One hundred years may have passed, but their sacrifice has not been forgotten.
And on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland which led to the devastating losses but changed the course of the First World War, the thousands who lost their lives were remembered today in a special tribute.
David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Princess Royal joined descendants of those who fought at the 36-hour battle - the most decisive sea engagement of the conflict.
Alongside them was German president Joachim Gauck, for this commemoration was also about reconciliation.
British and German military bands played together outside St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney and readings were shared between British and German navy officers. The Princess Royal entered and left with the German president as the sense of togetherness was projected throughout.
Mr Cameron said in the order of service it was a reminder that the First World War was not only fought in battlefield trenches.
He said: “The strategic importance of Scapa Flow cannot be overstated and it is therefore highly symbolic that the stark and striking beauty of the Orkney Islands provides the backdrop to our commemorations.
“It is very moving that we are joined by the descendants of some of those who served at sea during the war.
“We stand together with them to pay our profound respects to their ancestors and to ensure that the events of a hundred years ago will be remembered and understood in a hundred years’ time.”
During the service, descendants and officers from the British and German Navy read diary extracts from officers who fought in the battle, highlighting the excitement sailors felt unaware of the terrible number of deaths that would hit both sides.
Lieutenant Commander John Croome onboard HMS Indomitable described the call to battle: “On a calm summer’s evening of 30th May, just about cocktail time, the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Jellicoe, in the Iron Duke, hoisted the momentous signal, ‘QP’ or in plain language, ‘Raise steam for Fleet Speed and report when ready to proceed!’
“Though we had received the same order many times before, it never failed to raise a thrill of wild excitement in the expectation that this time perhaps, ‘Der Tag’ as we had called it had dawned at last.”
A candle of remembrance was lit and wreaths were also laid at the cathedral while a specially-commissioned piece of music by the late composer and Orkney resident Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was performed.
For descendents - some who travelled more than 10,000 miles - it was a “special day”.
Stephen Burton travelled from Melbourne, Australia, to remember his two great-uncles, Robert and George, who died onboard the sunk HMS Indefatigable.
The 55-year-old said: “No-one really wins a war - the ongoing pain and suffering of war continues for a long time, but I think this goes some way towards reconciling that.”
Michael Mulford, whose father Mark survived the battle, was delighted to see many young people involved in the service.
The 69-year-old said: “Today the descendants stood shoulder-to-shoulder, British and German, and we sang together, we prayed together and the message of today is of peace and reconciliation, and let’s hope we never lose that.”
A second service was held at Lyness Cemetery on the island of Hoy where about 450 Royal Navy servicemen were laid to rest, including 37 who died at Jutland. There was also a remembrance service at sea.
In Yorkshire, the battle was remembered at Grimsby Minster and Hull Maritime Museum is holding an exhibition to make the anniversary featuring residents who lost their lives.