NICOLA Sturgeon, David Cameron and the Princess Royal joined descendants of those who fought at the Battle of Jutland for a centenary service in Orkney to remember those who died in the largest naval battle of the First World War.
A service at Kirkwall’s St Magnus Cathedral paid tribute to the 8,648 sailors who died in the most decisive sea engagement of the war.
British and German military bands played and islanders young and old lined the street as politicans and other guests arrived at cathedral on Orkney, passing a display of thousands of ceramic poppies installed in tribute to the war.
Representatives of all the other nations connected to the battle – Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa – were at the cathedral.
Princess Anne was accompanied by husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence as vice-chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and German president Joachim Gauck was also in attendance.
A message from the Duke of Edinburgh, who was unable to attend on doctor’s advice, was carried in the order of service for the commemorations.
Prince Philip said: “War may be senseless and the Battle of Jutland may have been inconclusive, but there can be no doubt that their sacrifice was not in vain.”
Also writing in the order of service, David Cameron said: “The strategic importance of Scapa Flow cannot be overstated and it is therefore highly symbolic that today the stark and striking beauty of the Orkney Islands provides the backdrop to our commemorations.”
During the service, he read from the Song of Songs while descendants and officers from the British and German Navy read diary extracts from officers who fought in the battle.
A candle of remembrance was lit and wreaths were also laid at the cathedral while a specially-commissioned piece of music by the late composer and Orkney resident Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was performed.
A second service was held later at Lyness Cemetery on the island of Hoy, the final resting place for more than 450 service personnel who died.
A service of remembrance also took place on board HMS Duncan at Jutland Bank, the site of the battle near the coast of Denmark on 31 May and 1 June 1916 and involved about 250 ships. It saw the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, clash with the German High Seas Fleet.
Family members and representatives of today’s navies re-told the stories of Jutland throughout the commemorations.
Alexander Nicol’s grandfather, John, drowned when HMS Invincible exploded and went down with the loss of more than 1,000 men. He left a wife and eight children.
Mr Nicol said: “I’m fortunate enough to be a grandfather… My grandfather didn’t live to see any of his children get married, let alone to see any of his grandchildren.”
Michael Mulford’s father Mark survived the battle as a teenager aboard the HMS Malaya, which was hit eight times with the loss of more than 60 men. Mr Mulford said his father, then 19, had watched as the bodies were sewn into hammocks and released over the side.
He said: “I can’t really imagine it because what he ever said about it was absolutely nothing – which speaks volumes for the horror of raw naval warfare.”
Stephen Burton travelled from Melbourne, Australia, to remember his two great-uncles, Robert and George, who died on board the sunk HMS Indefatigable.
The 55-year-old said: “It was very moving. No-one really wins a war – the ongoing pain and suffering of war continues for a long time, but I think this goes some way towards reconciling that.”