Scapa flow is immersed in naval and maritime history. As home to the Grand Fleet in two world wars it is as steeped in Royal Naval significance as anywhere else. The fleet left and returned to Scapa Flow for the Battle of Jutland. The interned German fleet was successfully scuttled there under the very noses of the victor. In the opening days of the second World war HMS Royal Oak was sunk by an audacious U Boat attack. As an ex-servicemen any of these events would grab and headline my visit were it not for an event in my living memory.
17 March 1969. I still vividly recall hearing the news of the Longhope Lifeboat disaster. I was 6 and my sister Harriet 5. As young sailors in our family boat “Hope” (see blog 15) we were starting to be immersed in the sea and the loss of an entire lifeboat crew hit home and was relevant in so many ways. The story is better recorded elsewhere but in the face of a force 9 Sever gale, the crew put out to help a stricken cargo vessel manned by men they did not know. They never returned. That night the village of Longhope lost 8 men. In the army we embrace as “brothers in arms” but that night 2 fathers perished along with 2 sons, some of whom also left widows. Two women each stripped of a husband and 2 sons. Scarcely a home untouched. Today the lifeboat coxswain is the grandson of the coxswain lost that night. Within days Long Hope and its lifeboat family put up a new crew from volunteers who included 5 relatives of the dead men and simply stood up to carry on the maritime tradition shared by generations of seafarers of help to their fellow man in time of need.
We wanted to do something and enabled by our parents we tracked down the local “shoreline” group (lifeboat support organisation). Harriet and I had letters authenticating us as bona fida collectors and whilst I have no idea how much we raised, we collected both at school and around the village.
The beauty of the memorial, its imagery, its location and its message moved me to tears. Inspired by those men, their families and their community, I stood and reflected on the profound impact it had and has on me. I wished Harriet there. I feel the dearth of words to articulate the emotion that was woven into that silence. Memories of friends and events from my own experiences came to mind, they stood out and yet merged into a timeless image of faces, events, impacts, character and I saw clearly how their courage and example has helped shape and inspire me.
To conclude I want to share two songs that I sang and resonate strongly with me. Both are sung by my friend Tom Lewis, the "widowmaker " was written by John Connelly. Now technology has defeated me so follow the link below to Tom's website and hear a sample as well as read the lyrics but below is him singing the widowmaker.
HMCS Sackville written and sung by Tom Lewis
The Widowmaker. Written by John Connelly and sung by Tom Lewis