Royal Navy bomb disposal experts took to the streets or Orkney after being bestowed the honour of the Freedom of Orkney.
Members of the Northern Diving Group, based at Faslane naval base, were honoured with the title by the Orkney Island Council in May in recognition of their outstanding work in assisting the island’s community over the years.
Scottish based divers have been servicing the island for more than four decades.
This year, Northern Diving Group have been called out on 55 separate occasions, including five tasks in Orkney.
In 2020 the team completed 140 call outs across the country.
On Friday, the Royal Navy clearance divers marched for the first time through the streets of Kirkwall to mark the milestone occasion.
Commanding Officer of Northern Diving Group, Lieutenant commander Mark Shaw, said: “It was a distinct honour for Northern Diving Group to receive their Freedom of Orkney and to exercise the privilege of marching through the town today. It was done in ceremonial fashion, with bayonets fixed, drums beating and with colours flying.
“Since being awarded the freedom during a Council meeting in May, we have been working with local authorities to plan today’s event in a Covid-compliant manner.
“We have heard some very moving speeches during the ceremony which reflected on Northern Diving Group’s close connection with Orkney – a relationship current and former members of the team hold very dearly.”
Marching through the streets
Royal Navy Personnel stood on ceremony on the streets of Kirkwall after they were honoured with the title of Freedom of Orkney.
The sailors were accompanied by a 20-piece marching band from Royal Marine Band Scotland based at Rosyth.
Members of the public and local dignitaries also lined the streets to cheer the sailors along.
Orkney Islands Council convenor, Harvey Johnston, said: “The Royal Navy Northern Diving Group has been coming to Orkney for many years.
“In addition to always carrying out their professional duties in an exemplary manner they have become true friends to Orkney, assisting in acts of remembrance in Scapa Flow and winning the respect of the local populace.
“It is for this reason that we are delighted to bestow the Freedom of Orkney on the Northern Diving Group.”
Decades long service to Orkney
The relationship between Orkney and Royal Navy clearance divers goes back decades.
For more than 40 years Scottish-based divers have been visiting, not only to safely deal with wartime ordnance washed-up on the coastline, but also to help pay their respects at the wreck of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow.
Each year members of Northern Diving Group dive to the registered war grave to replace the White Ensign – the flag of the Royal Navy – and to remember the 833 sailors lost.
Lt commander Shaw said they look forward to continuing their relationship for generations to come.
He added: “We are looking forward to continuing our special relationship with Orkney for the annual HMS Royal Oak commemoration, and most likely we will be back soon to dispose of more historic munitions, although we won’t be marching in full ceremonial uniform.”
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Royal Navy Clearance divers
Headquartered at HM Naval Base Clyde on the west coast of Scotland, Northern Diving Group is a 39-strong team of Explosive Ordnance Disposal divers that are responsible for providing bomb disposal expertise throughout Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.
Their area covers a coastline of over 12,000 miles and touches hundreds of small, and often remote, communities.
The unit provides a unique Enclosed Space Diving capability. Using special equipment divers can conduct maintenance work in tight and difficult to reach compartments – a requirement particularly relevant to submarines. Currently Northern Diving Group are the only military diving unit which can carry out enclosed space diving.