A walk into the past

The arc-shaped HMS Hampshire commemorative wall has received planning permission (image: Leslie Burgher)
The arc-shaped HMS Hampshire commemorative wall has received planning permission (image: Leslie Burgher)

This entry is from guest blogger, Owen Peters, who writes:

Recently I had the good fortune to leave London’s hurry, bustle and pace behind, allowing my backpack and I to become reacquainted whilst walking the coast and hills of Orkney.

On a bright fresh morning my walking route was simple. Hug the coastline from Stromness, along to Black Craig, Bay of Skaill, onwards to Marwick Head. No rush, see how I feel as the walk unfolds.

The weather had turned cold and windy. As I left a road section and climbed the beckoning hill offering a wonderful panoramic view for miles around, I was met by a couple coming in the opposite direction. We exchanged pleasantries. They had started off with a longer walk in mind but turned back due to the adverse weather setting in. I told them of my walking plans, then everything changed.

With an outstretched finger he asked: “You see that monument way over there across the hills along the coastline?” Squinting through a pair of binoculars I said yes. “Well that’s the Kitchener Memorial. Lovely walk on the right day. I wouldn’t think you’d get there today though,” he said helpfully and factually. As we said our goodbyes, little did he know he had turned my walk into a challenge. Kitchener’s Memorial here I come. I hope!

Suffice to say, having met many interesting people along the way, viewed exhilarating sections of coastline, many, many hours later my backpack and I finally arrived at the end of this self-initiated challenge. The stone-clad tower of Kitchener’s memorial was before me.

My knowledge of Lord Kitchener, besides his Boer War exploits, doesn’t stretch much further than he being the iconic poster figurehead pointing outwards with questioning eyes demanding recruits for World War I. The imposing stone tower, unveiled in June 1926, has a simple commemorative plaque. It states:

“This tower was raised by the people of Orkney in memory of Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on that corner of his country which he had served so faithfully nearest to the place where he died on duty. He and his staff perished along with the officers and nearly all the men of HMS Hampshire on 5th June 1916.”

Whilst I found the monument impressive and the plaque sentiments respective I was left with the question, what about the crew, where is their recognition? Surely the tragedy was more than about one man?

In typical tourist mode I pondered the injustice but carried on exploring Orkney during my remaining days. Somehow the whole experience didn’t feel right.

It was whilst leaving Orkney on my return ferry journey to Scrabster I was given a swift reminder, people who recognise injustice do something about it. I read Neil Kermode’s excellent article in The Islander magazine, confirming a project had been set up by The Orkney Heritage Society to restore the memorial. I didn’t realise until I read Neil’s article, over 700 men were lost at sea on that fateful night.

The Orkney Heritage Society intend to construct a wall next to the existing Kitchener Memorial, engraved with the names of those men.

To all those involved with the project, I’m sure the families of the HMS Hampshire crew and passengers, and the inhabitants of Orkney who keenly felt their loss, will be indebted as their loved ones are eventually and finally recognised. They died serving their country.

For anyone reading this article who would like to know more about the Kitchener Memorial project, or make a donation, please email kitchener.memorial@gmail.com or go online to justgiving.com/orkneyheritagesociety, Facebook (@Kitchener.Memorial) or Twitter (@kitchenerorkney).

Owen Peters