|Sunday 11th October 2009 - Commemorative Parade from the British Legion to St Magnus Cathedral
Wednesday October 14th 2009 The 70th Anniversary Memorials attended by HRH Princess Anne, The Princess Royal
70th anniversary of the sinking of the Royal Oak
Text and photos by CRAIG TAYLOR, Orkney Today newspaper www.orkneytoday.co.uk
THREE survivors who served on board the battleship HMS Royal Oak had an emotional reunion in Orkney this week as the events began to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the sinking.
Kenneth Toop, Bert Pocock and Lieutenant Colonel Norman Thackeray, who all live in different parts of England, travelled back to Orkney on an emotional journey to mark 70 years since the German U-boat crept into Scapa Flow and blew the ship up, sending it to the bottom of Scapa Flow and sending 833 men to their deaths.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, was in Orkney yesterday to join the survivors in a service over the wrecksite in Scapa Flow, with the service due to take place on board HMS Penzance.
Prior to this, on Sunday a parade took place between the Kirkwall branch of the Royal British Legion and St Magnus Cathedral.
The three survivors were joined on the parade by family and friends of survivors and those who were lost on October 14, 1939 when the ship was torpedoed.
Kirkwall City Pipe Band led the parade, which included various local uniformed organisations as well as Navy personnel, including crew and officers from HMS Bangor which was visiting Kirkwall for the anniversary. Navy divers from the Northern Diving Group were also on parade.
They formed a guard of honour on the steps of the cathedral as those on parade entered the cathedral for the service.
Following the service led by the Rev Fraser MacNaughton, where prayers were said for those who lost their lives in the sinking, as well as for those who gathered in Orkney to remember them, wreaths were laid at the Kirkwall war memorial on the Kirk Green.
The floral tributes were laid by Lt. Commander Jason White, the officer in charge of the Northern Diving Group, and Lt. Commander Peter Noblett, the commanding officer of HMS Bangor.
The parade was led by local naval liaison officer Gordon Ivol.
On the Kirk Green a silence was observed and president of the Kirkwall branch of the Royal British Legion Bryan Taylor said the words of Laurence Binyon: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
The three survivors said that they were pleased that so many people had turned out for the event, with Kenneth Toop, who is secretary of the Royal Oak Association, adding: “It really is a privilege to see all these people coming out today.”
He also revealed that he is in early discussions about the possible siting of a stone memorial overlooking Scapa Flow in memory of those who lost their lives on HMS Royal Oak.
Mr Toop said that he has funds available for the memorial through donations made to the association over many years.
“I would very much like it to be made in Orkney by a local stonemason, and it has to be sited in an area which is accessible by the public.”
Agnes McBarron, Royal Oak Association Orkney coordinator, said that she was expecting around 150 family members present for the anniversary on Wednesday, and she was also pleased to see such a good turnout for the parade and service on Sunday.
“I am over the moon that so many people have made it here for the anniversary. Some have been here many times while some have not been here before.”
Agnes is the daughter of Royal British Legion stalwart Charlie Millar BEM who died in December 2006.
Charlie was well known to many families who visited Orkney in relation to the Royal Oak for many years. He was chairman of the Kirkwall Branch of the Royal British Legion and also served as pensions and welfare officer of branch.
He was involved in assisting visitors connected with the Royal Oak for 40 years going back to 1966.
After the parade, everyone was welcomed into the legion for refreshments.
Legion president Bryan Taylor said: “I was delighted that it went so well and it kept dry for the parade. The Legion is once again more than happy to host the survivors and the families of those who were lost, and everyone who has travelled to Orkney to mark the anniversary.”
Royal tribute to Royal Oak remembrance
Text and photos by CRAIG TAYLOR, Orkney Today newspaper www.orkneytoday.co.uk
A POPPY wreath laid by Princess Anne joined numerous floral tributes floating on the calm waters of Scapa Flow last week above the wreck of HMS Royal Oak, 70 years to the day since the battleship was sunk with the loss of 833 lives.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, along with senior personnel from the Royal Navy joined former Royal Oak crew members Kenneth Toop 86, Bert Pocock 87, and Lieutenant Colonel Norman Thackeray 89, who managed to escape with their lives from the sinking battleship, in paying their respects of the wreck which is an official war grave. Around 150 friends and family of those who were lost made the pilgrimage to Scapa Flow to remember the terrible events of October 14 1939 when the battleship was sunk at anchor by a German U-boat. The princess and Orkney Lord Lieutenant Dr Tony Trickett joined the survivors on board HMS Penzance. A moving service was conductedby Royal British Legion padre the Rev Jack Muir. Laurence Tait of Kirkwall City Pipe Band played a lament as wreaths and floral tributes were placed on the water from HMS Penzance and the Talisman launch Flotta Lass.
Billy Stanger of the Salvation Army played The Last Post and after a silence the Reveille.
Kirkwall Branch Royal British legion president Bryan Taylor said the words of Laurence Binyon: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” The events onboard HMS Penzance were co-ordinated by Orkney Naval liaison officer Gordon Ivol. It was a clearly emotional time for the survivors and families and friends of lost crewmen.
The sheer number who travelled to Orkney for the ceremony is a sign of how many people are still touched by the sinking, the memory of which is being passed on from generation to generation, keeping the memory of those who were lost alive, long after their deaths in the cold, dark waters of Scapa Flow.
Lt Col. Norman Thackeray was glad to be in Orkney for the anniversary.
He said: “Everyone has been very pleasant and very welcoming to us. The Royal British legion really go out of their way for us and that is very much appreciated.”
He added it had been nice meeting with a talking to Princess Anne and the relatives of lost shipmates.
Bert Pocock said it had been a very sad day: “When I was over the wreck I was thinking of my mates, there are good boys down there and they have missed out on so much, having children and grandchildren.” Kenneth Toop was also moved by the events. He said: “It is pretty humbling that after all these years people are still gathering here. They love to talk about their relations some of whom they only dimly remember.
“You get very tired sometimes, but meeting those lovely people reinforces your resolve to do the best you can to keep the memories of those who were lost alive.”
Mr Toop, who lives in Basingstoke, and runs the Royal Oak Association, added that he would continue to do what he could to progress the idea of a stone memorial in memory of lost shipmates and said he has heard many favourable comments about the memorial so far. He personally writes to 180 people twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. Included in those are 13 other survivors, one is aged 92 and two live in Florida. He and his wife Lillian also make bookmarks which are sent out to members.
Following the ceremony on the ship, Princess Anne was shown round the Royal Oak garden of remembrance at Scapa by Bryan Taylor. She then made her way to the Kirkwall Branch of the Royal British Legion where she was welcomed by chairman John McCafferty. As well as unveiling a plaque commemorating her visit, she chatted with and met with the three survivors.
Other people were presented to the princess including Agnes McBarron, Royal Oak Association Orkney co-ordinator, and Legion committee members. Addressing those gathered at the Legion, including Princess Anne, Mr Taylor said that everyone at the branch was honoured by her visit, which was their first royal visit to the branch.
He said: “In 1971 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Royal British Legion Scotland, we were granted the royal title by our royal patron her Majesty the Queen. A group of Orkney committee members and their wives attended the Queen’s royal garden party in Edinburgh especially for the Royal British Legion Scotland. “We continue to support ex-service personnel and their dependants, as well as those who are less fortunate who are still suffering from the effects of the wars and more recent conflicts. “Thank you for laying a wreath in Scapa Flow in remembrance of the 833 men who lost their lives after the sinking of HMS Royal oak.” Agnes McBarron, said that it had been a “spectacular day.” She added: “Everyone has been overwhelmed with what has happened today. A lot of people did not know that Princess Anne was coming, and when they saw her arriving they were shocked that a member of the Royal family was attending.”
Rozanne Mackie, who is the granddaughter of John Gatt, the skipper of the fishing boat Daisy II who saved 380 lives on the night of the sinking was invited to Orkney for the anniversary. She met the survivors, including Norman Thackeray who was picked out of the water by the crew of the Daisy II which had been commandeered by the Royal Navy during the war as a fleet tender. Ms Mackie travelled to Orkney from Nairn along with her partner Garnet Main She said:” It was very nice to be in Orkney for the anniversary and meet with the survivors. Norman Thackeray said that after the sinking he was billeted to a house in Thurso. He said he had no money to pay the woman who let him stay with her, so in return he gave her his HMS Royal Oak cap, which he had signed by skipper of the Daisy II John Gatt. It would be great to trace the cap after all those years. “My grandfather, who received the DSC medal, died in the 1970s and was a very religious man who never really spoke about that night. He said that what happened that night was in the hands of the Lord.” Members of the Northern Diving Group presented the three survivors and Agnes with a specially labelled bottling of Highland Park whisky, of which there have only been 30 produced.
Also on October 14, Orkney Royal Naval Association paid their respects to the memory of HMS Royal Oak and her crew. The vice-chairman Stephen Horne, laid the wreath at the memorial in St Magnus Cathedral.