Name plaque from century old Orkney naval tragedy that was found in cormorant nest

South Ronaldsay is one of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. On January 12 1918 during awful weather conditions and a snowstorm, HMS Opal and Narborough ran aground off South Ronaldsay. Just one man survived and 188 sailors lost their lives in the tragedy. 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. The survivor, Gunner AB William Sissons, was from that ship. He managed to swim ashore and tried to scale the cliff and reach safety, but was to exhausted. He sheltered from the atrocious conditions in a crevice and survived on a diet of shellfish and snow for 36 hours. He was finally rescued by a trawler. No man escaped from the Narborough  

There is a monument to those that perished in Windwick Bay on South Ronaldsay  where over the years commemorations have been held. This year the ceremony will be held on Friday January 12, exactly one hundred years to the day after the tragedy, There will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument, before a memorial event and presentation in a Cromarty Hall at St Margaret’s Hope. Local historian Brian Budge will tell the story of the ships, the men and the tragedy. A number of artefacts recovered from the two ships will be on view in a temporary exhibition at the Orkney Museum in February.

The Scottish newspaper The National has a report on a remarkable discovery made close to the site of the tragedy. Among those who died was 19-year-old Fred Rotchell. Like most of the sailors his body was never recovered. However, many years after the ships loss members of Fred Rotchell’s family were researching his story. They made the remarkable discovery that the name plate from his sea trunk had been found in a cormorant’s nest. The birds scavenge bits of metal from the wreck in order to line their nests. The name plate was later sent to the family. 

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