On 14th October, 1939 a few weeks into the war,H.M.S. ROYAL OAK was lying at single anchor in Scapa Bay. About 1am an explosion occurred right forward the starboard side below water, she had been struck by a torpedo from the U47 commanded by Günther Prien who had against all odds navigated his boat through the formidable defences of Scapa and launched his deadly cargo towards the sleeping giant that was the Royal Oak. The crew were naturally enough turned in for the night. Alarms sounded and the crew . believing there to be a small fire or similar on board, pretty much ignored the event, some even went back to bed.
Günther Prien had actually fired 4 torpedoes, of these two missed and a third failed to detonate, the fourth however struck home and caused damage. As the damage control parties worked to repair the damage, the U47 reloaded it's tubes and let loose with another 4 torpedoes. This time 3 hit dead amidships causing catastrophic damage, the Oak immediately took on huge amounts of water, the electricty failed and a cordite magazine went on fire. The end came quickly, Royal Oak listed over rapidly and turned turtle, 13 minutes after the first strike. No emergency signals or flares were launched, so sudden was the sinking. On board there were 1219 Officers and Ratings of these 883 men died, it was a catastrophe. Amongst the crew were a great number of boys, and much was made of this, 126 out of 163 were killed and following under 18's were not allowed to go to sea, officially anyway.
One of the many men to die that night was Acting Leading Stoker Joe White from Newtongrange, he was an old salt with 11 years service under his belt, deep down in the ship, the stokers would have no chance of escape. Born in Prestonpans, he spent most of his life in Goreebridge and is remembered on the war memorial there, at the time of his death his wife Mitchell Hunter was staying in 61 Fifth Street, Newtongrange, he was 31 years old. Joseph White is not commemorated on Newtongrange War Memorial. He was the first man from the Parish to die in World War 2.