HMS Opal and HMS Narborough

12 January 1918

Instead, they ran into the rocks in near-zero visibility. Some of the Opal’s crew were washed overboard, others were trapped in cabins and compartments unable to escape before the ship broke in two.

Gunner AB William Sissons managed to swim ashore and sheltered from the elements in a crevice. He almost managed to scale the cliff and reach safety, but fell back down through exhaustion and numbness.

He was finally rescued by a trawler after about 36 hours, having kept himself alive on a diet of shellfish and snow.

As for the Narborough, she struck the rocks at speed and heeled over. No man escaped her.

“The tragedy that claimed the lives of the crews of HMS Opal and Narborough is a reminder that the sea can be a dangerous place and not just with the threat of enemy action,” said Capt Chris Smith, RN Regional Commander for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“The link between the Royal Navy and the Orcadians has been a long one and we are once again grateful to see that our collective history is being recognised, especially noting the effort that many people on the islands have put into the commemorations of the last few years.

“We will once more be joining them in solemnly paying tribute to the men who lost their lives during the night of January 12 1918 and ensuring the names of all 188 men are remembered appropriately."

With limited space at the memorial site, only a limited number of guests will be invited to the ceremony on Friday January 12.

The main commemorative event takes place in Cromarty Hall at mid-day where local historian Brian Budge will tell the story of the ships, the men and the tragedy.

Many of those who died were never recovered, but the bodies of 55 were eventually interred at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Lyness on the island of Hoy, overlooking Scapa Flow.

Also recovered from the wreck site was a ring bearing the inscription: To Stanley from Flo – 6 March 1916.

It had been given as an engagement present to Stanley Cubiss, who served in the engine room aboard HMS Opal, saw action at the Battle of Jutland and had been married for less than a year when he lost his life.

It – and other artefacts recovered from the two ships – can be seen in a temporary exhibition at the Orkney Museum in February.

Images: Orkney Library and Archive

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