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Freedom parade for Royal Navy divers

Freedom parade for Royal Navy divers
10 July 2021

Royal Navy Northern Diving Group - Freedom of OrkneyThe Royal Navy’s bomb disposal experts in Scotland have exercised their Freedom of Orkney by marching through the streets of Kirkwall.

Orkney Islands Council Convener Harvey Johnston bestowed the honour on the Northern Diving Group during a ceremony in Broad Street, in recognition of the Faslane-based team’s outstanding work in assisting the local community over many years.

Commanding Officer of the Northern Diving Group, Lieutenant Commander Mark Shaw, said: “It was a distinct honour for us to receive their Freedom of Orkney and to exercise the privilege of marching through the town. It was done in ceremonial fashion, with bayonets fixed, drums beating and with colours flying.

“Since being awarded the freedom by the Council in May, we have been working with the local authority to plan today’s event in a Covid-compliant manner.

“We have heard some very moving speeches during the ceremony which reflected on Northern Diving Group’s close connection with Orkney – a relationship current and former members of the team hold very dearly,” he said. “We were very warmly welcomed by the public, who I’m sure also enjoyed the ceremony and the chance to listen to the Royal Marines Band.

“We are looking forward to continuing our special relationship with Orkney for the annual HMS Royal Oak commemoration, and most likely we will be back soon to dispose of more historic munitions, although we won’t be marching in full ceremonial uniform!”

Accompanying the sailors was a 24-piece marching band from Royal Marine Band Scotland based at Rosyth, who led the March from Broad Street to Castle Street, Junction Road and the harbour.

The relationship between Orkney and Royal Navy Clearance Divers goes back decades. For over 40 years Scottish-based divers have been visiting, not only to safely deal with wartime ordnance washed-up on the coastline, but also to help pay their respects at the wreck of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow.

Each year members of Northern Diving Group dive to the registered war grave to replace the White Ensign – the flag of the Royal Navy – and to remember the sailors lost when the Royal Oak was sunk in 1939.

Councillor Johnston, said: “The Northern Diving Group and its predecessors have been coming to Orkney for over 40 years. In addition to always carrying out their professional duties in an exemplary manner they have become true friends to Orkney, assisting in acts of remembrance in Scapa Flow and winning the respect of the local populace.

“It is for this reason that we are delighted to bestow the Freedom of Orkney on the Northern Diving Group.”

He added: “ The Freedom of Orkney is not given lightly and it is not given often. This is only the second time in the last 31 years and the 12th time in the last 73 years that Freedoms have been awarded, so you are a witnessing and participating in a rare and deeply meaningful spectacle that you will remember for the rest of your lives.”

Headquartered at HM Naval Base Clyde on the west coast of Scotland, Northern Diving Group is a 39-strong team of Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers that are responsible for providing bomb disposal expertise throughout Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.

Their area covers a coastline of over 12,000 miles and touches hundreds of small, and often remote, communities.

This year so far Northern Diving Group have been called out on 55 separate occasions, including five tasks in Orkney. In 2020 the team completed 140 call outs across the country.

The Diving Group have teams at immediate readiness 365 days a year ready to support the civil authorities in keeping the public safe by providing explosive ordnance disposal.

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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Orkney Islands Council: BOREAS DOMUS MARE AMICUS