It is less known that the Vikings enjoyed cultural interests and a Christian faith. St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, is testament to it. From what we are told of our ancient history, the Vikings were warrior seafarers, indeed their striking double- ended long-ships together with the warriors’ cone shaped helmets, are often seen as emblems of Viking aggression.
Fittingly, today, Sunday 11th October 2009, a memorial service took place in St Magnus Cathedral, the early construction of which, is Viking. The service was in memory the crew of the HMS Royal Oak, who, like the Viking’s before them, were at sea, but as warriors to defend the UK. in World War 2.
There were over 1000 men on board HMS Royal Oak on the 14th October 1939, when the ship was hit twice by torpedoes fired from a German U-boat in Scapa Flow, Orkney. The carnage amounted to 833 crew dead. About 400 crew were saved, many burned and badly injured. The ship is now one of a number wrecks below the clear waters of the North Atlantic and is a maritime grave.
Earlier this year I visited St Magnus Cathedral and spent quiet contemplation time at the memorial plaque, erected with respect and in honour of the crew, in particular, those who lost their lives on the 14th October 1939. So many young valuable lives extinguished in one fell swoop. Trying to comprehend the horrors of warfare, any kind, was, and still is, hard. These men and boys suffered, drowned, like many did, in World War 2.
Subsequently, what are known as the Churchill Barriers, were built to keep out enemy boats of any kind. The block ships, (wrecks) that were used as blockades, were proved to be inadequate by the U47 getting past them and sinking the Roal Oak. The Churchill Barriers, which have proper roads built upon them, have linked some of the smaller Orkney Islands to the main island. It took a war to do it. Prior to their war time construction, the main island was reached mainly by small boats, weather permitting.
War, so horrible an event, often produces innovation that can be used peacefully. In this case the conjoining of the small islands to the Orkney mainland is one of those peaceful and innovative outcomes that has occurred, as a result of the sinking of HMS Royal Oak and the heavy loss of life that day.