Flag tribute for Harry on Royal Oak landmark

Harry with the Royal Oak ensign he will present to Leven Parish Church
Harry with the Royal Oak ensign he will present to Leven Parish Church

A Leven resident and former councillor is to make a special donation to Leven Parish Church in memory of his late uncle and hundreds of other men lost in the sinking of the Royal Oak 75 years ago.

Harry Blyth attended the annual commemorations at Scapa Flow in Orkney - the scene of the sinking by a German U-Boat in October 1939 - at the beginning of the month.

Every year, the Royal Navy’s Northern Diving Unit, go down to the stern of the wreck, which sits just five metres from the surface of the water, and replace the white ensign.

The previous flag, which has spent a full year in the icy waters of Scapa Flow, is then presented to a special recipient chosen by the Royal Oak Survivors Association and the local Royal British Legion.

And this year, Harry was “hugely honoured” to be chosen to receive it.

And now he plans to donate it to Leven Parish Church following its Sunday service this weekend.

“The presentation of the ensign is something they do every year, and in the past it has been survivors and children of men lost, so to be chosen to receive the ensign, as a newphew, is such a huge honour - I was absolutely chuffed to bits.

“As a special guest, I got to go out to the wreck, which is a war grave, and when they lay the wreaths, your heart is really in your mouth.”

Harry was born three years to the day after his uncle, Henry Blyth, aged just 23, was killed during the sinking of the Royal Oak.

The ensign will now be proudly displayed by the Durie Street church, next to a plaque commemorating some of the men lost in the sinking and a special oak-framed portrait of the Royal Oak.

Harry has already donated a plaque which his uncle made out of gun metal while aboard the Royal Oak, to the Scapa Flow Visitor’s Centre and Museum at Lyness, and it spent a year on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The Royal Oak was built during World War One, and saw combat at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

As tensions mounted ahead of World War Two, she set off from Rosyth for protected anchorage at Scapa Flow, off Orkney, and was anchored there when war was declared on September 3, 1939.

But just one month later, an assault on Scapa Flow was planned using the U-Boat U-47, comanded by Lieutenant Günther Prien.

The first torpedo that hit HMS Royal Oak at 1.04 a.m. on the morning of October 14 was treated as an “internal explosion” giving Prien time to reload his tubes and fire again.

This time, all three torpedos fired by Prien were successful in hitting the Royal Oak at 1.16 a.m., blowing a hole in the ship’s armoured deck.

The ship turned over after 13 minutes, killing 834 men, including Harry’s uncle Henry Blyth who had been replaced on deck by another seaman from Methil Brae who was one of just 386 survivors.

Over 100 of the men who died aboard the Oak were classed as Boy Sailors, not yet 18 years of age, the largest ever such loss in a Royal Navy action.

The wreck is designated as a war grave, and all diving or other unauthorised forms of exploration are prohibited.