British battleship HMS Royal Oak receives new ensign

Royal Navy clearance divers from HM Naval Base Clyde have changed the White Ensign on the wreck of HMS Royal Oak on the anniversary of its sinking on October 14, 1939.

HMS Royal Oak was a Revenge Class battleship which came under attack from German U-Boat U-47 at Scapa Flow, Orkney. The warship was sunk with the loss of 834 lives and is now a registered war grave.

Each year Royal Navy’s Northern Diving Group (NDG) are given permission to dive down to the wreck and change the White Ensign – the iconic flag of the Royal Navy – marking the sacrifice of those who gave their lives.

This year the team were also given the duty of placing three memorial plaques within the Royal Oak.

Two were in memory of crew members Marine Kenneth Edwin Hall and Able Seaman Stoker Joseph Paschal Wilkins, the third featured a photograph of Janet Yorke, whose brother perished in the sinking, and who recently passed away.

On Thursday, October 13, NDG’s able seaman (diver) Stephen Kendrick and leading diver Craig MacMillan were given the honor, descending through the murky waters of Scapa Flow to place the Ensign and plaques.

“It was an honour and a privilege to place the new Ensign and plaques on the war grave of HMS Royal Oak,” said Stephen Kendrick.

“Throughout the diving there were very deep emotions running through my mind – from a sense of honour to great sorrow. I will always remember this moment. May they rest in peace and never be forgotten.”

This year marks the 77th anniversary of the sinking and a ceremony was also held at the HMS Royal Oak Memorial in Scapa Flow on Friday, October 14, followed by a wreath-laying at sea above the wreck of the vessel.

Royal Navy clearance divers are also the maritime bomb disposal experts and in March this year a team from NDG were called to Orkney to deal with an item of suspected ordnance located on the seabed.

Upon examination the item was identified as a World War Two torpedo, thought to be a stray, fired at Royal Oak by the U47.

Launched in 1914, HMS Royal Oak saw service during the First World War, with her first combat at the Battle of Jutland. In 1938 she was returned to the Home Fleet and was at Scapa Flow following the hunt for a German battleship in the North Sea.