Orkney has a long history of links with the British Armed Forces, in particular with the Royal Navy, and the islands have been valued as a safe harbour for thousands of years.
Scapa Flow, recognised as a sheltered anchorage from Viking times, was Britain’s main naval base in both World Wars. The name Scapa Flow is derived from Old Norse and means "fjord of the ship isthmus". The Flow’s military possibilities were first recognised by an Orcadian, Graeme Spence, while employed as a Maritime Surveyor to the Admiralty. He proposed, in a report written in 1812, that Scapa Flow would be ideal as a temporary rendezvous base for battleships. Over the years the seas around Orkney have been the hunting ground of privateers, little better than pirates, resulting in the building of defensive fortifications. The Martello tower at Hackness, South Walls, can still be visited today.
Kirkwall has also had her share of naval visitors over the years. The British Navy often toured around Britain flying the flag and Kirkwall Bay was a regular harbour for them. The men would hope to get ashore and the visits were seen by islanders as a welcome diversion from the day to day routines of the town.