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heritage

Services held to mark 81st anniversary of the sinking of HMS Royal Oak

Keith Welbon representing the Royal Naval Assocation laid a wreath at the memorial of those who were lost in the sinking of HMS Royal Oak. (Orkney Photographic)

Ceremonies have taken place in Orkney and at HM Naval Base Clyde today to mark the 81st anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak.

The ship was anchored at Scapa Flow when it was torpedoed by a German submarine during World War II on October 14, 1939.

A total of 835 sailors lost their lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the usual commemorative events meaning that Royal Navy personnel who would normally travel to Orkney instead paid their respects at the Faslane naval base.

In Orkney, the Royal British Legion Scotland and the Royal Naval Association held a wreath laying ceremony at the Royal Oak memorial at Scapa Beach at 11am. 

Among those who attended the Faslane service were Royal Navy divers, who travel to Orkney every year, to carry out the solemn duty of descending to the wreck to change the White Ensign.

Due to COVID-19, this is the first year since the Ship’s Bell was recovered in 1982 that the divers have not been able to support this commitment.

During the service, wreaths were laid, and a White Ensign placed below a photograph of HMS Royal Oak and a list of the names of all those who lost their lives.

In addition, there were readings from Able Seaman (Diver) Toomey and Leading Seaman (Diver) Lund. 

The Commanding Officer of the Northern Diving Group (NDG), Lieutenant Commander Mark Shaw, said: “Northern Diving Group have a long history with HMS Royal Oak and the people of Orkney.

“For many years we have deployed to Scapa Flow to survey the wreck site and change the White Ensign in the process.

“Unfortunately, this year COVID restrictions have prevented us from visiting the site of HMS Royal Oak so instead we have held our own Service of Remembrance on the day of the 81st anniversary of the sinking.

“As well as Royal Navy Clearance Divers from Northern Diving Group, there was representation from Naval Base Clyde and Mine Countermeasures Squadron One.

“It is a shame we have not been able to dive on the wreck as usual, but we are pleased to have had the opportunity to pay our respects in this way. We are looking forward to deploying to Scapa Flow next year.”

Able Seaman (Diver) Paul West, who was one of those who made the trip last year, said: “After having the privilege of diving the Royal Oak last year and having the honour of changing the ensign, the news that this year’s commemorative dive would not take place was disappointing.

“Only after diving and seeing the ship first hand does her story humble your bones.

“The sailors that were aboard on that night in 1939 will not be forgotten. We shall remember them.”

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