Kirk minister reflects on devastating loss of life in WW1 sea battle

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Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and Rev Neil Gardner

The Rev Neil Gardner of Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh addressed MSPs at the Scottish Parliament this week - an event which marked the official start of the new parliamentary session.

He reflected on the centenary of the Battle of Jutland which was commemorated at St Magus Cathedral in Orkney on Tuesday.

The service paid tribute to the 8,648 sailors who died during what was the biggest naval engagement of World War One.

The battle was fought near the coast of Denmark on 31 May and 1 June 1916 and involved about 250 ships.

It saw the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, based at Scapa Flow in Orkney, clash with the German High Seas Fleet.

Here is what Rev Gardner, who was chaplain to the Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly last week, had to say

As minister of Canongate kirk, I take the opportunity of this first time for reflection of the new session of the Scottish Parliament not only to congratulate you on your election but to welcome you to the parish.

Canongate is also the parish church for the Palace of Holyrood House and Edinburgh Castle.

With our role as Edinburgh's military church in mind, I will focus briefly, and probably inevitably, on the centenary of the battle of Jutland, which began exactly 100 years ago today and ended 100 years ago tomorrow.

It was the largest naval action of the first world war and it remains something of a controversial battle, in that both sides claimed a victory of sorts.

The Royal Navy's grand fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and based largely in Scottish waters, lost more than 6,000 sailors and 14 ships out of a total of 60,000 sailors and 151 ships, while the imperial German high sea fleet lost 2,500 men and 11 ships out of a total of 45,000 sailors and 99 ships.

The comparative losses meant that the Germans claimed victory, but the blockade that they had been trying to break remained in place for the rest of the war, and British domination of the North Sea remained secure.

As is so often the case, when the fog and confusion of battle had lifted, questions were asked about some of the decisions that were taken by those in command on both sides, but the bravery of certain individuals who lost their lives on 31 May and 1 June 1916 has always been beyond doubt.

They included men such as Francis Harvey of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who prevented a magazine from igniting and blowing up an entire ship, and boys such as John Travers Cornwell - the 16-year-old who famously remained at his post while seriously injured and who died in hospital before his mother could reach his bedside.

Both those men were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

It is their valour, and the service and sacrifice of so many like them, to which we should surely devote time for reflection today and tomorrow.