HMS Hood to return to Highland harbour - in model form

HMS Hood model
HMS Hood model
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A HISTORIC warship which was sunk in by the Nazi’s famous Bismarck is to be remembered at her former Highland anchorage.

A bijou whisky distillery proposed for the shores of picturesque Loch Eriboll, in north-west Sutherland, has already found an appropriate mascot – a nine-foot scale model of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, which had a strong link with the loch in pre-war days.

Model owner David Morrison

Model owner David Morrison

Dundee-based property developer David Morrison, chairman of fledgling Loch Eriboll Distillery, secured the rare model at an auction in Perth of the effects of Angus baronet laird and shipping family heir Sir James Cayzer, who died in 2012 aged 80.

The model is thought to have been constructed over 80 years ago when “The Mighty Hood” was the pride of the Royal Navy.

It was a working plaything for Sir James and his elder brother, Sir Nigel, who became 4th Baronet Cayzer on their father’s death in 1940.

Nigel subsequently died in 1943, at Salerno, Italy, while serving with the Scots Guards, leaving James, a bachelor, the baronetcy.

HMS Hood

HMS Hood

David Morrison, who was born at Sangobeg, a mile from the mouth of Loch Eriboll, and whose business leases bonded warehousing to a substantial sector of the Scotch Whisky industry, said: “We’re delighted to have secured a scale model of HMS Hood that we can display in the distillery shop.

“The new distillery in Laid, which will be the most north-westerly on the British mainland, will also be at the start of the path to the Hood Stones and it is only fitting that we honour the memory of the brave men that served on HMS Hood by telling her story to the many visitors we expect to receive.”

Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, President of the HMS Hood Association, whose uncle died on the battlecruiser, said: “The HMS Hood Association is delighted that the distillery directors will have the model of HMS Hood on public display, overlooking Loch Eriboll and close to the Hood Stones.

“The model will be a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic warships of the Royal Navy which served our country with great distinction for over 20 years.

“It will also mark the courage and self sacrifice of the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives with the ship on 24 May 1941.”

The original 46,000-ton HMS Hood, constructed at John Brown’s Clydebank shipyard, was commissioned in 1920.

She mounted eight 15-inch guns and could reach a maximum speed of 32 knots, with a cruising speed of 25 knots at two-fifths power.

Hood was a frequent visitor to Loch Eriboll in the inter-war years, along with other major warships of the Home Fleet, and often anchored opposite the tiny township of Laid, which is overlooked by the vessel’s unofficial memorial, the “Hood Stones.”

READ MORE: Edinburgh at War - Victory of hope

During one visit in 1935, members of the Hood’s crew went ashore and trekked to a ridge high above the loch, where they placed white stones that spelled out the name of their ship.

The Hood Stones have in recent years been lovingly maintained and whitewashed by visiting sailors, naval history enthusiasts and locals aware of their significance.

In May 1941 HMS Hood left Scapa Flow in Orkney to join a powerful naval force in pursuit of the Nazi Kriegsmarine’s most powerful battleship Bismarck, which had broken out of her Norwegian base in a bid to ravage merchant shipping in the Atlantic.

Hood made contact with Bismarck in the Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland, but blew up when a shell from Bismarck ploughed through her deck and hit her aft magazine.

She broke in half and sank within three minutes, with the loss of all but three of her 1,418 crew - the greatest single loss of life in Britain’s naval history.

Loch Eriboll is still used frequently by ships from various NATO navies as a temporary anchorage and for amphibious exercises.

Exquisitely detailed, the model floats and is motorised and boasts an early radio control system, designed not only to steer it but also to control the main gun turrets.

Its new owner has not yet attempted to test it out on water, but has acquired with it an old colour photo of the model Hood in action on an unidentified stretch of water, possibly at Kilpurnie Castle, Angus, where reluctant businessman Sir James lived modestly.

Outwith his estate, the popular eccentric enjoyed a parallel existence of restrained extravagance, collecting Rolls Royces, entertaining lavishly and hosting lunches and dinners at expensive venues from Claridges and Gleneagles to St Moritz, yet did not himself drink alcohol, smoke, drive, shoot or ski.

A close friend of the Queen Mother, Sir James showed little interest in romantic attachments, though briefly engaged in 1962 to Lady Anne Maitland, a member of the aristocratic Lauderdale family.

May 2016 will mark the 75th anniversary of the loss of HMS Hood and local residents in Loch Eriboll area hope to make the Hood Stones more accessible as well as to build a permanent memorial cairn in the distillery car park at the start of the walk to the stones.

Hugh MacLellan, chairman of the Laid Grazings’ and Residents’ Committee, said: “The terrain is difficult and needs a proper path.

“We are trying to raise £15,000 to make a proper job of the HMS Hood memorial and path to the Hood Stones and although local people have been extremely generous we still need some help to get to our target.”

Loch Eriboll Distillery has identified a roadside site near a clear mountain stream for its proposed distillery and visitor centre, and hopes to seek planning permission for the project shortly.

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