

Anna, Head Girl said: "The otaki poem was incredibly moving, and so it was an honour to read this to the family of Archibald Bisset Smith at the civic ceremony."

Fraser, Head Boy added: "I enjoyed the day immensely. It was an honour and a privilege to play a part in a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of the events of 10th March 1917. Reading aloud Archibald Bisset Smith's story at the front gate was a moment I'll never forget. It was also incredible to meet with and hear the stories of some of the previous Otaki Scholars and to witness the great connection between Gordonians. A truly special and unique day."

The Otaki name is well-known to the Robert Gordon's College community, and events on Friday brought it to the attention of the wider Aberdeen community. The paving stone will be permanent reminder to everyone of the qualities displayed 100 years ago by two Gordonians.

A summary of the events can be viewed below.

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