Iconic ceramic poppies going on display at Orkney's St Magnus Cathedral

weepingwillow
Weeping Willow - Matt McNulty

A "spectacular" display of thousands of ceramic poppies is to be installed at Orkney's iconic Magnus Cathedral to mark the centenary of a legendary sea battle.

Poppies: Weeping Window, taken from the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, will be on show at the Kirkwall landmark from April 22 to June 12 as a memorial to the Battle of Jutland during the First World War.

It was the most significant naval engagement of the 1914-1918 conflict and brought together the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet.

It raged between May 31 and June 1, 1916, involved 250 ships and claimed the lives of 6,000 British and 2,500 German sailors.

Weeping Window is the cascade of poppies that was seen pouring out of a high window down to the grass below. In Orkney - the first place in Scotland to display the installation - the poppies will cascade from the western end of the Cathedral.

It was originally on display at the Tower of London in 2014 where 888,246 poppies were displayed - one to honour every death in the British and Colonial forces of the First World War.

The Rev Fraser McNaughton, minister at the red sandstone Cathedral, a Church of Scotland congregation, said: "We are delighted that the Poppy installation is coming, particularly as it will be in situ for the national service of Commemoration of the Battle of Jutland in the Cathedral on May 31.

"The Cathedral will provide a beautiful backdrop for what is a unique art installation and will keep the sacrifice of so many to the forefront in this period of centenary commemoration."

The morning service will be followed by a ceremony and time for reflection at the Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in Hoy, where over 400 Commonwealth servicemen and German sailors from the First World War are buried.

Some were as young as 16 years-old.

Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament which welcomes the news that the poppy display will be installed at St Magnus Cathedral.

Supported by Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack, it predicts that it will be well received by the public.

UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said the artwork would complement commemorative events being held this year across the country to mark the centenaries of the Battles of Jutland and the Somme. 

"I am especially pleased that we are bringing the iconic Weeping Window poppies sculpture to Orkney as a poignant tribute to the many men who served during the Battle of Jutland and the wider war at sea," he added.

Alistair Buchan, Orkney Islands Council's chief executive, said: "The spectacular poppies installation has a huge impact on those who experience it as a powerful reminder of enormous loss of life during the First World War.

"This is the year that Orkney will host the UK's national commemoration of the Battle of Jutland.

" I can think of no more apt a setting for the Weeping Window sculpture than the Cathedral, which will be at the heart of those commemorations.

"I am delighted that Orkney will provide the first opportunity for people to see the poppies in Scotland.

"They will reflect Orkney's close links with the War and the contribution of our forbearers to the war effort, and they will help ensure that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countries are never forgotten."

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament which welcomes the news that St Magnus Cathedral will host the Poppies: Weeping Window installation.

It acknowledges that many of the British ships involved in the Battle of Jutland were stationed at Scapa Flow.