What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!


After the news last week from the Italian coast, perhaps minds have been concentrated on maritime matters, at least a little.

 About 20 nautical miles off the Dutch coast, a Naval scandal has erupted, and surprise surprise, only Private Eye seems to care…

Under both National and International Law, both Merchant and Naval ships sunk during wartime are designated War Graves. HMS Hood, The General Belgrano, ships sunk at Jutland or Sole Bay, it is all the same to the Law…

On the 22nd of September 1914, three British Light Cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were sunk in quick succession by the German Submarine U-9, shocking The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and ushering in a new age of Naval Warfare. The wrecks are the only marked grave for some 1459 RN Seamen and Marines.

Currently, a Dutch salvage firm is cutting up these graves for scrap – mostly for low background radiation Steel, Bronze and Copper. At the moment, neither the Dutch nor the British Governments are doing a thing about it. It appears that these wrecks were sold (yes, SOLD) to a German company back in 1954, within living memory of their sinking.

Given the allegedly parlous state of History teaching in our schools (prop. a Mr Gove), I suppose that I should remind you all that in 1954 the Government was Tory, and the Prime Minister was… Winston Churchill.

When challenged by the Royal Naval Association, Archaeologists and Diving Associations, the MoD did nothing, and said less.When faced with a Freedom of Information Request from Andy Brockman, of Archaeology campaign group “Mortimer”, which wanted to know how many Royal Naval warships that might be considered War Graves under International Law currently had salvage contracts granted or sold, those men from the MoD said it would cost more than the upper limit of £600 to research.

At this point, Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham, asked Gerald Howarth, the Junior Defence Minister for answers about the 1954 sale, this is part of Howarth’s reply:

” We can hardly object to salvage as such, as it appears we knowingly sold them for the purpose back in 1954: we must assume the decision to dispose of the wrecks was taken by our predecessors in full knowledge of the facts & they acted in the public interest as perceived at the time… Notwithstanding (such a Sir Humphrey turn of phrase Gerald…) the unfortunate acts… we will request the Dutch Authorities to do whatever they can to ensure the salvors  treat the wrecks with appropriate respect & responsibility.”

I do hope that some Ministry of Defence official can remind Mr Howarth of the Joint Compassionate Casualty Centre, which currently repatriates the fallen from Afghanistan. It is not only responsible for current casualties, but also historic ones, & has been on hand at various archaeological and salvage operations, to ensure that the remains of the dead are treated “with appropriate & responsibility” as he puts it. Alongside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it would be in charge of the proper treatment & burial of the remains of any British Serviceman found abroad, whether found on commercial property or not.

Under the Geneva Convention 1949, it would also be the responsibility of the Dutch Government “to protect & maintain such grave sites permanently.”

In the past year we have seen the attempt to turn a War Memorial  in The City into a party venue narrowly averted. We now have the awful spectacle of a government and Civil Service that seems to have not a care for those who died protecting our liberties, as long as the bodies are out of site. How different from the annual orgy of false piety every November. How odd to see these who push and shove to get tickets to City Salute and the Army & Navy Game at Twickers.

How shaming to see BP buying their own Frigate to protect their fleet from pirates. And, more to the point, how on earth does this Coalition justify its 15,000 Service redundancies last year? They are not fit to look at the flag, they certainly are not fit to defend it. 

In Pearl Harbour, one could never imagine the above fate being endured by the USS Arizona, nor would the Menin Gate be plundered for stone…


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