Sadly, not much is yet known about the life of Donald Walker, other than that he is recorded on the Scout Association’s Roll of Honour as being a Scout with 18th Grimsby, who later went on to join the Navy and serve as Ordinary Signalman Donald Walker (P/JX 154029) on the HMS Royal Oak.
On 14 October 1939, HMS Royal Oak was anchored at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland, when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47. Of Royal Oak’s complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds. Including Donald walker, whose body was never recovered, and is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. The loss of the old ship – the first of the five Royal Navy battleships and battlecruisers sunk in the Second World War – did little to affect the numerical superiority enjoyed by the British navy and its Allies, but the sinking had considerable effect on wartime morale. The raid made an immediate celebrity and war hero out of the U-boat commander, Günther Prien, who became the first German submarine officer to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Before the sinking of Royal Oak, the Royal Navy had considered the naval base at Scapa Flow impregnable to submarine attack, and U-47’s raid demonstrated that the German Navy was capable of bringing the war to British home waters. The shock resulted in rapid changes to dockland security and the construction of the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow
“The place where the German U-boat sank the British battleship Royal Oak was none other than the middle of Scapa Flow, Britain’s greatest naval base! It sounds incredible…” William L Shirer, journalist, 18 October 1939
Today the ‘Royal Oak’ is a recognised war grave. As such it is protected from the intrusion of recreational divers who do not have authority to dive around the wreck. Each year on October 14th a specialist team of Royal Navy divers descend to the wreck and fly the Royal Ensign above the overturned hull of the ‘Royal Oak’ in memory of those who served on board her but did not survive the attack by U-47.