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The Diary Of Gunner Astles



An extract from the personal diary of Gunner Astles,

who served at the Hope Head Coast Battery, Orkney.


Orkney Archives Reference:  D1 / 237


Kindly researched and photocopied at the Orkney Archives by

Mr George Esson, of St Margaret's Hope, Orkney, June 2001.


Transcribed by Kieran Brady, June 2001.





3rd April, 1918

Very early in the morning there was a slight frost. The sun rose in fine style, and promised us a great day, which I can now say we have had.
By far one of the best days this year I am able to say a long walk has resulted from the mere fact of so much sunshine.  It was lovely!
A glorious sunset was also seen to-night, and now the stars twinkle with a very brilliant effect.

During the Blizzard of January two destroyers ran aground some miles away from here. All hands were lost - bar one. To-day I have been to see the wrecks, and a good deal of nature I saw.

The wrecks are the scenes enacted one never hears of, but I should think it one of the greatest accidents in the Navy. For two destroyers crash on the rocks, hardly 50 yds from the cliff side, and then all hands to perish from shock and exposure, seems jolly hard lines in a place like it has happened in.
For obvious reasons I cannot detail it too much, but wreckage - and even a body we saw - is all that remains of the two boats.

We went down the cliffs, and I have never been down any so steep before. A collector of bird eggs at one time I used to make some razor - trained descents after such.
The descent , and the ascent I shall always try to remember I think. When I arrived at the top I expressed that I was rather “done up,” and my three pals said ditto.
The dilemma of the survivors must have been sad, for the cold, blizzard raging, and the fact of the cliffs being covered in snow on a dark night must have been a very trying time before they expired.

Around these cliffs hundreds of gulls have now taken up their breeding “stations”. As they wheeled around us we remarked how tame they were. No eggs yet: they must be tame when they have nests of eggs and young. There were many sea-birds on these crags, and when at the top and a look down was taken, Cormorants looked like little tiny men; so characteristic of a human being are these birds.
Ravens; jack-daws; hooded-crows; common-gulls; black backed gulls; wild ducks - many species - razor bills; puffins; guillemots and several commoner birds all had their peaceful - but precarious - homes amongst the rocks and crevices these cliffs are blessed with - To the birds idea I suppose.

Our way we made by the village, and after leaving the scene of disaster and splendid scenery, we came at a brisk pace back to the village. “A bottle of pop and a bun,” helped to bring back much of the energy we had lost over our long journey, and after leaving the Hope we returned to the Battery.

The sunset was glorious, and now I conclude the few notes a long afternoon has been spent on. At a rough estimate we have done something like sixteen or eighteen miles, for we went over the hills, heather, and a few swamps in the bargain. But for the melancholy fact of the wreck I have had an enjoyable walk, and my three pals are of the same opinion.
There are not many rabbits on this side of the island, but the side where we have been is simply swarming. “Conies” my chum called them

Kieran Brady, January 2003

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