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Memorials To Britain's Navy War Dead Given Top Heritage Listing

26 May 2016


Three magnificent Commonwealth War Grave Commission memorials, commemorating the Royal Navy's sacrifice in two world wars, have been given Grade I listed status by Historic England, the body charged with protecting Britain's built heritage.

The three memorials, at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, were built in the 1920's by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, (CWGC), and have been maintained to the highest standards ever since. The decision to build them marked a radical new departure in the way Britain commemorated its Naval dead.

"No grave but the sea"

Traditionally those who died serving in the Royal Navy either went down with their ships or were given a sailor's burial at sea. After the First World War, the Admiralty and the CWGC decided that those with no known grave should be commemorated on land. It was decided that the Royal Navy's traditional manning ports at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth were the most appropriate sites for the memorials. The Commission's architect, Sir Robert Lorimer, created monuments in the form of three identical obelisks, of "unmistakable naval form" to act as marks to shipping. Striking sculptures by Henry Poole were created for each site [see dropbox for images].

Victoria Wallace, Director General of the CWGC, said:

"We are delighted that these beautiful and significant memorials have been given the highest heritage protection. The Commission is grateful to Historic England for recognising the architectural excellence of the three monuments, as well as their importance in remembering the Royal Navy's war dead. The memorials are set in commanding positions with beautiful views and have become much-loved local landmarks. We are determined that more people should know of the memorials and visit them.

As we prepare to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, one of the greatest sea battles in history, the listing of these memorials reminds us that the Royal Navy made a vital contribution to both world wars.

The Commission marks its own centenary in 2017 and throughout that time we have been proud to work with Britain's finest architects to provide fitting and beautiful memorials to over 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women around the world."

Marking the anniversary of Jutland

Events to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland will be held at the Naval memorials at Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Chatham on Tuesday 31 May. There will be parades of Royal Navy personnel and bands from the Royal Marines. All the events are open to the public and full details can be found at


A selection of stunning images of all three memorials is available on:

Please note the credit / copyright notice for these photographs

For more information, contact: Tim Brearley on 07464 544 847 or by email


Notes for editors:

1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

The Commission maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive.

The Commission operates in over 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries.

2. The Naval Memorials at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. 

The three traditional Royal Navy 'manning ports' - the home ports of the ships -were chosen as the most appropriate place to commemorate those naval personnel with no known grave. Sir Robert Lorimer was asked to design three identical monuments of "unmistakable Naval form". He created three imposing obelisks, which branch out at the top in the form of ships prows, supporting sculptures representing the four winds and a copper sphere representing the globe.

After the Second World War, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's chief architect, Robert Maufe, complemented this design with surrounding walls to bear the names of those Royal Naval personnel who died in the conflict. In total, the three memorials commemorate over 67,000 names of those who died in both world wars: 25,000 at Plymouth; 24,000 at Portsmouth, and 18,000 at Chatham.

3. The Royal Navy in the First World War

Over 45,000 servicemen and women lost their lives serving with the Royal Navy during the First World War. Over 6,000 lives were lost at the Battle of Jutland, and some of their names may be found on all three of the monuments. 

4. A thousand lives depended on the bravery of one man - just one of the names at Chatham

Behind the cast bronze names lie many stories of outstanding bravery. Major Francis Harvey, V.C. was a Royal Marine artillery expert. At Jutland, he served on HMS Lion, the flagship of Admiral Beatty, commander of the Royal Navy's battlecruisers, and was inside one of the ship'sturrets when a German shell struck. Despite terrible wounds Harvey was determined to stop the flames reaching the highly explosive cordite ammunition charges. A thousand lives depended on the bravery of one man.

His Victoria Cross citation records that Major Harvey,"with great presence of mind and devotion to duty ordered the magazine to be flooded thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards"

"In the long, rough, glorious history of the Royal Marines there is no name and no deed which in its character and consequences ranks above this"

Winston Churchill

5. King George VI and the Portsmouth Naval Memorial

The Naval memorial at Portsmouth was unveiled in October 1924 by HRH The Duke of York, an appropriate choice as the future King George VI had served at Jutland. Over half of those who died at Jutland are commemorated on the Portsmouth memorial.

In 1916, the then Prince Albert served on board the dreadnought battleship, HMS Collingwood. When he became King in 1936 he was the first monarch since William IV to have seen combat. He later wrote a brief account of his experiences during the fighting:

"I was in "A" turret and watched most of the action through one of the trainers telescopes, as we were firing by Director, when the turret is trained in the working chamber and not in the gun house. At the commencement I was sitting on the top of "A" turret and had a very good view of the proceedings. I was up there during a lull, when a German ship started firing at us, and one salvo "straddled" us. We at once returned the fire. I was distinctly startled and jumped down the hole in the top of the turret like a shot rabbit!! I didn't try the experience again …"

HRH Prince Albert (future George VI)