New memorial unveiled as Battle of the Atlantic anniversary events begin

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Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal today unveiled a new national memorial to those who fought – and won – Britain’s longest battle at sea: the Battle of the Atlantic.

Eighty years to the week that the Germans pulled back their submarines from the grey wastes after being mauled by allied naval and air forces, an impressive monument – not just to those who died at sea, but those who survived as well – was dedicated in the grounds of Our Lady and St Nicholas’ Parish Church in Liverpool.

Princess Anne told those present at the dedication of the memorial and garden of reflection – which replace a much smaller and far less accessible monument – that it was crucial the story of the Battle of the Atlantic was “properly told”.

The Royal Navy provided a Royal Guard for proceedings, following a service of thanksgiving and remembrance attended by national, international and local dignitaries and leaders, including Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key.

Guests were treated to a fly past from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and vintage naval aircraft from the Naval Wings collection as the ceremony ended on a beautiful day in Merseyside.

The dedication of the memorial is the first act in a weekend of commemorations on the Mersey.

As well as being one of the country’s most important merchant harbours in World War 2, Liverpool served as the headquarters of the Western Approaches Command – from where the struggle to defeat the U-boat was conducted.

HMS Defender and Biter, plus sailors from HMS Eaglet, Sea Cadets, the Royal Naval Association and veterans groups are taking part in events, alongside comrades from the French destroyer Bretagne and US warship USS Ramage. A full list of activities can be found here.

 The emphasis on today’s events in Liverpool has been on thanksgiving and reconciliation – gratitude for those who risked their lives to keep the sea lanes open between 1939 and 1945 and that former enemies are now firm NATO allies.

Captain Wolfgang Heuer, the German Naval Attaché in London, was among the guests at the service/unveiling.

“In Germany, as you can imagine, this is a period in our history which we are not proud of,” he explained. “But it is an honour to be here not just as an act of commemoration, but also reconciliation.”

A small German contingent is taking part in events across the weekend, as are representatives of the Royal Canadian Navy – key allies in the Atlantic in World War 2 and today.

“These events are an act of remembrance for all sailors who all did something incredibly hard,” said Captain Chris Peschke, Naval Adviser at the Canadian High Commission in London.

“Our enemy is the sea – it will kill you faster than any foe. There are ties between all sailors, regardless of their nationality: all face hardships and danger at sea.
“The important thing is that now we are all allies and good friends.”

Among the thousands of men risking their lives against the twin foes of the cruel sea and the U-boat was John Dennett, one of the few surviving Atlantic veterans able to attend this weekend’s commemorations.

He’s delighted that his home city has made a huge effort to mark the 80th anniversary of the battle, and especially remember merchant sailors: 36,000 were killed and some 3,500 merchant ships sunk.

“We must never forget the sacrifice of the merchant ships,” stressed John, who served as an anti-aircraft gunner in the Royal Navy.

“They are the heart of Liverpool. Speak to anyone in the area and there will be someone in their family who was once a merchant seaman. It is only right that we should never forget them and I’m glad that Liverpool has been the first to acknowledge it.”