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Trees planted in Orkneys ahead of centenary of HMS Hampshire tragedy

Trees planted in Orkneys ahead of centenary of HMS Hampshire tragedy
6 April 2016
Islanders in the Orkneys have planted 746 saplings – one for every sailor lost – to lay the foundations for a WW1 copse.

The HMS Hampshire Wood in Kirkwall will serve as a living memorial to all the men lost in the namesake cruiser, plus a minehunter, both sunk by German mines 100 years ago.

With spade in hand, four-year-old Ruaridh Millar helps islanders in the Orkneys lay the foundations for a First World War Centenary Wood.

Islanders young and old planted the first of 746 saplings near Kirkwall Grammar School.

The copse, devised by the Woodland Trust, will act as a living memorial to the crew of cruiser HMS Hampshire and the drifter Laurel Crown, both lost of Marwick Head in June 1916 when they struck German mines.

War Minister Lord Kitchener, his staff and all but 12 of the crew of the Hampshire were lost – 737 men in all.

The tragedy came just two days after news of the titanic clash between the British and German Navies at Jutland – a battle whose immediate outcome came as a huge disappointment to the British public, and whose centenary will be commemorated on a grand scale in the Orkneys at the end of May.

The 746 trees planted will stand as an on-going reminder for generations to come of the people that lost their lives from the sinking the Hampshire and the Laurel Crown in 1916

North Isles Councillor Stephen Hagan

The loss was compounded when the Laurel Crown, sent in to help clear the minefield, also struck one of the explosive devices and went down, taking nine men with her.

As part of centenary commemorations, the Kitchener Memorial erected in 1926 overlooking the wreck site is undergoing extensive restoration with a memorial wall listing the names of those lost being added.

The exposed nature of Marwick Head on Orkney’s north-west coast, plus its remote location, made it unsuitable as a site for the HMS Hampshire Centenary Wood, but the island’s council offered land near the grammar school in the capital so the trees – including hawthorn, hazel and rowan – could be planted.

Around 60 locals answered the call from the Woodland Trust and council to help.

“I think the number of volunteers that came along to plant the HMS Hampshire Centenary Wood is a real testament to how important it is to commemorate this significant event,” said North Isles Councillor Stephen Hagan.

“The 746 trees planted will stand as an on-going reminder for generations to come of the people that lost their lives from the sinking the Hampshire and the Laurel Crown in 1916.”

Four major First World War Centenary Woods are being established as part of Great War centennial events at Langley Vale, Surrey, Dreghorn Woods, near Edinburgh, Coed Ffos Las in Carmarthenshire and Brackfield Wood in County Londonderry, alongside smaller community woods, like the HMS Hampshire one.

Pictures: © Ken Hamer, Orkney Photographic

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