Sunday, 5 June 2011

The loss of the Hampshire - On this day in Scottish Military History - 1916

Ninety five years ago today the most famous soldier in the British Empire drowned when the ship carrying him on a mission to Russia sunk off Marwick Head, Orkney.

HMS 'Hampshire' was struggling in a gale not unlike the ones we've seen recently in Scotland when she hit a mine and foundered within a matter of minutes. The party for Russia and 643 sailors perished. Hampshire's destroyer escorts had turned for home in the force nine gale earlier so there was no-one nearby to help. The local lifeboat crew who knew the ship had gone down were ordered by the Royal Navy not to help. Civilians on shore were ordered by soldiers not to go near the wreck of the ship to help either.

The Hampshire, her crew and her guests were left to their fate. The fact she was heading to Russia and had Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on board has led to wild speculation and conspiracy theories.

The man who encouraged young men to join up in 1914 had been enoying the hospitality of Jellicoe, the recent victor of Jutland, at Scapa Flow, just hours before his death. His sudden loss stunned the nation. On 13th June 1916 a memorial service was held in St Paul's in London for Kitchener and all the others who went down with the 'Hampshire'

The people of Orkney erected a memorial to the great man near to the spot he died on duty. You can see photographs of the memorial tower on Marwick Head on the Scottish War Memorials Project

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