Middleton assumes grave responsibility in the Gulf

Minehunter sailors spent two days toiling under the Gulf sun to ensure graves of British Servicemen are restored for the Remembrance period.

Crew of HMS Middleton made the short trip from their base to St Christopher's Old Cemetery in Manama, the small kingdom's capital, to treat the graves of 23 Britons who died while serving in Bahrain to some TLC.

Despite the mostly-dry climate, the burial ground had become badly overgrown over the past 12 months and the graves weathered.

As well as Service personnel at peace here - mostly from the 60s and early 1970s - there are also graves for many Christians, including a lot of infants, from the same period.             

"I read about the British war graves here in Manama and I thought it would be a great idea to use our time to restore them," said AB(MW) Stephen Richardson, who spurred on his shipmates to join him at the tidy-up.

"We don't often get the chance to do things like this whilst deployed and we are all very proud to help make a difference."

I was impressed by the quiet determination with which the working party from Middleton went about transforming the leaf-covered cemetery into a tidier, environment more fitting for a sacred place,

Rev Evans

When the teams were done, the RN's Bahrain-based chaplain Rev Martin Evans led a short service of remembrance. 

"I was impressed by the quiet determination with which the working party from Middleton went about transforming the leaf-covered cemetery into a tidier, environment more fitting for a sacred place," Rev Evans said.

"It was sobering to be surrounded by the graves of many former servicemen, although perhaps the saddest site of all were the rows of children's graves who must have died in the nearby hospital.

"Although it was hard work, it felt like a real privilege to do our bit in preparation for the autumn ceremonies."

As for HMS Middleton herself, she became the first British warship ever to visit RAK Khor port - some 70 miles up the Musandam peninsula from Dubai, in the northernmost of the seven emirates which make up the UAE.

Despite the proximity of the RN base in Bahrain - just 350 miles away - it's been five years since a British warship called on the emirate.

Sheikh Ahmad bin Saqr al Qasimi, a member of the ruling family and chairman of the economic zone, was the Guest of Honour waiting for the Hunt-class ship on arrival. 

He was treated to a guided tour of the 650-tonne vessel and a demonstration of what the ship and her 45 crew can do, including the Seafox robot submersible used to locate, identify and destroy mines and Middleton's clearance divers who do likewise; it fell to AB(D) Sean Esson to explain the work of his shipmates to the royal visit.

"It was a great opportunity to have such personnel on board and it was pleasing to see his Highness took a real and genuine interest in what we do out here," Sean said.