The first two significant naval battles of the First World War were commemorated in London and the Falklands in parallel church services on the 8th December – a hundred years after these momentous events took place.
The first of these battles was off Coronel on the coast of Chile on 1st November 1914, when an outnumbered and outgunned British squadron under Rear-Admiral “Kit” Cradock was defeated by the ships of Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee. Two British ships, the cruisers HMS MONMOUTH and GOOD HOPE, were lost with all hands. A third, HMS GLASGOW, was damaged, but escaped to the Falklands to bring the dreadful news; the first defeat suffered by a Royal Navy squadron for over a hundred years.
The second was off the Falklands themselves, when a reinforced British squadron, under Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee sank all but one of Graf von Spee’s warships – the DRESDEN which escaped, but was cornered and forced to scuttle itself later. The battle of the Falklands took place on the 8th December, when Graf von Spee, while trying to get back to Germany, stopped to launch a raid on the Falklands to destroy the radio station and obtain coal supplies.
In total more than 3,500 lives were lost in the two battles. The dead included Admiral Cradock and Admiral Graf von Spee and his two sons. The latter’s name was used later for the German pocket battleship, GRAF SPEE, which was trapped in Montevideo in the early months of the Second World War. This too was the work of British ships operating out of the Falklands. The GRAF SPEE scuttled itself to avoid being interned, or sunk by the British.
“Battle Day”, the 8th December, became an unofficial national day for the Falklands and has been marked by annual ceremonies in the Falklands and London ever since.
The Hundredth Anniversary – 8th December.
For this important hundredth anniversary events covering a whole week have been taking place in the Falklands; with the main church service in Stanley Cathedral on the 8th attended by the current Count and Countess Graf von Spee and the German naval attaché.
This coincided with the commemoration service in London, at St. Martin-in-the Fields, on a fine winter’s day. Descendants of the Britons and Germans who fought in the battles took part in this; as did representatives of today’s armed forces. This included more than 30 German servicemen of all ranks, led by German Defence Attaché, Brigadier Martin Hein; a total of some 450 people.
The service was conducted by the Associate Vicar of St.Martins-in-the-Fields, the Reverend Katherine Hedderly, with the Singers of St. Martins-in-the-Fields, Director of Music Dr. Andrew Earis and Organist Richard Moore.
It opened with the hymn “He who valiant be....”, followed by an introduction to the events of November and December 1914 by Mr. Alan Huckle, Chairman of the Falkland Islands Association and Governor of the Falklands 2006-10.
The confession was led by the Rt. Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop for the Falkland Islands and Bishop to the Armed Forces.
The first reading was by the Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral David Steel; the second by Brigadier Martin Hein. The address that followed was by the Rt. Rev Stephen Venner, former Bishop to the Falklands and the Armed Forces.
Intercessional prayers were jointly led by the Rt. Rev Nigel Stock and German military Chaplain, the Revd Annegret Wirges.
Then came the Act of Remembrance. This was led by Chaplain of the Fleet, the Revd Scott Brown with the Hon. Roger Edwards, member of the Falkland Islands’ Legislative Assembly, former naval officer, and veteran of the 1982 war.
The two minutes silence followed, begun with the Last Post and ending with Reveille, both by a bugler from the Royal Marines in Portsmouth. Many wreaths were laid before the altar, and the standards were re-dedicated by the Chaplain of the Fleet.
The famous hymn “Eternal Father, strong to save …” was sung, and the Rt. Rev Nigel Stock gave the blessing.
The standards then left the church followed by the Clergy in procession.
The separate colour guards were then jointly inspected by Vice-Admiral Steel and Brigadier Hein.
VIP guests then made their way to the nearby Amba Hotel (the former Charing Cross Hotel), where the reception was held. FIA Chairman Alan Huckle welcomed the guests there and gave a short address. Clips from the 1927 film of the Battle of the Falklands were shown. Dr. Jim McAdam put on a display of posters and a Powerpoint presentation about the battle and the Falkland Islands today.
Following the reception, and in near darkness, the many wreaths were moved to the Cenotaph and laid there by members of the Falkland Islands Association.
By Peter Pepper- London.