Friday, 3 June 2016

Orkney at War - The Hampshire Sinking

As part of our Orkney at War series of displays, we now have one dedicated to the Sinking of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener.

This display has been compiled from existing records and books which we hold in the Orkney Archive, some of which are very new to us, such as the photograph and biography of William Cake, one of the unfortunate men who perished in the tragedy. We are very grateful to all the depositors of "new" records and photographs we have received since the beginning of our WW1 centenary displays.

Field Marshall Earl Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, in 1914.
Photo and caption from The Kitchener Enigma by Trevor Royle
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
 
Kitchener set sail from Scapa Flow bound for Archangel, Russia on board HMS Hampshire on the afternoon of the 5th June 1916. Less than 3 hours after departure the ship suffered a massive explosion after hitting a mine 3 miles off the coast of Marwick Head, Birsay. The ship sank within 15 minutes and all on board were lost except for 12 very lucky survivors.
 
The 737 men who died in the tragedy consisted of the crew of the Hampshire and Lord Kitchener's entourage, including Lord Kitchener himself.
 
Kitchener was very well known at the time of the tragedy,
 
"If it be difficult to explain, it is impossible to deny that Lord Kitchener inspired multitudes who had never set eyes on him, who knew of him only by hearsay, with a sentiment something akin to passionate personal devotion."
 Quote from Sir George Arthur, Bt., M.V.O. from the foreword of
The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
HMS Hampshire
Captain: H J Savill; Dimensions: 10,850 tons, 450 x 68.5 x 25.5 feet;
Guns: 6 x 6", 2 x 12 pounder, 20 x 3 pounder; Completed 1905.
Archive Photo reference: L3787-4
 

Leaving Scapa Flow
 
Lord Kitchener disembarking from a ship, shortly before his departure from Scapa Flow, June 1916.
Archive Photo reference: L4315/3
 
"It was 3pm on Monday, June 5th, 1916, that news got round the ship that we were sailing at 4.30pm to convey Lord Kitchener and his staff to an unknown Russian Port. The excitement was great. One and all were very proud to think that our ship was the one selected for such a mission."
 Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y  
 
The Weather
"The weather of June was cold, misty, sunless and wet; but vegetation made good progress. There were several strong winds during the first fortnight, but the strongest was on that fateful evening of the 5th, when at 8pm a north-west wind was blowing with a velocity of 52 miles. Not one day of the first 20 passed without wind from some northerly quarter."
Extract from the Met Report from June 1916. Archive Reference: D1/692 WW1 Scrapbook
 

"We cleared the Harbour and were then met by our escort, which comprised two fast destroyers. The sea was wicked - the two destroyers as they steamed along parallel with us suffered terribly; at times the mountainous waves washed over them completely.

I passed the remark to my mates that they surely would not come much further, and as we expected, they were ordered back to Base, much to the relief of their crews."
Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
 
Route of HMS Hampshire from The Kitchener Enigma by Trevor Royle
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
 
The Explosion
 
On board: "a terrific blast went through the ship, shaking her from stern to stern. Something out of the ordinary had happened, and the fumes which began to spread gave evidence that we had probably struck a mine. The force of the explosion had extinguished all the lights, and I shall never forget that dreadful jolting walk in the darkness and fumes, which the mine had given off, to that glimmer of light coming through the hatchway."
Quoted from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
 
On shore: "He [her father] came in, he was back on then you see, he didn't see the explosion, and he saw her, but didn't see the explosion, and he came in, he said "There's a big warship coming smashing past Marwick Head." I went out and I said, "I think she's not doing much smashing". And then she headed for the shore, she just headed herself for coming in on the Birsay shore then, but unfortunately she fell off, for you see she was only 3 mile out, that if she'd gone further in we surely could have rescued some. And she fell off and then she started to go down by the bow, like this, and it seemed as if she stopped to me, stopped just for a few minutes, when I thought that her bow might have touched the bottom. And then she just disappeared like that, she turned turtle, they said."
Quote from Mrs Hunter interviewed for Radio Orkney by Brian Flett and Ann Manson, 23 Dec 1981. Transcription by James Irvine. Archive reference OSA/TA/26/3
 
 
Aftermath
 
"And I said to my father "Where will the rafts go?", he said, "Down the Flow", so I said, "Oh that should be all right", for there were ships coming out to look for, after the Hampshire, she would meet in with them, but they didn't because the wind changed and drove them into the next parish of Sandwick. And unfortunately they knew nothing, they'd seen the Hampshire but they didn't know anything had happened to her. For as one of the young men said to me, it was a pity as they could have done something, him and another young man that could have done a lot."
Quote from Mrs Hunter interviewed for Radio Orkney by Brian Flett and Ann Manson, 23 Dec 1981. Transcription by James Irvine. Archive reference OSA/TA/26/3
 
 
Illustration from The Mystery of Lord Kitchener's Death by Donald McCormick
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y

 
Survivors
Out of over 700 men who were on board HMS Hampshire, only 12 survived.
 
"Now the exposure was beginning to take effect ... The night was drawing on and men were dying very swiftly now. Two hours had passed ... At last one large wave swooped us against a very high cliff and the raft caught on some rocks. I remember lying on a rock ... and the feeling of hands pulling me up over the cliffs."
 

 
Quote and photo from The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener by a Survivor, W C Phillips
Orkney Room reference: 941.09 Y
(Photo- Four of the survivors with W C Phillips sitting on the right)
 
 
Loss of Life
Our Archive does not hold many stories of the men who died on the Hampshire, but we hope with the such projects as the Kitchener and Hampshire Memorial Project, more information will come to Orkney.
Here are a couple:
 Frank Glover, Sea Transport Officer 1st Class, lost his life in the Hampshire sinking, seen here in HMS Hampshire Football League. Photo Archive reference: L3736/1



Acting Stoker Petty Officer William Cake
 

After the sinking of HMS Hampshire, William's body was found on the shore. It is said in the family that he died of hypothermia as his finger and nails were very much cut and broken through his efforts to pull himself over the beach.
Archive Reference: D1/1211
 
Loss of Lord Kitchener
 Photo Archive reference: L5090/2



Poems from John Fraser's WW1 Scrapbook, Archive Reference: D1/692
 
Memorial
On 2nd July, on behalf of the people of Orkney and dedicated to Lord Kitchener and the crew of HMS Hampshire, the Kitchener Memorial was unveiled on Marwick Head, Birsay.
 

Photo Archive references: TK1888 and TK1905

There is more in the display about the reactions from locals and those further afield about this tragedy. Please do pop in to see it if you are in Kirkwall.
The display will be up until the end of June 2016.

************************************************
This weekend will mark 100 years since the ship went down, and to commemorate every man who perished, The Orkney Heritage Society and the Birsay Heritage Trust are mounting a series of events at the Birsay Community Centre and the Kitchener Memorial culminating in the unveiling of a new curtain wall which will include all 737 names of the men who died that night, as well as the 9 members of the crew of the Laurel Crown which sank there on 22nd June 1916.