Commander Ernest Orford Ballantyne stayed at Ashbank in Eskbank, Midlothian. He was in the Royal Naval Reserve and at the outbreak of war was given command of the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Viknor.
She had been requisitioned by the Admiralty and assigned to 10th Cruiser Squadron blockading the seas between the North of Scotland and Iceland.
On January 13th 1915 Vicknor set sail from Londonderry in Ireland, and headed out into the Irish Sea to make for her patrol area. On board her were 22 Officers and 273 Ratings mostly from the Royal Navy Reserve. The weather was bad and the sea was very choppy indeed.
HMS Viknor never reached her patrol zone, a search of the area was made and scattered wreckage was found in the sea. There were no survivors. Mystery surrounds her sinking, it was thought at first that a U Boat had sunk her, however German records showed that no such craft were in the area until the end of January.
It was officially recorded that HMS Viknor has been destroyed by an enemy mine, somewhere of Tory Island and that no one had survived. Over the next few days men from the ship were washed ashore and buried locally. In Bonamargie Friary there are four unknown graves of seamen from H.M.S.’Viknor’ .
Seaman John Bowen Mercer, who is buried in Colonsay Military Cemetery, was one of 25 men from Newfoundland on board Viknor. The other 24 men are commemorated on the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, the famous Caribou statue. It must perplex a few people when they see that they are Navy men so far inland, but this is Newfoundland’s monument to all it’s citizens who have no known grave.
Ernest Ballantyne’s body was not recovered amongst his men, his folks back in Eskbank gave up hope of finding him, and a memorial service was held at St Mary’s Chapel on 5th February.
Questions were put to Winston Churchill in the Houses of Parliament regarding the sea worthiness of Viknor and there were calls for a board of enquiry, all of which were dismissed.
On the morning of the 12th of February, 1915 Sgt Angus McDonald the local Policeman on the island came across the body of a naval officer in Castlebay. It was dragged from the water and from his insignia and other effects the body was identified as Commander Ballantyne.
He was taken home and buried in Dalkeith Cemetery with full military honours. Indeed it was one of the biggest funerals seen in decades in Dalkeith and a reporter from The Dalkeith Advertiser was there to record events, unusually a local photographer was also present and captured this image of the funeral.
Here is the report of the funeral itself from the Dalkeith Advertiser.