FRIDAY MORNING Scuttling & Salvage

FRIDAY 18 OCT STROMNESS TOWN HALL 9:15am-12:30pm

9:00am SCUTTLING & SALVAGE SESSION  

Chaired by Ian Johnstone, Management Team Leader, Aquatera & Chair of Stromness Museum

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The Grand Scuttle / What a Clocks Sees / Lovely, Lovely Pipe / Log Book

Orkney Story Stack short films inspired by German Fleet artefacts created by Youth Café participants Ruth, Leah, Tom & Shannon in collaboration with Stromness Museum.


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Orkney 1900-1939: a social, economic and cultural exploration 

SHEILA GARSON – Former Curator, Orkney Museums & Trustee, Stromness Museum

This paper will explore Orkney’s social, economic and cultural background in the years prior to the First World War and the decade or so thereafter. In so doing it will provide a means to measure the impact of the war on the islands and to place the legacy of these world events, including the scuttling of the German High Seas Flett, in context.


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9:45-10:10am

The View from the Shore: An Orcadian Perspective

TOM MUIR – Engagement/Exhibitions Officer, Orkney Arts, Museum & Heritage, Orkney Islands Council

Direct communication between Orcadian civilians and the German sailors interned on their ships in Scapa Flow was not allowed.  However, there are some fascinating eyewitness accounts and newspaper reports that offer a glimpse into the thinking of the general public regarding the interned German Squadron at Scapa Flow.


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10:15 – 10:40am

In Limbo in the Flow – Life in the Interned Fleet

ANGUS KONSTAM – Author & historian

In November 1919 the German High Seas Fleet was interned in Scapa Flow, while task began in Versailles to turn the armistice into a lasting peace. It languished there for seven months, the fleet’s disarmed ships manned by skeleton crews. Effectively these ships and men were held hostage while this diplomatic game was being played out some 750 miles away, on the outskirts of Paris.

In this paper, historian Angus Konstam describes what life was like for the German sailors in Scapa Flow, cut off from their homeland at a time when Germany was being riven by unrest, and many of their families were suffering from famine and disease. In Scapa Flow though, apart from homesickness, the sailors’ main enemy was boredom. In this paper, we see how they tried to entertain themselves, how they fared, and how the political unrest at home was mirrored on board the ships of the interned fleet.


10:40 – 11:00am Refreshment break


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11:00 – 11:25am

Salvaging the German Navy: Ernest Cox, Thomas McKenzie and the men who worked with them 

BRIAN BUDGE – Local historian

Raising the sunken German warships in Scapa Flow involved dangerous and expensive work on a scale that had never been attempted before.  While also describing the engineering efforts, Brian’s talk covers the stories of the men who undertook the daunting project and the human cost in achieving it.


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11:30am – 12:00pm

From Scrap Metal to Museum Artefact: Changing cultural attitudes to material salvaged from the scuttled German Fleet over the 20th Century. 

JANETTE PARK – Curator, Stromness Museum

This paper looks at the collection of artefacts in Stromness Museum and how changing social and cultural views are reflected in the perceived value of the German Fleet from its scuttling in 1919 to the present day. 

Attitudes to salvage have changed considerably over the last 100 years.  The early days of salvage were undertaken by the Admiralty, as the wrecks were considered a hazard to shipping. The salvage rights were then sold to a progression of commercial companies through the 20th century whose focus was to salvage the ships for scrap metal.  However, attitudes started to change in the 1980s with the growth of tourism diving.  In 2001 the remaining German wrecks were awarded scheduled monument status by Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) in recognition of their cultural and historical significance.    

Throughout the 20th century objects from the wrecks have found their way into family homes and subsequently into museum collections.  The collection at Stromness Museum covers all aspects of Orkney’s maritime past, but the largest of these collections relate to the scuttling of the German Fleet on the 21st June 1919.  

This paper reflects on how salvaged objects have become museum artefacts, and how they are interpreted within a museum context. 


12:00-12:30 QUESTION TIME


12:30 – 2:00pm LUNCH


images: Stromness Museum artefacts – Rebecca Marr, Stromness Museum / Archive images – Orkney Library & Archive