|Royal Oak 71st Anniversary Memorial Services 2010
by Craig Taylor
ON the same day that trapped miners were rescued in Chile, the actions of a fishing boat skipper who saved the lives of over 380 sailors from the icy waters of wartime Scapa Flow was being marked in Orkney. Rozanne Mackie, the granddaughter of John Gatt, the skipper of the fishing boat Daisy II who saved over 380 lives on the night of the sinking of HMS Royal Oak was overwhelmed when her grandfathers actions were honoured at a ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of the sinking. She was presented with the Naval ensign which has for the past 12 months been attached to the wreck of the battleship. The ensign is changed every year as the Navy remember those who lost their lives in the tragedy which claimed the lives of 834 men and boy sailors when a German U-boat crept into Scapa Flow and sunk the battleship which lay at anchor close to Scapa Pier. The Daisy II which had been commandeered by the Royal Navy during the war as a fleet tender picked up hundreds of survivors from the oily water.
Memories of oil blackened hand prints on the white funnel of the fishing boat as those who were rescued warmed their hands, are passed on through the generations Ms Mackie travelled to Orkney from Nairn along with her partner Garnet Main and attended the Kirkwall Royal British Legion. She said: “My grandfather, who received the DSC medal, died in the 1970’s 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.”
She never knew that she was to be presented with the ensign until her name was called out during the ceremonies marking the anniversary and said she was deeply honoured by the gesture. She also met once again with survivor Kenneth Toop who is secretary of the Royal Oak Survivors Association whose live was saved by the actions of skipper Gatt from Rosehearty on his Fraserburgh registered fishing boat.
Kenneth Toop, 87, who runs the Royal Oak Survivors Association again drove from his home in Basingstoke for the anniversary with his wife Lillian.
Mr Toop, aged 87, is one of only 13 survivors left from the sinking, and the only survivor to travel to Orkney for the anniversary this year due to various personal reasons, although family members of those who were lost did make the emotional journey to remember their loved ones.
Mr Toop said that the trip to Orkney for the anniversary was “terribly emotional”.
Paying tribute to Skipper Gatt he said: “The drifter Daisy II which had been tied to the stern of the Royal Oak had to cast off to stop her from foundering, switched on her fishing lights and picked up survivors, some of whom were very badly burnt.” He said it was very fitting for the ensign to be presented to Ms Mackie. Earlier, a moving service was conducted by Rev Jim Wishart at Scapa Pier.
He said that it quite an honour to take part in the ceremony and welcomed everyone who had made the sentimental journey of remembrance. Rev Wishart, who recently retired back home to Orkney, said that we had woken up to the news of the miraculous recovery of the miners from beneath the earth in Chile.
“The same day we now remember a great tragedy which struck our nation when the Royal Oak was sunk by the audacious actions of Günther Prien whose torpedoes tragically hit the Royal Oak.” Rev Wishart said it was time to remember those who lost their lives and those who escaped the jaws of death and survived.
He produced a jar containing oil from the wreck of the battleship and a piece of the hull drilled out during the removal of the oil. These had been loaned to him from a friend who worked on the operation. Deputy Lord Lieutenant Gary Gibson then said the words of Laurence Binyon.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Speaking later Mr Gibson said that it was an important to remember those who had made ultimate sacrifice in the past. Isla Dougall from Kirkwall City Pipe Band played the pipes during the ceremony.
Wreaths and floral tributes were then laid over the wreck site from onboard the launch Flotta Lass, kindly provided by Talisman Energy, operators of the Flotta Oil Terminal.
Kenneth Toop, who during the service laid a floral tribute on the waters of Scapa Flow, said that work was progressing well on a stone memorial marking the loss of life on the battleship. It is to be placed in the garden of remembrance next to the Marine Services headquarters at Scapa. It is hoped that it will unveiled next year.
Lieutenant John Keenan, of the Royal Canadian Navy is an exchange officer with the Northern Diving Group who laid the Navy wreath. He said that 9 members of the group were present in Orkney for the week and added that the changing of the ensign is a tradition which maintains the connection with those currently in service and the families of those who have lost their lives in the past. “It is important to hold on to those traditions,” he added. After the service in Scapa Flow the group made their way to the Kirkwall Legion for refreshments.
Legion chairman Mally Johnston who was among those who laid wreaths said:”This is a very important day for the survivors, those who were lost, and their families and we are always glad to invite everyone back to the legion for refreshments. He also thanked everyone involved in the days events.”
Agnes McBarron who is Orkney co-ordinator for the Royal Oak Association said: “It has been another emotional day and it is a real shame that more of the survivors could not be here due to ill health and bereavement and other reasons, but Kenneth is here along with Lillian and we are thankful for that.”
She thanked all the organisations involved in the day including the Navy and the Royal Naval Association, minister and piper. She also thanked the Royal British Legion and Bruce Catering for the refreshments.
by Craig Taylor
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