Under the command of Captain H J Savill and with a
crew of 650 men HMS Hampshire was a coal burning, 10,850 ton
cruiser of the Devonshire class built in 1905.
Shortly after the Battle of Jutland in June 1916
Hampshire was detailed to take Lord Kitchener, his staff and a number
of government officials from the anchorage of Scapa Flow in the Orkney
Islands to Northern Russia where discussions were to take place on the
subject of the Russian purchase of munitions for their war effort against
Field Marshal Lord Horatio Kitchener, the hero of the
relief of Khartoum, former Commander in Chief of India and Secretary of
State for War was a popular national figure who had by sheer force of his
personality, and his famous recruiting poster, raised from volunteers the
so called New Armies, otherwise known as Kitchener’s Army, at the outbreak
of war in 1914.
On 5th June 1916 the Hampshire and her
escorting ships set sail from Scapa. There was a very strong northeasterly
gale blowing. Instead of taking the easterly route the ships took the
westerly route around the islands. But even in the shelter of the land the
escorts could not keep up and they were forced to turn back and the
Hampshire went on alone. Apparently as a result of a failure to
communicate intelligence information Captain Savill was not aware that the
area around Marwick Head had been mined by Lieutenant Commander Kurt
Beitzen of the Submarine U75 in May and that the channel had not been
At about 8pm the Hampshire struck a mine, some
say it was two mines chained together, electrical power failed and the
ship’s company were unable to launch the boats. Men took to the freezing,
stormy water clinging to Carley Floats and the Hampshire sank in
fifteen minutes. Kitchener was last seen on the deck talking with members
of his staff. His body was never found.
There were twelve survivors of the Hampshire all of
whom, after at least an hour in the water, managed to reach the storm
torn, rocky shore clinging to Carley Floats. Amongst them was Stoker W C
Farnden, Petty Officer W Wesson and Leading Seaman W Cashman. The dead
included Kitchener’s interpreter Second Lieutenant Robert David MacPherson
of the 8th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.
Through the storm the dramatic events were seen from
the shore and the Postmistress at Birsay informed Naval HQ in Kirkwall by
telegraph. However, in spite of the pleadings of the crew the Stromness
Lifeboat was not given clearance to launch and the local people alleged
that they were not told of the events so that they could go to the cliffs
and help bring the exhausted survivors ashore. Indeed it was even said
that they were hindered by the Naval Authorities from assisting in any way
and by the time that the sea search got underway all but twelve of the
crew were dead.
The Kitchener Memorial Tower stands on Marwick Head
and the Field Marshal is remembered by The Lord Kitchener National
Memorial Fund raised by popular appeal to fund Kitchener University
Scholarships originally intended to fund the education of young soldiers
returning from the war.