Forth sailors join WW1 commemorations in Falklands for first time

Sailors from HMS Forth took part in one of the key events in Falklands life for the first time: the anniversary of the Great War naval battle.

Ever since the Royal Navy defeated a German force off the islands, December 8 has been marked as ‘Battle Day’, a national holiday for inhabitants of the British Overseas Territory but also a day of commemoration remembering the 29 Commonwealth casualties – and the 1,871 German sailors killed.

Focal point for the anniversary is the waterfront monument erected to the men of 1914 on a headland in Stanley near Government House, residence of the islands’ governor.

Today’s governor Nigel Phillips joined Commodore Jonathan Lett, Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands, the Falkland Islands Defence Force, and members of Forth’s ship’s company for a service and wreathlaying on the cenotaph.

The Battle of the Falkland Islands was one of the decisive naval engagements of World War 1

Commodore Jonathan Lett

“The Battle of the Falkland Islands was one of the decisive naval engagements of World War 1,” Commodore Lett said of the encounter's importance.

“As well as providing important protection to the people of the Falkland Islands and the strategic coaling station, the German defeat gave a much-needed boost of hope and morale to the war effort in general.

“As I reflect on the events of 106 years ago, I am struck by the quality of the sailors who fought so valiantly in the Battle, many of whom were reservists called up at short notice.

“Also in 1914 the military force and the civilian population came together to defend the islands, and I think it very appropriate that we come together today as one community to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.”

The battle put an end to the exploits of Admiral Graf von Spee’s East Asia Squadron which had evaded Royal Navy attempts to catch it – including routing the 4th Cruiser Squadron at Coronel, a defeat which sent shockwaves through the nation.

In response, the Admiralty dispatched overwhelming force to the South Atlantic – led by battle-cruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible, whose firepower outmatched Graf von Spee’s squadron.

It took eight hours for the British to dispatch four German cruisers, including the flagship, the admiral and his two sons. No Royal Navy vessels were lost, but one of Spee’s ships, the cruiser SMS Dresden, escaped and took four months to hunt down.