Battle of Jutland commemorations

Orkney hosted the UK's commemorations of the Battle of Jutland at the end of May. The events began with a special service at St Magnus Cathedral in front of hundreds of local residents.

The day began dull and overcast, with a mist looming over the horizon and an eerie light shining on Kirkwall. In front of St Magnus Cathedral the final sweeps were being carried out - both security and street – ahead of the official Battle of Jutland centenary commemorations.

Spectators had already taken up their places behind fencing splitting Broad Street in half. The heart of this historic town has been transformed in recent days with shoppers, delivery vans and postmen replaced by police, satellite broadcasting trucks and journalists.

Local residents lined the streets today to take in the Battle of Jutland commemorations

The scale of this event only really became clear on Monday when rehearsals took place involving three marching bands and a fleet of Range Rovers manned by the Metropolitan Police. Cameramen swung into action and the huge screens placed at either end of Broad Street burst into life.

Local folk have taken it all in their stride though. Shops have window displays featuring poppies and Union Jacks – one charity shop even has a maritime themed display. This morning people were happy to take the long way into work and avoid the many road closures.

It’s a small price to pay. The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of the First World War and, although the outcome has been the subject of much debate over the last one hundred years, what isn’t in doubt is that thousands of lives were lost.

Orkney has an important place in Royal Navy history. The Grand Fleet, under the command of Admiral Jellicoe, steamed out of Scapa Flow towards Jutland a century ago. The natural harbour was also the base for the Home Fleet during the Second World War. HMS Royal Oak lies on the seabed in the Flow, the resting place of more than 800 men and boys, lost when the great warship was struck by German torpedoes in 1939.

The Royal Marines Band parading onto the Kirk Green in-front of the large screens in place for the service

Those naval connections were kept alive today. The event was as vivid and impactful as you’d expect and there was a real sense of anticipation in the town beforehand. Local scouts handed out the order of service to those waiting, with the street almost full before ten o'clock.

The Royal Marines Band, the Federal German Naval Band and the Kirkwall City Pipe Band paraded through Broad Street and onto the Kirk Green, accompanied by generous rounds of applause by spectators, some of whom were perched on rooftops. The bands were followed by seamen and women from ships berthed in and around Orkney. Princess Anne was joined by German President Joachim Gauck, Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon before the event moved inside St Magnus Cathedral, past thousands of ceramic poppies, for the official service.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Kirkwall's Broad Street

It featured readings by British and German officers, the Choir of St Magnus Cathedral and local contributions, including a moving performance of Orkney songwriter Ally Windwick’s ‘Lonely Scapa Flow’ by Camron Dowell.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to take it all in and pay their own silent respects to those who lost their lives at Jutland and other battles during the First World War. The focus then moved onto Lyness in Hoy and the Commonwealth War Graves at Osmandwall Cemetery, where another service was held during the afternoon. A special programme in Orkney will continue all week before culminating in an event on Sunday night to mark the loss of HMS Hampshire off Marwick Head in June 1916 – another tragic story in Orkney’s wartime history.

The Battle of Jutland commemorative event might be over, and life in Kirkwall will return to normality, but the lives lost and the sacrifices given between 1914 and 1918 will never be forgotten.

Find out more about Orkney's First World War commemorative programme of events, which includes exhibitions that will run all summer.

Explore Orkney's wartime history and book your trip to the islands via the Visit Orkney website. Newsletter

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