Kitchener Memorial to remember Orkney minefield victims

The HMS Hampshire was carrying Lord Kitchener. Picture: comp

The HMS Hampshire was carrying Lord Kitchener. Picture: comp

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A memorial for 737 men who died when a WWI warship sunk off Orkney as it was carrying Lord Kitchener on a secret mission will also commemorate nine more men - including an Orcadian - lost in the same minefield.

HMS Hampshire sank near Orkney’s Atlantic coast on 5 June, 1916, after hitting a German mine while sailing to Russia.

An artist's impression of the Kitchener Memorial.

An artist's impression of the Kitchener Memorial.

Seventeen days later, on 22 June, the drifter Laurel Crown was one of eight vessels on their way to sweep for mines near the site of the disaster when she too struck a mine and was lost, with all hands.

The names of the nine Laurel Crown men who died will be engraved on an HMS Hampshire commemorative wall being created next to the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head.

They include George Petrie, aged 32, a married man with one son from Burray.

The planned commemorative wall to the men lost on HMS Hampshire will now include those on the Laurel Crown.

Earl Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of State for War who was best known as the face of the “Your Country Needs You!” recruiting posters, was travelling to Russia for important talks to ensure the Tsar remained an ally in the war.

It was long believed that 643 men had died after the warship hit a mine, laid by a German U-boat, in stormy weather.

But recent research by Orkney historians Brian Budge and Andrew Hollinrake has discovered the names of 737 men who were actually lost, with many of the additional names being part of Kitchener’s own party.

Mr Budge has also researched the history of the Laurel Crown.

He said: “George Petrie was born at Wart, Burray on 8th August 1883, the oldest son of crofter George Petrie and Betsy Petrie (née Brown).

“George’s parents had both died and he was working as a fisherman when he married Flora Taylor on 10th September 1914. They made their home at Wart and had a son, also called George.

“George enrolled into the Royal Naval Reserve at Kirkwall on 15th May 1916. He reported to HMS Zaria, an Auxiliary Patrol depot ship based at Longhope in Scapa Flow and soon joined the crew of HM Drifter Laurel Crown as a deck hand.”

After the sinking engineman Thomas Baker’s body was recovered, identified and buried in Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy.

“George Petrie and four more of the crew are commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, on Southsea Common, Hampshire. George is also remembered on a family gravestone in Burray Cemetery.”

The loss of the Laurel Crown was brought to the attention ofOrkney Heritage Society’s Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project by marine historian Kevin Heath, of SULA Diving, after he heard about the group’s plans at a public meeting.

Neil Kermode, project chair, said: “We started this project wanting to ‘better remember’ the men who died alongside Earl Kitchener in 1916. It seems entirely fitting that we should also commemorate those lost shortly afterwards on the Laurel Crown in the same minefield.”

The project’s volunteers are restoring the Kitchener Memorial and creating the commemorative wall in time for events on 5 June, 2016, marking the centenary of the warship’s loss.

“Many donations of money, time and goods have been received but the volunteers estimate they need a further £15,000 to ensure work is finished before the centenary.

Anyone who wishes to donate towards the project can do so online at justgiving.com/orkneyheritagesociety/ or send a cheque payable to Orkney Heritage Society.

The project committee would also like to hear from anyone who may have artefacts linked to HMS Hampshire for a planned exhibition around the time of the centenary.

Please email kitchener.memorial@gmail.com or write to Orkney Heritage Society, PO Box 6220, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 9AD, UK.

Follow the progress of the project on Facebook (@Kitchener.Memorial), Twitter (@kitchenerorkney) and via a blog at kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/.

The plaque on the Kitchener Memorial reads: “This tower was raised by the people of Orkney in memory of Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on that corner of his country which he had served so faithfully nearest to the place where he died on duty. He and his staff perished along with the officers and nearly all the men of HMS Hampshire on 5th June 1916.”

The memorial, a 48-feet high stone tower, cost £734 to build, paid for by public subscription from Orcadians, and was unveiled in 1926.

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