Reflection – Remembrance – Response

A hundred winters have passed since the internment of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow. Agreement over the fate of the Fleet would ultimately never be reached, forestalled by the dramatic acts of its officers and crew in June 1919.

These verses reflect upon time spent waiting for the conditions of peace to be negotiated, both then and now. Written over the course of six months they are a testament to forbearance as days and seasons pass, to hope and despair, and to the fleeting moments that seem to make life matter.

Peace-Land began as a response to the centenary events held in Orkney marking the First World War armistice. It grew out of my experience of witnessing how a community remembers war while conflict still continues elsewhere. It grew out of my wish to remember the uncommemorated who have died as a result of conflict, but who never fought or wanted to fight. Finally, it grew out of a wish to make a statement of peace.

Peace – Land is available at The Orcadian Bookshop, Stromness Books and Prints, The Stromness Museum and The Fossil and Heritage Centre. The poem can also be purchased as an e-book.

Peace- Land , Gabrielle Barnby, Scapa Flow, poem, Scuttling, German Fleet, Orkney, 1919.

A description of the creative process of writing Peace-Land can be found in my contribution to Mirmir’s Well a regular article from the Northern Studies Institute in The Orcadian newspaper.


Peace- Land : reflection-remembrance-response.

A visitor to Orkney, by great good fortune I attended Peace- Land in the tranquil setting of St Nicholas Kirk by the shore in East Holm, on Thursday 20th June.

The narrated piece of one hundred verses, written by Gabrielle Barnby, was supported by four striking glass panels that told the story of the German high seas fleet which went to its ultimate fate in the waters of Scapa Flow one hundred years ago.

Gabrielle’s gentle reading was interspersed with verses translated into German, read by Andrea Freund, and a section in Orcadian spoken by Marlene Mainland. The evocative music of the Borealis hand bell group and the violas of Elizabeth Duncan and Francesca Barnby created a haunting atmosphere as the evening sun filtered into St Nicholas and lit up Ralph Robinson’s glowing glass panels.

Gabrielle’s depth of research was impressive, catching deep truths, and I was left feeling profoundly moved by the flaws in humans which stain our history.

Keep memory honest, And peace safe, A whisper, In the noust of the heart.

Marjorie Ouvry

Orcadian, 27th June, 2019

Gabrielle Barnby, Peace-Land, Scapa100, St Nicholas Church, Holm, Orkney, 2019, 1919, scuttling, German fleet, peace, war.
Gabrielle Barnby, Peace-Land, Scapa100, St Nicholas Church, Holm, Orkney, 2019, 1919, scuttling, German fleet, peace, war.
Peace-Land, Gabrielle Barnby, illustration by Ralph Robinson


Billy Mills, poet, editor, formerly literary journalist at

‘Barnby insists on the importance of remembering with equanimity, valuing the German dead alongside the local ‘one in five,/never home.’ There are no real heroes or villains, just people caught up in the disaster that is war, as seen from a Peace-Land that needs vigilance if it is to be preserved. As she writes in the final, 100th poem:

Keep memory honest,

And peace safe,

A whisper

In the noust of the heart.

Ultimately, Barnby reminds us, it is that noust, that safe harbour, that is the guardian of peace, the place where reflection and response enable its preservation.’

Read Billy’s complete review here

Gabrielle Barnby