Orkney Islands Council
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Remembering lives lost in Vanguard tragedy

Remembering lives lost in Vanguard tragedy
30 June 2017

Forty descendants of men who died aboard HMS Vanguard will lay wreaths above the wreck this weekend to mark 100 years since the ship went down.

In a tragic accident, the Royal Navy battleship was destroyed by a series of internal explosions on the night of 9 July 1917, while at anchor in Scapa Flow.

Only three of the 845 men on board were recovered alive. One later died of his injuries.

Descendants of Vanguard’s crew have been invited to take part in a wreath laying service at the wreck site and to other events to mark the centenary of the sinking. A number of vessels will take part, including two Royal Navy P2000 fast patrol boats.

“People are travelling from many parts of the country to remember relatives who were serving aboard Vanguard a century ago,” said Brian Archibald, Head of Marine Services, Engineering and Transportation with Orkney Islands Council.

“With limited space aboard the vessels involved, we have given priority to descendants so that they have the opportunity to lay wreaths above the wreck on 9 July.

“This will be one of a number of commemorative events taking place. At all of the other events, people from our community are very welcome to play their part in remembering the huge loss of life when Vanguard went down.”

Last winter a detailed photographic, video and 3D survey of the wreck site was carried out by a civilian team of divers and other experts under special licence from the Ministry of Defence.

A team from the Royal Navy’s Northern Diving Group will arrived in Orkney on Monday 3 July. During a week spent diving on HMS Vanguard, the team are carrying out a site survey and will replace a White Ensign placed over the wreck with a new flag. Joining them will be members of the original civilian dive survey team.

Royal Navy liaison officer Lieutenant Jen Smith said: “It is a rare opportunity for Royal Navy and civilian divers to collaborate. The civilian survey gathered an enormous amount of data and they have a deep understanding of the site. This will be invaluable to the Northern Diving Group in conducting their survey."

An evening event at the King Street Halls, Kirkwall, on Thursday 6th July is called ‘HMS Vanguard – 100 Years Underwater’.

This offers the opportunity to find out about the civilian survey and the RN and civilian collaboration taking place next week.

Photographs and 3D images of the remains of the Vanguard will be on show and there will be the chance to talk to Emily Turton, Ben Wade and other members of the survey team about these remarkable projects. Doors open at 19:00 and entry is free of charge.

On Saturday 8 July there will be a concert at St Magnus Cathedral, performed by the Music Ensemble and Corps of Drums from the band of the Royal Marines. This starts at 19:30 and is open to all.

During the day a display of historic Vanguard artefacts and plans of the ship will be on show at Kirkwall Town Hall and Community Centre. The display will also include imagery taken during the underwater survey.

At 13.15 on Sunday 9 July, a service of commemoration will take place at the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Hoy, where 41 of the ship’s crew were buried. Wreaths will be laid at the Vanguard Memorial at the cemetery during the service, which will be led by a Royal Navy chaplain.

All are welcome at the service. People planning to travel to Lyness by ferry are encouraged to go as foot passengers and to use public transport to get to and from Houton, although some additional car parking spaces will be available.

People travelling in groups of more than six are asked to contact Orkney Ferries in advance to make a reservation with the ideal ferry being the 10:20 from Houton, returning at 15:00. Those wishing to stay longer at Lyness should refer to the Orkney Ferries timetable as there are five ferries each way on the day.

Later the same day a special watch night service will be held at St Magnus Cathedral, which again is open to all.

Starting at 23:00, it will mark the moment when the ship was destroyed by the explosions on board – 23:20 on 9 July 1917. The service will include the dedication of a new Book of Remembrance, which includes the names of all the sailors who lost their lives in the Vanguard tragedy.

During the service, the White Ensign which had been on the wreck of the ship will be presented to Orkney by the Royal Navy’s Northern Diving Group.

Cathedral Minister the Rev Fraser Macnaughton said: “The late night vigil will be a time for reflection.

“It will be a time for us all to look back a hundred years to such catastrophic loss of life in our local waters, to remember those who died and, with the unveiling of the Book of Remembrance, to make sure that their names are never forgotten.”