Orkney has hosted several major events that have helped to commemorate (not celebrate, Mr Trump) the centenary of the end of the First World War. From this comparatively small community, more than 500 men were lost in the conflict. Their names are remembered on the memorial gate close to the cathedral and on smaller memorials throughout the islands. Apart from the tragic and wasteful loss of these individuals, several incidents brought the effects of war close to home.
Scapa Flow became an important base for the Royal Navy. From here, many ships sailed to the Battle of Jutland in 1916, where a number of major vessels were lost along with thousands of crewmen. Just days later, Lord Kitchener, (he of the famous “You” recruitment posters) was lost along with over 700 crewmen when his ship struck a mine just off the west coast of Orkney. Although less well remembered, tragedy struck again when the battleship HMS Vanguard exploded at her moorings in Scapa Flow, killing more than 800. The misery continued in 1918 when two navy destroyers, HMS Opal and HMS Narborough were lost with all but one of their crews after smashing into the cliffs at South Ronaldsay. Even after the armistice, the drama continued with the internment of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. The defiant German admiral ordered the scuttling of dozens of vessels to keep them out of allied hands. In the confusion that followed, there was further loss of life.
It was therefore fitting that Scapa beach was chosen as one of the sites for Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea event on Armistice Day. This large scale interactive event involved people creating a huge image of a lost Orkney soldier which was finally washed away by the incoming tide. Details of the project are here:
At the same time the magnificent cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall took on the role of backdrop for a moving projected animation covering the theme of World War One. The film, featuring many aspects of the war and how it impacted on Orkney life, was created by the PlayDead company and attracted sizeable crowds as it was shown over a number of nights. You can see a report and more details about this event here: