THE ORRS AT WAR
A THEMATIC APPROACH TO A ONE NAME STUDY
This article first appeared in
The Journal of the Guild of One Name Studies and is now amended
and includes lists
of casualties in WWI and WW II.
Roll of Honour
McCrae, the Canadian poet and army doctor, penned the haunting poem `In
Flanders Field`, which has at its end a poignant cry to remember:
In Flanders fields the
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Here is an image of the
original poem dashed off on a scrap of
paper in a lull in the fighting. Let us not forget them that gave their
lives that we might enjoy liberty and peace.
The Commonwealth War Graves
maintains the graves and memorials for 1.7 million soldiers, sailors and
airmen who died in both World Wars. The CWGC database also lists over
60,000 civilian dead in the UK. Many of
the smaller graveyards that are scattered throughout the former war zones
have been consolidated and now also contain the dead of World War II. It
speaks volumes that so many of our soldiers gave their lives in two wars
at or near the same places such that they can lie together in a foreign
The opening of the CWGC web
site afforded the opportunity to search for relatives that hitherto been
just "Uncle Fred died in WWI". A recently issued CD of Soldiers of the
www.naval-military-press.co.uk, is another source which can provide
additional information. This wealth of information for my already large
One Name Study prompted me to adopt a thematic approach - "The Orrs at
War," which could be both a factual record of persons and an understanding
of their history and background events.
It is likely that Orrs met
their maker from the earliest times through military service. As a West
coast of Scotland family, some may well have been employed as "galloglass"
(mercenaries) in Ireland as long ago as the 13th century. In the 16th ,
17th and 18th centuries many disenchanted Protestants and Catholics sought
military service with other European states and did so, often with great
distinction, in France, Spain, Germany, Poland. Sweden, and Russia.
Orrs were prominent in a
variety of ways in the burgeoning America and some 102 of their number
have been found who served in the Revolutionary War or War of Independence
(1774 - 1783) . Hugh Orr from Lochwinnoch (1717-1798) manufactured 500
muskets in 1748, and in the war he was well established as an iron-founder
and arms merchant. His son Colonel Robert Orr was armourer at Springfield,
Division occurred between
and sometimes within emigrant families with many of the British supporters
going to Canada during the conflict. The remainder supported the American
cause of Independence. The story of the Empire Loyalists as they became
known is of itself a fascinating story.
No less than 129 Orrs from 16 States are recorded as taking part in the
1812 War against Britain. The distribution of the volunteers is an
interesting illustration how mobile the immigrants were and their spread
across the country from Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland New Jersey and
New York in the North East down the coastal plain through Virginia, North
and South Carolina to Georgia; through Pennsylvania and the Ohio valley to
Tennessee and Arkansas and all points west to Texas.
I had heard of the Coloured
Troops and I paid a visit to the African American Civil War Memorial web
site and read the excellent article by Walter B. Hill, Jr. on their
history. I was surprised to learn that slavery and its abolition was not
initially a major issue in the American Civil War. But the realisation
that the Confederacy were using slave labour to further their war effort
led to the Second Confiscation Act and Militia Act (July 1862) which
authorised the enlistment of all able bodied citizens between the ages of
18 and 45, including "persons of African descent". A consequence of this
was General Order 143, Adjutant General`s Office , May 22nd, 1863, and the
creation of the Bureau of Colored Troops . The first regiment of the
United States Colored Troops was mustered in June 1863 and 24 black
American Orrs, former slaves or sons of slaves served the Union cause.
By way of illustrating the
way the wider Orr "family" was split, there were 16 Orrs who served with
the Confederate regiments from Louisiana. A total of 1411 Orrs appear in
the Muster Rolls, some served for years while others responded to alarms
and only served a few days before they were stood down.
Congressional Medal of Honour
Two Orrs were awarded the
Medal of Honour for courageous action under fire.
Charles A Orr.
Born in Holland, New York,
he joined the Army at Bennington NY. As a Private, with Company G, of the
187th New York Infantry, he and two others rescued several wounded and
helpless soldiers at Hatchers Run, Virginia, on 27 October, 1864.
Robert L Orr.
Born 28 March 1836 in
Philadelphia, PA. He served as a Major in the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry.
At Petersburg, Virginia on 2 April, 1865, he retrieved the colours which
had twice fallen and carried them under fire at the head of the column.
In modern times the
American Orrs paid the highest price in World War I. WW II, Korea and in
Vietnam. The American aspect of the two world wars is a work in progress
but I do know of 45 Orrs who were killed in action during WWII and a
further 29 who were prisoners of war. Eight American Orr's were killed in
action in the Korean War. In Vietnam 524 Orrs were in action there, of
whom 14 are listed as killed and are commemorated at Arlington National
Turning to the Commonwealth
countries, I was suprised to find that Australian units took part in the
Boer War 1899 - 1902 and three Orrs were among their number: D. Orr of New
South Wales; H. Orr of Queensland , and John Orr of Tasmania, a Corporal
in the Fourth Tasmanian Contingent, Second Imperial Bushmen, Colonial
Military Force, who was killed in action 18 November, 1901.
By the time of the Great
War, 1914 -1918, very many Orrs had emigrated, taken up citizenship and
joined the military. There were those who had recently emigrated and
returned to the land of their birth to join up, and those who signed up
anyway, such as S. Orr and John Richard Orr from Downpatrick, Co. Down ,
who served in the Canadian Infantry; Thomas Orr from British Columbia,
Canada who served in the 1st / 5th Northumberland Fusiliers; and Wallace
Orr of San Francisco, California who served with the 1st Bn. Canadian
Machine Gun Corps. Australia was well represented in WWI with 106 Orrs
identified as having taken part, 21 being killed in action or dying from
their wounds. Three of them were awarded the Military Medal for gallantry
- Pvte Arthur Orr; Bombardier William Arthur Orr, and 2nd Lt James
The Canadian Orrs were also
well represented with 236 of their number listed in the Canadian National
Archives as serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of WWI. 60,000
Canadians died in WW I (11,000 with no known grave) and are commemorated
at the Vimy Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
401 UK and Commonwealth
Orrs died for their country in the two World Wars, including two persons
who adopted the Orr surname as an alias when joining up. Based upon the
origin of the regiment or service that they served in, the distribution
Canada 40 New Zealand
Hong Kong 1 Scotland
South Africa 4
One death in a family is
tragedy enough but there were occasions when brothers were lost. Two sets
of brothers were among the New Zealand losses in WW I - Robert Charles Orr
and John William Orr from Auckland; Ernest Orr and Henry William Orr from
Hamilton. There were brothers Herbert Orr, and F. Orr from Oldham,
Lancashire; and, from the tiny island of Malta brothers Arthur George Orr
died in 1917 and David died 1945. The
brothers theme continues in my
It is particularly sad to
record the death of both father and a son in active service. Sapper James
Orr, 6 Bomb Disposal Coy. Royal Engineers died 3 October 1940. His son,
Robert John Dillon Orr, 2nd Bn Royal Ulster Rifles, aged 20, died at Caen,
France on 19 July 1944. Neither were the civilian population spared from
family disaster. In Glasgow Annie Orr aged 29 and her mother Annie Goodwin
Orr were killed in their home at 2, Shiskine St., Maryhill, on 14 March
1941.Nine civilian Orrs were killed by enemy action.
In the UK, every town has
its War Memorial and we are familiar with the sight of the Cenotaph in
Whitehall, London , which features in every Remembrance Day parade. 1998
was the 80th anniversary of
the Remembrance Day services and included poignant scenes on television
from the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. Those commemorated at these places,
such as the American War Cemetery in Flanders (picture) are but a few of
the whole and we should not forget that the roll call at other memorials
runs into millions.
The theme approach is
certainly very interesting and rewarding, providing the opportunity to
look at diverse aspects of my family. On the topic of war it was
heartening to see the patriotism that caused young boys to lie about their
ages in order to sign up, the stoicism of families who lost loved ones and
suffered great hardships without a bread winner, and of the gallant acts
by so many.
I was not prepared for, and
was chastened by, the numbers of soldiers, sailors and airmen who emerged
from my research as having no known grave - whose only memorial, if any,
is on a plaque somewhere. More than anything else, this absence of a known
grave demonstrates for me the wanton obscenity of war - it also serves as
a silent reminder that we must not forget those who gave their lives for
More on the Orrs at War.
World War I and their regiments
National Memorials. UK
Memorials in France
Memorials in Belgium, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Tasmania, New Zealand
Memorials of World War II .
National War Memorial of Scotland, Edinburgh
There are many very
good sites dealing with the two World Wars. If you have a particular
battle or war zone in mind try using
www.google.com and insert the name `+ memorial`
Two excellent sites are: