Seventy-nine years ago, on 24th May 1941, H.M.S. Hood, Britain’s largest battlecruiser, was sunk with the loss of 1,415 men. Last year, on the anniversary of the sinking, I travelled to Loch Eriboll, on the North coast of Scotland. Although the wreck lies many miles away and few if any of the crew on board that day came from the area, there is a connection between the Loch and the ship that continues to be of significance to people today. On the hillside overlooking the Loch, the name ‘Hood’ appears twice, in letters of up to 6ft tall, set out in stones. It is believed that the names were created by members of the crew when the ship was anchored the Loch in June 1934. H.M.S. Hood is not the only vessel whose visit to the Loch has been recorded in this way; the names of at least 10 other ships and submarines also appear on the hill overlooking the anchorage. (For a description of the site see here or section 2 of the site report, link below).
View from the higher/larger set of Hood Stones across the hillside towards the Loch mouth [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]
My research was particularly focused on the social values associated with the Hood Stones (referring collectively to both sets of stones spelling out ‘Hood’ on the hillside). During my visit to the Loch, which took place over 3 days, I spent time at the monument and conducting in-person interviews. This complemented research undertaken mostly online with communities interested in H.M.S. Hood and the Hood Stones, many members of which were resident elsewhere in the UK or abroad. The research identified a number of communities of interest, identity and residency, for whom the Stones were of significance. There were some common values and overlapping memberships between these communities, but interests in the wider area also differed and diverged.
A key aspect identified through the study was the importance of on-going connections between people and places in maintaining the social values associated with the Stones. After the end of the Second World War, the ships’ names were largely forgotten and became overgrown. They were rediscovered in the early 1990s as part of a local primary school project. Generations of pupils have maintained the monument ever since, with support from members of other communities, including the H.M.S. Hood Association and the Royal Navy. The common practice of clearing foliage and painting the names, the inter-generational sharing of memories between communities of interest and of residence, and the area’s links with events and communities elsewhere, are integral to how the site is experienced and the social values associated with it.
What follows is a brief summary of the Statement of Social Values for the Hood Stones, for full details please refer to Annex I in the site report (link below).
- For many members of the geographically dispersed community of interest, Loch Eriboll and the Hood Stones are not places that they have personally visited. They are therefore ‘imagined places’, constructed from pictures and descriptions (shared through verbal or online exchanges).
- Although the Stones are not a war memorial, a grave, or a relic of the ship, there are aspects of all of these in how it is valued. It is described by some people as a memorial and serves as a means to share memories of the crew across generations.
- That the names were originally set out on the hillside by crew members is important in creating a sense of authenticity and connection. This is not diminished by the subsequent (re)painting or adjustment of individual stones, which is viewed positively as caring for the monument and an expression of the on-going network of relationships, linking people, places and objects, which contributes to the experience and values of the site.
- The practices of leaving a ship’s name on the hillside and of repainting the names already present, are expressions of belonging and connection for various communities. The presence of the ships’ names establishes the Loch and surrounding communities as a place of significance, linked to the wider world and events of national or global importance.
My sincere thanks go to everyone who participated in the research.
The full site report is available here: Site Report: The Hood Stones (Author retains copyright. Proper attribution of authorship and correct citation details should be given).
Cover image: The lower/smaller set of Hood Stones [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]