03 August 2017

Rededication service at CWGC's most northerly war graves

A rededication service will take place at the CWGC’s most northerly war graves in a remote cemetery in Russia today.

 

The service at Vaida Bay Military Cemetery will commemorate Leading Airman James Beardsley DSM, of the Royal Navy, and Sub-Lieutenant Edmund Seymour Burke, of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

On 30 July 1941, they were part of an unsuccessful raid from Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious, hoping to inflict damage on merchant vessels owned by Germany and Finland. Their Fairey Fulmar II aircraft crash landed in the sea and the crew were last seen getting into a dinghy.

The dinghy was later found washed ashore on the Rybachy Peninsula by Russian authorities, who buried the two men as unidentified casualties.

The CWGC has installed headstones for the two men at Vaida Bay following a successful identification project, led by the Africa & Asia Pacific Area (AAPA) and Commemorations teams with help from a local ethnographer, the British Embassy, the Royal Navy and the Russian Northern Fleet.

Vaida Bay Military Cemetery is situated inside a Russian military zone, on the Rybachy Peninsula in north western Russia. Located within the Arctic Circle and covered in snow for six months of the year, it is the northernmost part of continental European Russia, and is quite a trek from the nearest port city of Murmansk.

It’s believed these will be the most northerly war graves maintained by the CWGC, narrowly ahead of those found in Tromso, Norway, and considerably further north than those maintained in Canada.

David McDonald, the Commission’s Technical Supervisor, AAPA, endured an 18-hour round trip through rough terrain to the isolated cemetery in August last year, to identify the burial location of the two missing Second World War British servicemen.

Following the trip, he said: “I knew it was a long way from Murmansk and thought we would be travelling in an off-road vehicle but it turned out to be a Russian ambulance. The seats were quite hard and it was a very bumpy road with lots of potholes, which made for an uneasy ride at times.

“What we’d estimated to be a five-hour drive turned into an eight-hour trek. Eventually, we found the small cemetery by side of the road. It was still daylight, even though we arrived late in the evening. It was very remote and absolutely freezing.”

 

David and John Nicholls, Operations Manager, AAPA, have travelled to Russia to represent the Commission at the rededication service, during which they will deliver a short speech and read a poem. They will also be joined by a relative of Sub-Lieutenant Edmund Seymour Burke.

More relatives from Britain and Ireland will attend a ceremony in Hampshire later this year, at the CWGC Lee-on-Solent Memorial to the Fleet Air Arm, where the men had been commemorated. Memorial services are also planned in Ottawa, Canada, and Adelaide, Australia, for other surviving relatives.