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HMS Natal Remembered 01/10/2015
The communities of Invergordon and Cromarty have gathered to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of HMS Natal in the Cromarty Firth on the 30 December 1915.
421 people died when the warrior class cruiser suffered an ammunitions failure, including three children and seven women. The captain, Eric Back, had invited civilians from the surrounding area onto the ship for a special Christmas cinema party.
It took only five minutes for the ship to go down after a series of explosions ripped through the cruiser. It was originally thought that a German submarine or mine had caused the tragedy, but a court martial later ruled that the explosions had taken place due to faulty cordite in the ship’s ammunitions store. The unstable compound was later linked to explosions that had destroyed three battlecruisers during the battle of Jutland.
Both communities held ceremonies today to mark the 100th year anniversary of one of Scotland’s worst maritime disasters. Guests and relatives of the fallen joined the two communities in paying respects.
At midday, a service was held in Invergordon Parish Church. Relatives, including Rosalind Cahill, the granddaughter of Captain Back, attended the ceremony, along with members of the local community and dignitaries. Kenan Widdows, a pupil from Invergordon Academy played the lament on the bagpipes during the ceremony.
At 2.30pm, representatives from Invergordon and Cromarty came out onto the Firth to lay wreaths over the war grave. A lifeboat led the procession from Invergordon. Families, dignitaries and the media were taken to the wreck in boats provided by the Port of Cromarty Firth. At the site of the war grave, a boat from Cromarty carrying Rosalind Cahill and her daughter, along with town representatives, met the flotilla.
At 4.45, Lord Lieutenant Janet Bowen and Captain Chris Smith laid wreaths on the HMS Natal graves in Cromarty. Children from Cromarty Primary School followed them in laying flowers as pupils from Fortrose Academy sang. Finally, a bugler played ‘The Last Post’, traditionally sounded at military funerals to signify that the fallen had gone to their final resting place.
At 5.45, the Cromarty party returned to the seafront where the Royal Marine marching band performed Beating the Retreat. A short ceremony was conducted in which Captain Smith asked Rosalind Cahill to unveil a new plaque telling the full story of the HMS Natal tragedy. Mrs Cahill took the opportunity to speak about the importance the Cromarty Firth area had for her family, especially Diana, the youngest daughter of her grandparents.
Bob Buskie, Chief Executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “I’m glad that the communities around the Cromarty Firth could join together to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of HMS Natal. The tragedy affected so many people in the Cromarty Firth area and so it was an honour to provide the boats to allow the ceremony over the war grave to take place.”
Rosalind Cahill, the granddaughter of Captain Back, spoke warmly about the connection her family had to the area. She said:
“Both my grandparents were on board when the ship went down, and they left behind three children under the age of five. Since the disaster, my family have spent so much time in Cromarty and Invergordon, developing close connections and friendships with the people here. Indeed, when my father passed away, we took his ashes to be scattered over the war grave, so his final resting place could be with his parents.’
“My grandfather was a cadet at Dartmouth with the future King George V. When he died, my great-grandmother received a letter from the King and Queen saying that he had been held in high esteem as both a man and as a naval officer. That letter provided a great amount of comfort for her.’
“It is poignant that today is also the 101st birthday of the youngest daughter of my grandparents, my Aunt Diana. She also had a close connection to the area, visiting it several times during her life and getting to know some of the locals. Unfortunately, due to her age, she was not able to come along today; however, she did send a representative.”
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