Bloody Orkney, Excerpt Four: The Ring of Brodgar

Cover of Bloody Orkney

'You get a good view of the stone circle, as you approach along the road. As we drove towards it, we could see there were maybe half a dozen tracked Bren carriers moving amongst the stones of the circle. Peter was driving the car. He stopped and ran off up a path towards the stone circle, which isn't far from the road. I followed.'

Sergeant Bennett picked up the story. 'You're not going to believe what we found, sir. A platoon of Gordon Highlanders, part of the garrison here on Orkney, was performing for the benefit of an army photographer who was taking some publicity shots. He was standing just outside the ancient ditch that surrounds the ring with his camera on a tripod and the Bren gun carriers were driving backwards and forwards through the Ring of Brodgar under his direction, so he could get pictures that showed them in an Orkney setting.

'That circle has been there for four thousand years or more and it would have taken just one slight misjudgement on the part of any of the drivers to destroy one or more of the stones. As it was, even though they are quite light, their tracks were gouging up the ground between the stones and in the ditch. I ran over to the photographer and tried to get him to stop. I was then approach by a lieutenant from one of the Bren gun carriers. When I told him that he was committing a crime against history that would leave a Waffen SS panzer commander ashamed, he took out his revolver and said I was under arrest. Then they arrested Flight Lieutenant Buchan as well.'

'I tried to reason with the lieutenant,' said Buchan, 'and showed him my security pass. But it did no good. I had the sense that the lieutenant’s conscience had been pricked by what Peter had said, and that he felt the best way to respond was by raising the stakes and accusing us of sabotaging a military exercise. That's what they radioed back to their HQ, anyway, along with our names. They then drove us here under armed guard in our own car and locked us in a storeroom down on the ground floor. Things were looking a bit grim at first. But a short time ago the general returned to Stromness. I understand that he'd been away when we were arrested. When he got back, something about what they told him piqued his interest enough for him to come and see us personally. After Peter explained what had happened, the general ordered that we be brought up here and then stormed off. I’m not sure where things stand now.'

The photograph shown on this page is the one that inspired this scene in the book. It is a public domain photograph taken by a War Office photographer entitled 'Bren gun carriers of the 9th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders pass between the prehistoric standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, 18 June 1941.' I simply moved the date from June 1941 to November 1942 and added a concerned onlooker. The image came from Wikimedia Commons, who in turn had sourced it from the Imperial War Museum.