Orkney Islands Council
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Vanguard remembered at Orkney Museum

Vanguard remembered at Orkney Museum
19 July 2017

A century-old brochure marking the launch of HMS Vanguard is just one of the items on display at the Orkney Museum telling the story of the life and tragic sinking of the vessel 100 years ago.

The promotional brochure is on loan from the Dock Museum in Barrow- in- Furness, and was produced when the vessel was launched on 22 February 1909 - the image below is of the vessel shortly after its launch (courtesy of Orkney Library and Archive).

HMS Vanguard shortly after its launch on 22 February 1909.

Rachel Boak, Curator at the Orkney Museum, said: “There have been some poignant events recently marking 100 years since the vessel was lost.

“Here at the Museum we wanted to provide a continuing focus for this terrible tragedy, while also telling a bit of the story about the vessel itself.

“We’re delighted to have the original brochure on loan from the Dock Museum – it’s interesting to see what promotional material for a new ship was like 100 years ago. Familiar objects and images from the past really drive home how very real this ship - and its disastrous fate – was.

“As well as the brochure, we have a photograph of the vessel being launched, and of the ship’s bell, also at the Dock Museum, and photos from the Orkney Library and Archive collection, including a picture of the two survivors of the tragedy.

“We have included quotes from an eyewitness account of the explosion by Leading Mechanic E. H. March, who was stationed at Houton Seaplane Station and saw – and felt - the explosion that devastated the ship. He speaks of first seeing a column of fire and debris, followed by a shockwave ten seconds later which ‘was heavy enough to momentarily stop my breath.’ It is a sobering read.

“Visitors might notice that the date of the launch is 13 months earlier than the date on the ship’s bell – 1 March 1910, the date on the bell commemorating when the ship entered active service.”

Sabine Skae, Collections and Exhibitions Manager at the Dock Museum, said: “Through the Vanguard, Barrow and Orkney have a special link -  HMS Vanguard was built by Vickers Sons and Maxim in Barrow-in-Furness, where the Dock Museum is based.

“We’re delighted to be able to loan the ship’s launch brochure which we hope helps bring to life the story of the Vanguard.  We also wanted to help commemorate this important anniversary.”

The Orkney Museum is open all year. During the summer months (May - September) the hours are Monday to Saturday, from 10:30 to 17:00.

A range objects from HMS Vanguard are also on permanent display at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness, including a vase and whistle belonging to the donor’s father, Howard Davis, who was attending a concert party on HMS Royal Oak when the Vanguard blew up at anchor. Some of the crew were buried at the Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness where there is a memorial to the men who died. You can watch a short video on the museum.

The Dock Museum tells the rich story of Barrow-in-Furness, including its vibrant shipbuilding industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was Barrow’s shipyard that built the Royal Navy’s first submarine in 1901. The Museum itself is built into a Victorian dry dock. Find out more at the Dock Museum's website.

More about the HMS Vanguard disaster

Royal Navy battleship HMS Vanguard was blown apart at Scapa Flow in Orkney on Sunday 9 July 2017.

A series of internal explosions destroyed the ship, sinking it almost immediately. Only two of the 845 men on board survived.

The catastrophic loss of the dreadnought battleship, which had seen action at the Battle of Jutland, is one of the most tragic accidents in the history of the Royal Navy.

Although the exact cause has not been proven, the accepted explanation is that a fire started in a fuel compartment adjacent to one of Vanguard’s armaments magazines – the intense heat then igniting cordite in the magazine, triggering the explosions that blew the ship apart.

The Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Items from HMS Vanguard on display at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum:

  • Part of an ammunition cage from the wreck.
  • A lamp from a deck light.
  • A brass ashtray.
  • A brass vase made from a shell from HMS Vanguard, mounted on a wooden stand.
  • A whistle made from wood from the ship.
  • A lens originally from the anchor lamp of HMS Vanguard, removed from the wreck in 1982.
  • A threaded brass cap from wreck of HMS Vanguard, removed in 1982.