Then and Now – Hoy at War: A Photographic Journey


1 Boom Defence
  • June 1938 Boom defence personnel arrived at Lyness, constructed boom slab, shed, workshops & began laying boom nets across entrances to Scapa Flow
  • Lyness began with the BDO. Was the only dept fully installed and ready at beginning of WWII
  • main construction & maintenance facility for the anti-submarine and anti-shipping defence booms
  • The Boom depot was commissioned as an independent command HMS Pomona, 1st Oct 1943


2 Pumphouse construction
  • September 1938 – work began on expanding the oil storage capacity & infrastructure

WWII Hoy Then & Now - Pumphouse No1, Lyness


  • 26th Aug 1939 – HMS Iron Duke arrived as Flagship, accommodation ship and centre for Naval communications
  • Admiral French took command as Admiral Commanding Orkney & Shetland aboard Iron Duke
  • 17th Oct 1939 – Iron Duke bombed & beached in Ore Bay – ACOS, Fleet base & comms moved ashore
  • Admiral’s staff Officers billeted in Royal Hotel and commuted by bus (0830 arrive 1930 return)
  • Admiral more salubrious residence at Melsetter House
  • Shared accommodation with the HQ of 59th AA Bde
  • Rysa Lodge occupied by Admiral Superintendant
  • 11th Dec 1939 – Iron Duke towed to Longhope & beached
  • Feb 1940 – ACOS moved into new office block at Head of Right
  • ACOS phone & printer comms to & from submarines, boom gate vessels, signal stations & main phone cable ring connecting all Scapa Flow defence sites
  • Sept ’43 purpose built splinter-proof combined ACOS HQ & Naval Comms Centre open
  • ACOS co-ordinated all matters concerning Home Fleet base Scapa Flow as well as Shetland & Scrabster
  • 230 of the 270 personnel were WRNS


4 HMS Exmouth
  • Arrived 1942
  • Initially boom defence accommodation ship
  • Minesweeper depot ship
  • Supply & accommodation ship for submarines

WWII Hoy Then & Now - HMS Exmouth in Longhope pan


5 RN Recreation Centre
  • By far the main feature was the 900 seat cinema/theatre, fully kitted out with all modern sound, lighting, projection equipment, backstage dressing rooms, motorised curtains
  • Celebrity and E.N.S.A. shows put on as well as classical and local talent concerts took place regularly. Visiting artists included: Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn, Evelyn Laye, George Formby, Flannagan & Allan, Doris Day
  • Boxing & Badminton matches took place between three time daily film showings
  • Dances for up to 250 couples were also a regular occurrence
  • Average Recreation Centre attendance conservatively estimated at 1800 per day
6 Garrison Theatre
  • opened by the Admiral Commanding Orkney & Shetland, Vice Admiral Sir H. Harwood KCD OBE on 18th April 1944
  • theatre entertained all service personnel stationed south of Ore Burn as well as provided a venue for training lectures.
7 Squash Courts
  • constructed 1942


8 RN Sick Quarters
  • opened Oct 1940
  • 66 beds, increased to 114
  • 2 medical and surgical wards, separate officers block
  • X-ray & operating facilities
  • Catered for RAF, navy from Hoy, Flotta, Cava, Fara, South Ron
9 Chief Constructor’s Dept
  • completed Nov 1940. Served as machine shop for base shipwrights & boilermakers
  • Dept set up as emergency repair base for destroyers of Home Fleet Aug ‘40


10 North Pier
  • Used by drifter office for ferry service & landing libertymen & provisions (1941)
11 Officer’s Pier
  • old wooden WWI pier, condemned as unsafe in 1918. Stayed in service by drifters & dispatch boats throughout WWII, known as Officers’ Pier.


12 West Pier (1942)
  • Used by tugs & small craft being refitted by Base Engineer Officer.
  • Fitted with crane for Torpedo & Paravane depot to use for rearming warships
13 Drifter Slipway
  • Built 1944, allowed quick repair & refit of up to 3 drifters at a time, saved delay sending to Moray Firth ports. Steam drifters could be overhauled in 14 days at Lyness
14 Golden Wharf
  • The piers and wharfs always a problem. Managed by King’s Harbour Master’s Dept
  • Inspection in May 1939 describing scene as “A muck heap run by the Boom Defence Depot, and about three different contractors.  Not the worst Spanish quay was so devastatingly cluttered up
  • New wharf requested, took until 1944 before completed & cost £35,000 hence name (£1,005,200.00 today)


15 Royal Marines
  • Royal Marines – 3 branches (Stevedores, Engineers & Combat)
  • 1st called Auxiliary Battalion, Marines arrived 8th March 1940, pitched tents in mud
  • Dug drainage ditches, prepared foundations, constructed roads & most critically unloaded vessels at pier
  • Replaced small group of civilian dock workers who had become overwhelmed by demands of so many ships
  • Detachment of 140 Marines loading/unloading cargo, task never trained for
  • Reorganised as the 19th Battalion Oct 1942, Marines also a combat battalion, undertook duties as part of the Hoy defence force.


16 PDO
  • Passive Defence Office Control Centre
  • Passive Defence Organisation operational from the outset of WWII
  • Tasked with prevention of fire and gas emergencies mainly by threat from air-raids ie bombs blasts igniting huts or oil tanks & destroying base
  • Only 1 Chief Petty Officer and 1 Able Seamen fully employed to maintain breathing apparatus & run training courses
  • Also ensured fire-fighting team leaders knew how to coordinate their untrained fire parties
  • Has a small second storey observation post used to spot for fires across the base
  • Timber hut attached to PDO was HMS Proserpine’s Captain’s quarters. Responsible for smooth running of the base, making sure everything was generally shipshape just like a ship at sea
  • Based on civilian Air Raid Precaution (A.R.P.) system
  • Established 11 sub area HQs, 4 first aid & gas cleansing stations and 3 gas decontam. stations
  • Fire watchers & emergency response parties detailed from base personnel
  • Another OP visible on top of ‘A’ Power Station


17 Rinnigill Military Complex


18 Views around Lyness


19 Views around North Walls



© Source: Lindsay, G.J. & Dobney, K. (2014). Legacies of Conflict: Hoy & Walls Wartime Heritage Project, Wartime Development Document. Island of Hoy Development Trust.


12 thoughts on “Then and Now – Hoy at War: A Photographic Journey

  1. A great series of photographs.
    I was one of two buglers (ERA Apprentices from HMS Caledonia) chosen to sound the final “Sunset” at the closure of HMS Pomona, in 1956/7 ? We took passage in a boom defence vessel (HMS Barrington, I think) from Rosyth to Hoy. I just wonder if this ceremony was ever photographically recorded, other than the broadcast by BBC Radio? It was a moving and proud moment.
    Coincidentally, I served in HMS Barnard later, in 1959

  2. A really fascinating set of images, thoughtfully arranged and wonderfully executed., giving a very real flavour of what the island looked like in wartime. Well done.

    My particular interest lies with my grandfather who served with HMS Pyramus at Moss Farm RN Camp during WW2. I have no idea whereabouts the camp was, or whether any images exist of it but would be interested to hear from anyone who might be able to help. I’m aware the address was Kirkwall, so not on Hoy, and I wondered whether there is a similar photographic presentation for the Orkney Mainland that I haven’t come across as yet?

    Nonetheless, a most enjoyable presentation. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. David, Moss Camp was on the Orkney Mainland, but ten miles from Kirkwall at Houton in Orphir. It was a Boom Defence Base in WW2, after it had been a seaplane base in the last year of the Great War. Moss Camp was beside the farm of that name on the west side of Houton and was responsible for an anti-submarine loop offshore there. If you send your email I’ll forward maps of Moss Camp and some WW2 photos of Houton (not given “the treatment” above, sadly) to you. I’ve uploaded a drawing from file ADM 116/4364 which shows the Hoy Sound mine loops and Moss is marked about mid-drawing.

  4. We are interested in this ….we own the old hospital on Hoy and live near it. We are making it a place to visit….we planted hundred of trees 24 years ago. My husband wanted to do something on his 50th birthday…so now we see them growing and make the whole site more beautiful. We have had visitors who were treated in that very place. And we met the architect who drew up the plans…sadly he died soon after so we did not get a copy of the plans from him, but I’m sure they have that in the Lyness museum.

  5. My father, Douglas Martin, known as Tony, (C/JX 178869) was at Haybrake barracks, Lyness from May 1940 to February 1942. His main job was with the oiling party but also helped with mine disposal, funerals, etc. He went to HMS Brilliant on convoy duty to Cape Town and the Mediterranean (June 1942 to February 1943). In May 1943 he was posted to HMS Dido. He did one convoy to Murmansk (JW61 and RA61) after being in the Mediterranean until October 1944. He was in Orkney three times during the war. As the war ended he was helping to clear the docks in Hamburg. He was finally released in January 1946.

  6. I was wrong about the name of the boom defence vessel. It was HMS Barleycorn. Does anyone have memories or photographs of that historic occasion?

  7. My father Frank Shippey served as R.M on HMS Duke of York during the battle of the
    North Cape (26th December 1943) resulting in the sinking of German battleship
    Scharnhorst. Of the 1968 crew on board Scharnhorst, only 36 were rescued from the
    icy waters of the Barents Sea by HMS Matchless (6) and HMS Scorpion (30). The
    survivors were transferred to HMS Duke of York at Vaenga Bay (Murmansk) USSR
    for their voyage to Scapa Flow. Details found in the effects of survivor Wilhelm
    Kruse (Navigators Yeoman) revealed that the 36 men were accommodated for one
    night on HMS Iron Duke, before being taken by rail to Latimer House near Amersham
    for interrogation, and eventual removal to pow camps in Canada and the USA.
    My father was one of the six RM’s to guard them on HMS Duke of York, and their
    journey to Latimer House. Wilhelm Kruse spoke highly of their treatment whilst on
    HMS Duke of York, and HMS Iron Duke.
    Lance Shippey

  8. My Grandfather, Thomas Langlois was a corporal in the Royal Marine Engineers based at HMS Proserpine. He died October 12th 1942 as a result of a diving accident.

    • My father was stationed as a Royal Marine Engineer at Proserpine the same time as your grandfather was there.
      His name was Michael (‘Mick’ ) Whitbread.

  9. My Grandfather Lt commander J R Hayward RNVR was Officer commanding Boom Defence 1945-46. I have a formal photograph of 42 Navy and Army Officers in front of the wardroom of HMS Pomona. If it of any use I can forward a email copy.

    • Dear Mr Haywood

      Would be very grateful if you could send me a copy of the group photograph you mention.
      My late father Len Welti was the civilian Electrical Engineer for the Orkney & Shetland Command in 1944 – 1945. Many years ago I recall seeing a similar photograph (now lost) with him and Navy and Army Officers in taken at Lyness in 1945. Thank you for your help.

      Kind Regards

      Chris Welti

  10. My Mother was a Wren wireless operator on Hoy at the end of WW2 her name then was Gladys Harrison her home then was in Kent! You cannot go much further away in UK! . That is about as much as I know, would love to know more. Maybe I will take a trip sometime.

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