A memorial for generations to come

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Centenary commemoration for the men of HMS Hampshire and HM Drifter Laurel Crown (image: Lucy Gibbon)

On Sunday the people of Orkney welcomed relatives of 737 men who were lost when HMS Hampshire sank in the First World War for a centenary commemoration.

HMS Hampshire hit a German mine about 1.5 miles off Orkney’s Atlantic coast in atrocious weather conditions. Only 12 crew survived.

The Kitchener Memorial, a 48-feet high stone tower on Marwick Head, Orkney, overlooking the site of the tragedy, was unveiled in 1926 to remember Britain’s Secretary of State for War, one of the men who died.

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HMS Hampshire commemorative wall (image: Orkney Heritage Society)

But no other names appear on the tower so Orkney Heritage Society, while restoring it, also created an adjacent low arc-shaped wall engraved with the names of everyone who was lost on the night of 5 June 1916.

On 22 June 1916 nine more men, including Orcadian George Petrie, were lost when HM Drifter Laurel Crown hit another mine nearby. Their names are also on the wall.

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The HM Drifter Laurel Crown panel on the wall (image: Orkney Heritage Society)

The new wall was unveiled as part of Sunday evening’s service and there was a two-minute silence at the actual time of the sinking.

The feedback from the relatives after the service – and the weekend hospitality organised by Birsay Heritage Trust  – is heart-warming. Comments include: “Thank you from my heart… I and my party were made to feel like old friends. I do hope I can revisit your lovely island again… The islanders did us all proud… a truly memorable event in my life.”

The service was broadcast on the internet, and can be viewed again here:

http://livestream.com/accounts/19161857/Hampshire

One person watching online was Liz Granby, who was moved to write: “l am thinking of you all on this special day. I have just written this in remembrance of those men whose names are on the memorial, especially my uncle George Edwin Smith. Thank you to the people of Orkney for remembering the Hampshire.”

The seagulls cried and the sea rose up 100 years ago today,
As the brave men on the Hampshire sailed out into the bay.
The cold black mine that lay in wait bobbed up and down with the waves,
Waiting patiently for the ship to hit and to take those brave lads to a watery grave.
Let us remember all those men, and read their names with pride.
Carved here on this Grand Memorial as we stand side by side.

Liz Granby

Children from Dounby Community School in Orkney made a recording of the names of all the men lost with HMS Hampshire which was played as people arrived for the service. You can hear their living tribute in full here:

https://soundcloud.com/milestone-kirk/hms-hampshire-memorial-list-of-names

A key theme of the service was established with a poem in three parts by Rev David McNeish, one of the ministers who led the service:

Let there be stones
– on the centenary of the loss of HMS Hampshire

Let there be a tower of stones.
A monument to a man and more.
A refuge from the inhospitable sea.
Hewn from rock,
Raised by the people of Orkney.

Let there be a tower of stones.
At the nearest point of land.
The highest point of survey.
A beacon of solidity.
A fixture for generations to come.

Let there be a tower of stones.
____________________

Let there be a wall of stones.  
Gathered in an arc
The curve of horizons
And protective arms
The shelter stones of harbour
And safe passage.

Let there be a wall of stones.
Built on solid foundations
Strengthened against the battering wind.
And fashioned by hands who know how to neighbour rocks.
This is no hasty undertaking.

Let there be a wall of stones.
To better remember.
And on this wall.
Let every name be etched.
Every name recalled,
Every life valued and mourned
In grief and gratitude.

Let there be a wall of stones.
__________________

Let there be living stones.
People cut and crafted in different places.
Forged in different fires
Pressed in different circumstances.
Gathered in reflection.

Let there be living stones.
Succeeding generations
Of survivors, of relatives,
Of locals.
For voices that were silenced
May the stones themselves cry out.
Recalling details and dramas long since played out.
Petitioning the wind for forgiveness.

Let there be living stones.
Men and women who stand
Against all injustice
Against all hatred and tyranny.
Against every act of oppression
Whose lives are prayers for peace,
Vital poems of compassion
And monuments of mercy.

Let there be living stones.

Rev David McNeish

There are many reports online and in print about Sunday’s events, and lots of wonderful photographs on social media. Orkney’s weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, has produced a splendid commemorative pull-out.

Some of the online reports…

http://www.orcadian.co.uk/2016/06/hundreds-gather-remember-loss-hms-hampshire/

http://www.centenarynews.com/article/orkney-remembers-the-dead-of-hms-hampshire

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-36443888

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/defence/service-commemorates-the-men-of-hms-hampshire-1-7416919

Elsewhere individuals and organisations posted biographies, or photographs, of the men who were on HMS Hampshire and these include…

https://dailydiaryww1.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/june-5-1916/

https://mitchamwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/walter-ewing-lost-with-the-hampshire/

https://history.blog.gov.uk/2016/06/06/hugh-obeirne-and-the-sinking-of-hms-hampshire-a-diplomat-remembered/

A huge thank you to everyone who was involved with the weekend events, the service, the restoration of the Kitchener Memorial and the creation of the HMS Hampshire wall.

And thank you to everyone who attended the service at Marwick Head, to those who watched on a big screen at nearby Birsay Community Hall, and those who joined via the internet.

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The final engraved panel on the HMS Hampshire commemorative wall (image: Orkney Heritage Society)

The following morning it was touching to see some of the relatives of the men lost with HMS Hampshire return to look again at the names engraved in the wall.

For generations to come there will be visitors to see the Kitchener Memorial and the HMS Hampshire wall – to remember, to wonder, to commemorate and to discover the events of 5 June 1916.

Graham Brown

 

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