The Orkneys, Scapa Flow,10th August 2012

As we travelled from Kirkwall in a South-easterly direction towards Scapa Flow, we stopped for a look at the Italian Chapel which was built by Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in North Africa during World War II and transported to the Orkneys.  They were principally brought to the uninhabited Lamb Holm to construct the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow.  Of the 550 prisoners brought to the Orkneys in 1942, 200 were based at Camp 60.  When a new commandant arrived in 1943, the Camp’s priest persuaded him that a place of worship was needed.


The Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm (P1000640 © DY of jtdytravels)

With limited materials, the prisoners constructed the chapel out of two Nissan huts placed end to end.  The interior was covered with plaster board, a great improvement on the rough corrugated iron of the Nissan huts.  The alter and associated railings were made from left over concrete from the construction of the nearby Churchill Barriers, as was the front facade, which disguised the shape of the huts and made the building look more like a church.

A front on view of the Italian Chapel (P1000610 © DY of jtdytravels)


The ornate work of Domenico Chiocchetti (P1000602 © DY of jtdytravels)

Most of the interior painting, particularly the sanctuary end of the chapel, was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the POW’s.  Fellow prisoners painted the rest of the interior.  It’s not surprising that over 100,000 tourists visit here each year.

Domenico stayed on the island to finish his work even though his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the war ended.

The alter and part of the ceiling (P1000606 © DY of jtdytravels)

Domenico returned to the island in 1960 to help in the chapel’s restoration and again four years later to see the result.  However, he was too ill to return in 1992 when other POW’s visited the chapel to commemorate its 50th anniversary.  Domenico died in 1999.

The memorial to the men lost on the sinking of the ‘Royal Oak’ in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (P1000568 © DY of jtdytravels)

At Scapa Flow we saw The Churchill Barriers, four causeways which block access to the flow.  The total length of these barriers is 2.3km. They link Mainland with the islands of South Ronaldsay, via Burray, Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.   Even though the shallow eastern passages had been secured by sinking block ships, constructing booms and anti-submarine nets, these barriers were deemed necessary when the German submarine, U-47, managed to navigate around the obstructions on the night of 14 October 1939.  Having done so, it launched a surprise torpedo attack on the Royal Oak which was at anchor in Scapa Flow.  The British ship was being used as a training ship.  Of the 1,234 men and boys on board, 833 were killed or died later of their injuries.  The site is now designated as  war grave.

The remains of a block ship, Scapa Flow (P1000621 © DY of jtdytravels)


The remains of a block ship (P1000638 © DY of jtdytravels)

The breaching of the defenses at Scapa Flow caused great consternation within the Royal Navy.  The construction of the Churchill Barriers was ordered.  Work began in May 1940 but was not completed until September 1944.  The official opening did not take place until 12 May 1940, four days after the end of WW II in Europe.

There were over 2,000 in the workforce during the peak of construction in 1943 – Italian POW’s accounted for over 1300 of these workmen.  The use of POW labour for War Effort works is prohibited under the Geneva Convention, however, the British government got around this ‘difficulty’ by describing the work as ‘improvements to communications’ to the southern Orkney Islands.

Beautiful countryside (P1000622 © DY of jtdytravels)

From Scapa Flow, we drove towards St Margaret’s Hope through some very beautiful countryside.

Craggy headlands dot the landscape (P1000623 © DY of jtdytravels)


A canola crop in flower adds colour to the landscape
(P1000626 © DY of jtdytravels)

The village of St Margaret’s Hope is a quiet and sleepy place.  We wandered around the deserted streets for awhile before visiting a blacksmith’s museum.


Back Road, St Margaret’s Hope (P1000630 © DY of jtdytravel


St Margaret’s Hope (P1000631 © DY of jtdytravels)


The ‘beach’ and inter-island catamaran (in background) at St Margaret’s Hope (P1000635 © DY of jtdytravels)


The waiting seagull (P1000643 © DY of jtdytravels)

Outside my Kirkwall hotel window, after another good day of exploring, a seagull was perched atop this chimney pot as if awaiting my return.   D

Leave a Reply