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Not just prehistoric archaeology

Although the focus of the trip was clearly on the prehistoric, and specifically neolithic, remains on both Shetland and Orkney, our tour leader was keen that the group should also get an understanding of more recent history. In particular, the sheltered anchorage at Scapa Flow, surrounded on all sides by the Orkney archipelago, was a major base for the British Fleet in both World Wars. In fact, my mother tells me that her father was based there for part of WWII, and when she was a baby my grandmother took her to stay in boarding houses around Scapa Flow for several months so the family could be close together. I never knew that!

As part of the tour we went to the Italian Chapel, built by a group of Italian prisoners of war who were interned on an island adjacent to Scapa Flow, and put to work building some of the anti-submarine defences called “Churchill Barriers”. These are made from blocks of concrete sunk to form barriers between the islands, which are now used as causeways between them.

Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel is made from two Nissan Huts, and was decorated by some very talented painters amongst the prisoners, who scrounged / reused / re-purposed objects from the POW camp. The walls are painted in very clever tromp l’oeil to simulate 3D stonework and carving, the font is made from a lorry suspension spring covered in concrete, and the candlesticks on the alter are made from tin cans. Very impressive!