A poignant ceremony has been held to mark the centenary of the deaths of more than 400 people in a naval disaster in the Cromarty Firth.
The Royal Navy cruiser HMS Natal sank on December 30, 1915, after a series of explosions ripped through the ship while she sat at anchor between Cromarty and Invergordon.
The warship went down within five minutes, claiming the lives of 421 people, including women and children at a party hosted by commanding officer Captain Eric Back.
Yesterday Captain Back’s granddaughter Rosalind Cahill and other relations of victims attended a memorial service at Invergordon, before laying wreaths above the area where the vessel was lost.
Captain Back was killed along with his wife in the disaster, and Mrs Cahill, who travelled from Exeter to attend the memorial, said it had never been forgotten in her family.
She said: “The loss of life is almost beyond belief and so sudden and so unexpected.
“I’ve known about it as long as I can remember but the implications of losing grandparents before I was born only dawns on you very gradually.
“Now I’m a grandparent myself I realise how special that relationship with your grandchildren is and what you miss out on.”
Also in attendance was Lynne Twaddle and her son Craig, who travelled to Invergordon to pay tribute to Mrs Twaddle’s uncle Robert Tweedie, who was posted aboard the Natal as a ship’s boy, first class.
He was 17 years old when he died.
Mr Twaddle had uncovered his story after a photograph of Mr Tweedie was found among other family pictures.
The exact cause of the explosion has never been fully established, though an inquiry ruled out sabotage or enemy action. It is believed that the explosion could have been caused by an ammunition failure.
Yesterday also marked the 110th anniversary of the ship being launched from Barrow-on-Furness.
She was used to patrol the area between the Cromarty Firth and Scapa Flow for minelayers and submarines.
The ship had been anchored in the Cromarty Firth over Christmas 1914.
Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive Bob Buskie said the loss of the Natal was the firth’s “darkest day”.
He said: “It was a huge tragedy with 421 people losing their lives in a single day.
“The port wants to remember that and do our bit in supporting the community and making sure that the memorial goes to plan.
“There’s a war grave there now and the port has a responsibility to make sure that it stays in the forefront of everybody’s minds.”