The project to restore the Kitchener Memorial in Orkney and build a commemorative wall has been recognised with a Scottish Heritage Angel Award in the Caring and Protecting category.
Orkney has always been a place where the population puts great effort into the protection of its past. From careful excavations of archaeological sites to the establishment of local heritage centres, history in Orkney is all around us.
Now a group of dedicated volunteers from the Orkney Heritage Society has been recognised with a Scottish Heritage Angel Award for its hard work in restoring one of the most famous sites in the islands.
The Kitchener Memorial sits perched on the edge of the 285 foot high cliffs at Marwick Head, peering out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was built in 1926 to mark the loss of Lord Kitchener, who died onboard HMS Hampshire alongside 736 other souls after the vessel hit a German mine and sank in stormy seas in June 1916. There were only twelve survivors.
The 14 metre high stone-built memorial carries only the name of Lord Kitchener and it was this fact that spurred local resident Neil Kermode on to try and properly remember the rest of the men lost in the tragedy.
Plans were launched in 2014 to restore the memorial, which had fallen into a state of disrepair after being battered by strong winds and salty air for nearly ninety years. The project also proposed to build a memorial wall surrounding the monument, engraved with the names of everyone who died that night, as well as the men who lost their lives onboard the Laurel Crown, a ship caught in the minefield only weeks after the sinking of the Hampshire.
A project of this scale doesn’t happen overnight. The team worked to raise more than £160k from a mixture of public and private donations, and a consultation on the proposed plan was launched. Paperwork, presentations, reports and reviews were carried out before the go-ahead was given, and local builders set about restoring the Memorial.
What followed was a huge logistical effort to transport machinery and equipment, not to mention manpower, over the fields to Marwick Head. Landowners opened up their fields, volunteers from the National Guard in the United States travelled to Orkney to help, island historians began the painstaking research required to identify everyone who perished that night. View our short video below for more on the launch of the project.
The Memorial was covered in scaffolding as the work got underway. Soon, the shape of the wall itself began to emerge, curved around the western edge of the Memorial, almost as if protecting it from the ocean below.
It was unveiled on the centenary of the loss of the Hampshire on June 5 2016. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony which was broadcast to the world over the internet. Relatives of the men who died when the vessel sank 100 years ago were present, along with members of the local community and the group who had worked so hard to make the whole thing happen.
The beautiful, curved stone wall not only pays respects to the men who died. It showcases the commitment of Orcadians to preserving the past in the islands. The project has also brought Marwick Head back into the public eye, with a whole new generation visiting the spectacular site to enjoy the cliffs, the crashing seas and the cry of seabirds as they swirl around the sky.
But they’ll also stop at the wall, and the memorial, to remember.
If you'd like to visit Marwick Head and Orkney, find out more via the Visit Orkney website.