Faslane divers pay tribute in Orkney to crew of sunken Royal Oak

Operation to change the White Ensign on “grave” of Royal Oak.

By Gavin Carr

Royal Navy Clearance Divers were in Orkney to pay tribute to the 834 sailors who lost their lives during the sinking of HMS Royal Oak.

The Revenge Class battleship lies at the bottom of Scapa Flow, torpedoed by a German U-Boat on October 14, 1939, while at anchor.

Each year members of the HM Naval Base Clyde-based Northern Diving Group (NDG) travel to the site where they carry out the solemn duty of descending to the wreck to change the White Ensign.

This year marks 79 years since the disaster and a ceremony was also held at the HMS Royal Oak Memorial in Scapa Flow, followed by a wreath-laying at sea above where the ship now rests.

The Royal Navy team were joined by civilian divers from MV Huskyan, who were granted a licence and permission to dive on the registered war grave by the Secretary of State for Defence.

This was part of a collaboration to document and preserve the last resting place of the men who lost their lives during the sinking so that their passing can be remembered by future generations.

Lieutenant Commander Chris Stephenson, the Commanding Officer of NDG, said: “It remains our honour and privilege to continue to conduct diving operations on HMS Royal Oak, not only to ensure the safety of the wreck, but to pay our respects to those lost and ensure the sanctity of their final resting place.

“We also appreciate the support of the Huskyan team in their efforts to record the wreck for relatives of those who pass and future generations.”

Able Seaman (Diver) Matthew Kilminster, who was part of the team who dived to replace the White Ensign, said: “It was an honour to be part of the team that conducted the Ensign change this year on HMS Royal Oak.

“It is the first time I have dived on the wreck and the conditions and visibility were outstanding.  It was a wonderful opportunity to pay our respects to the lost servicemen – a privilege that not many RN Clearance Divers will ever get and a dive I will never forget.”

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