On the 5th of June 1916 HMS Hampshire sank off the West coast of Mainland Orkney a tragedy that saw the loss of 737 lives including that of Earl Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of State for War. It was on its way to Russia. Only 12 men survived.
The people of Orkney erected ‘The Kitchener Memorial on the cliff tops at Marwick Head to mark the place where the sinking occurred. The memorial, a 48-feet high stone tower, cost £734 to build, paid for by public subscription from Orcadians, and was unveiled in 1926.
The site is now within an RSPB reserve and many people visit the area to view the nesting birds unaware of the story of HMS Hampshire. It has always held a special place in the hearts of the People of Orkney, however, and in 2015 it was decided during renovations to also include the names of all those who died that fatal day on a wall at the memorial.
The 101st anniversary of the loss of HMS Hampshire will be marked next month (June 2017) at Marwick Head with a period of quiet reflection and a two-minute silence.
Last year a major event was held to commemorate the centenary of the warship’s loss. Relatives travelled many miles to join Orcadians during an evening service, and for a weekend of events which was attended by HRH The Princess Royal.
The 2016 service was a high-profile occasion and saw the official unveiling of the HMS Hampshire wall, bearing the names of all the men who were lost, built alongside the restored Kitchener Memorial.
This year volunteers from Orkney Heritage Society’s Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project committee and some of the participants in last year’s event will gather on Monday 5 June to carry out some improvements to the ground around the memorial – raking stones and planting grass seed – before gathering quietly together to commemorate the men lost.
Neil Kermode, committee chairman, said:
“Our project to better remember the men of HMS Hampshire culminated in a wonderful service last year when relatives and local folk gathered in brilliant sunshine at Marwick Head.”
“We feel it is important to continue our remembrance of the 737 with a low-key event this year. Everyone who wishes to join us for a common private reflection will be welcome.”
The work party will start at 7.30pm on Monday 5 June, and will gather for the reflection in time for the two-minute silence at 8.45pm, the time of HMS Hampshire’s sinking. Thoughts will also turn to the nine men of HM Drifter Laurel Crown, including Orcadian George Petrie, who died on 22 June 1916 and who are also commemorated on the wall.
For many years it was thought that about 640 men died when HMS Hampshire sank. But research by Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project volunteers and Brian Budge has identified the names of 737 men who were lost.
An Orkney Heritage Society book, “HMS Hampshire: a Century of Myths and Mysteries Unravelled”, which assembles hitherto unused contemporary evidence to explore the causes and circumstances of the loss of HMS Hampshire on 5 June 1916, and the associated myths and mysteries, is available in Orkney bookshops.
Orkney Heritage Society worked with Birsay Heritage Trust to preserve the existing tower and to enhance the environment.
Related pages for more information