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Site where 1,500 Chatham sailors lost their lives needs same protection as the Titanic, say campaigners

A campaign has been launched to appoint the site where 1,459 Chatham-based sailors drowned after being bombed by a German submarine as a formal war grave.

Medway councillors are urging the government to protect the area off the Dutch coast where three British Royal Navy warships sunk in the First World War as a matter of urgency.

The Chatham-based cruisers HMS Cressy, HMS Aboukir and HMS Hogue were sunk by a single German submarine in September 1914 about 20 miles off the Dutch coast.

An impression of the downing of the three ships
An impression of the downing of the three ships

To date the ships have not been granted status under the Protection of Military Remains Act, which protects military vessels in British waters or, as long as they were British-flagged, in international waters.

At full council, members felt strongly that the wrecks should be regarded ethically as war graves in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

Cllr David Carr, moved a motion which gained cross-party support, that chief executive Neil Davies should write to the Secretary of State for Defence asking that such a designation is made “as swiftly as possible”.

In the 1950s the British government sold the rights of the wreckage to a Dutch salvage company for a modest sum.

Cllr Paul Harriott, a former Chatham Dockyard worker, said: “We have a duty of care and respect. It should not be regarded as a source of scrap metal.”

Sailors who lost their lives on the HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue
Sailors who lost their lives on the HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue

Gillingham and Rainham MP,Cllr Rehman Chishti said many of the men and boys who perished lived and were born in his constituency.

Mr Chishti said he would personally be taking up the matter with the Secretary of State.

He said: “It is important that we ensure recognition and ensure dignity for those who paid with their lives for our freedom today.”

Cllr Mike O’Brien said : “It is appalling when you consider that the Titanic is accepted as a war grave and these three cruisers are not.”

Last month the Duke of Kent attended a traditional military Drumhead Service at Chatham Historic Dockyard where 1,459 poppy petals - one for every life lost - were scattered.

HMS Cressy
HMS Cressy

The mayor of Medway, Cllr Barry Kemp, presented a poppy wreath to the mayor of The Hague in the Netherlands.

Also present were the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Viscount de Lisle and senior Royal Navy and military personnel.

Members of the Live Bait Squadron Society, a group set in up in memory of those who perished, most of whom were young, inexperienced naval reservists, were also represented.

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