Prime Minister and Princess Royal lead commemoration

The Princess Royal and German President Joachim Gauck (right) pass the Weeping Window sculpture made of ceramic poppies as they attend a service at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland
The Princess Royal and German President Joachim Gauck (right) pass the Weeping Window sculpture made of ceramic poppies as they attend a service at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland

Thousands of sailors who lost their lives in the biggest naval battle of the First World War have been remembered in a series of events 100 years to the day of the engagement.

David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon and the Princess Royal joined descendants of those who fought at the Battle of Jutland for services on Orkney to remember the 8,648 seamen who died in the most decisive sea engagement of the war.

It came on the centenary of the battle when British and German ships engaged in a 36-hour conflict off the coast of Denmark which led to the devastating losses and changed the course of the war.

British and German military bands played and crowds lined the street as the Prime Minister arrived at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall with the Scottish First Minister for the first service of the day.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry and local Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael joined other politicians, government ministers and naval officers to pay tribute at the UK’s most northerly cathedral.

Guests and descendants later travelled by boat to Lyness Cemetery on the island of Hoy – the final resting place for more than 450 service personnel who died in the war, including sailors killed at Jutland.

The cemetery stands close to Scapa Flow, from where the British Grand Fleet set out for the Jutland Bank to repel the German High Seas Fleet attempting to break a British blockade.

A remembrance service was also held at sea where British and German naval representatives scattered poppies and forget-me-nots – the German flower of remembrance – into the North Sea at Jutland Bank where some of the downed ships still sit on the seabed.

A message from the Duke of Edinburgh, who was unable to attend on medical advice, was carried in the order of service for the commemorations.

Philip said: “Whatever the judgment on the outcome, the commemoration of the centenary of the battle is focused on the endurance and gallantry of all those who took part, on both sides, and particularly on those who lost their lives.

“War may be senseless and the Battle of Jutland may have been inconclusive, but there can be no doubt that their sacrifice was not in vain.”

Anne represented the Royal Family at the memorial and arrived with German president Joachim Gauck.

During the service, led by minister Fraser MacNaughton of St Magnus, the Prime Minister read from the Song of Songs while descendants and officers from the British and German Navy read diary extracts from officers who fought in the battle.