New stories from Scapa Flow, in wartime and in peace, are highlighted in this year’s programme of events for Celebrating Scapa Flow.
Each year in May, aspects of the great naval anchorage are featured in events brought together by AOP (Another Orkney Production), the group behind the annual Orkney Aviation Festival and a range of other activities. The Scapa Flow events this year will again be online, hosted by the Science Festival on its YouTube channel on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 May.
Topics include the story of Netherbutton, part of the wartime defences of Scapa Flow and then the means for television to come to Orkney, and subsequently community radio as well. The tall transmitter masts were a feature of the Holm skyline for many years, and a new book on the history of radar tells how and why they were built, and we’ll be joined by its author, Ian Brown. It’s an opportunity to find out more about Orkney’s role in wartime radar and about the background that led to a rapid development of the technology in the years before World War II.
Getting the messages from the radar station to the Royal Navy’s ships and base was vital, and the whole system of wartime communications in Scapa Flow will be described by another well-known author, Commander David Hobbs. A decision for the Fleet to sail, for instance, required varied chains of communication between ships and shore, as we will hear. Afterwards he will be joined by Ian Brown for questions which can be sent in through YouTube’s chat.
On Saturday we move in time to the present day to discover how a classically trained singer has become a dive boat skipper in Scapa Flow. Emily Turton has opened up a whole range of aspects of the wrecks in and around Scapa Flow and was the driving force behind the Scapa 100 initiative commemorating the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 1919. She also co-organised the HMS Hampshire 100 survey, and organised the HMS Vanguard 100 and HMS Royal Oak 80 surveys.
Another great project of recent years has been the gradually developing preservation work on the World War II Naval Air Station HMS Tern in Birsay. Birsay Heritage Trust have led the way, and we’ll hear from the chair of their HMS Tern sub-committee, William Shearer about how plans are progressing. With William’s own family business in Kirkwall being very much part of Orkney’s heritage, we’ll also take the opportunity of finding out a little more about it.