Culture

The Royal Oak Memorial Garden, Kirkwall

The Orkney News is running a series of articles on Orkney’s World War II sites and wartime experiences. 


Memorial garden

The Royal Oak Memorial Garden (photo F Grahame)

A place not to be missed for locals or those visiting Orkney is the Royal Oak Memorial Garden. Situated at Scapa Beach and overlooking Scapa Flow it is within walking distance of Kirkwall town centre. The garden offers a place for people to reflect on all those who lost their lives in Scapa Flow during both world wars. The 843 lives lost when HMS Vanguard exploded and sank on 9th July 1917 and the 833 lives lost when the Royal Oak was torpedoed and sank on the 14th October 1939.

HMS Royal Oak had been sheltering in what was thought to be the safe anchorage of Scapa Flow Orkney  when the U boat U-47 successfully navigated its way in and launched several torpedoes. Where the Royal Oak now lies is a war grave marked by a buoy.

Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow (photo F Grahame)

The Memorial Garden is very understated and yet deeply moving. Outside there are benches where you can brave the cold winds that scud across the waters. There you can look out at what must once have been a place of heartfelt sorrow and loss of life. A memorial also stands erected in 2010 by survivors, families and friends of the Royal Oak Association and Orkney Islands Council.

Inside the hut

Inside the Display Hut (photo F Grahame)

Inside the small unassuming building there is a display telling the story of the disaster that befell HMS Royal Oak and those 833 men and boys. But move away from the information boards and the real effects of that loss of life reveals itself to you. Around the edge of the floor are numerous wreaths of poppies many with personal messages attached to them from family  and friends who have not forgotten whose who died. Even more moving are ones with photographs attached.

This is where history should be taught. Where the photographs of loved ones: sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, some just lads, are pinned to the wall and fading in the sunlight.

  • John Joseph Furlong, 20, from Wexford, Ireland
  • W, McClaren – “In memory of my dear brother, love, Donnie”
  • Frank Cuthbert Carr, 23
  • Sydney Walter Jones born 9th October 1919 died 14th October 1939.

Just four of the lives lost. It is incredibly moving. Real lives, real people and still remembered today.

Bell of the Royal Oak

The Bell of the Royal Oak, St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (photo F Grahame)

I find it more moving than the memorial that you can also visit in the Cathedral which has the ship’s bell in a prominent place with the book open at a page where you can view the names of those lost. For it is when you see the photographs and the personal messages that the horror and death that occurred in the early hours of that Autumn day really hit home.

All those  interested in the World War II sites in Orkney should visit the Memorial Garden. It costs you nothing and you will learn more than you could ever imagine.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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