Published: 14:26 Updated: 17:32 Friday 05 January 2018
It was one of the worst tragedies to befall Scotland during World War One, when all but one of the crew aboard two Royal Navy destroyers perished in the waters off Orkney in treacherous conditions. Now, a century after the loss of nearly 200 men who served on HMS Opal and HMS Narborough, a remarkable discovery will help ensure their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Fred Rotchell, a 19-year-old sailor, was among 189 men who lost their lives during the wartime tragedy off South Ronaldsay. The relatives of one young sailor who was among the dead have tracked down a brass plaque he made and used on the Opal before it was sunk off the coastline of South Ronaldsay. It comes as the people of Orkney are preparing to honour the memory of the 189 crew members who lost their lives as the ships were en route to Scapa Flow during a snowstorm on 12 January 1918.
Among those killed was Fred Rotchell, a cabinet maker who had only recently joined the Opal. The 19-year-old sailor was the great-uncle of Jane Brady, from Frodsham, near Chester, whose husband, Kieran, has looked into Fred’s story. During his research he was put in touch with Willie Budge, from South Ronaldsay, who has documented the wartime history of Orkney. As the two men conversed, Mr Budge said he was only aware of two names relating to the disaster. The first was William Sissons, the sole survivor. Much to Mr Brady’s surprise, the second name was one F. Rotchell.
It transpired that an Orkney man, John George Halcro, had been climbing the cliffs near where the Opal went down and came across a cormorant’s nest. Inside, he found shards of metal the bird had scavenged from the wreck.