Last week on a cycling tour of Orkney, we took some time out to visit the Lyness Naval Cemetery on the island of Hoy. Managed by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery was started in 1915, at this time Scapa Flow was being used as the northern base of the Grand Fleet during the First World War. Lyness remained as a Royal Naval base until July 1946 and was strategically important during both World Wars.
There are 439 Commonwealth burials from the First World War, 112 of which are unidentified, the largest number of casualties (124) came from the sinking of HMS Hampshire off Marwick Head on 5 June 1916. A further 200 burials from the Second World War are in the cemetery, including those of 26 men from H.M.S. “Royal Oak”, which was sunk off Longhope in Scapa Flow by a German U-boat on 14 October 1939, leading to the loss of 833 men.
The cemetery also contains the graves of 14 sailors of the German Navy – the High Seas Fleet was interned at Scapa Flow after the 1918 Armistice – 4 further German burials including 2 unidentified airmen and 1 Norwegian war grave. There are 30 non-war Service burials, 2 being unidentified British soldiers.
A large number of the memorials are, to those “Known unto God”, these quietly stop you in your tracks, forcing you to remember the unknown soldiers and sailors who gave their life for their country.
It was a humbling morning as we slowly walked along the rows of memorials of the dozens of soldiers, airmen, and sailors who lost their lives fighting for our freedom, the cemetery is beautifully kept in this harsh northern landscape, every one of the over 600 gravestones was spotless.