'FAMILIES OF HMS POSEIDON VICTIMS ANGRY AT "DESECRATION" OF GRAVES' [EXTRACT]

Relatives of Royal Navy submariners killed in the accidental sinking of HMS Poseidon off China in 1931 have expressed shock and anger at the "desecration" of their graves.

By Julian Ryall, in Tokyo

Daily Telegraph Online – 3 June 2013

Dozens of gravestones and memorials to British service personnel, government officials and civilian dependants who were stationed at the British base at Weihai, in China's north-east province of Shandong, have been systematically removed from their plots in the graveyard, broken up and re-used to build new walls and structures. ... The walled graveyard is on the island of Liugong and was in use for more than 40 years after Britain obtained a lease for the city in March 1898, but the grave markers have all been removed and the area is today an overgrown part of a Chinese naval facility. Other gravestones, bearing clearly legible names, dates and epitaphs, have been found in haphazard stacks by historians looking into the sinking of HMS Poseidon and its salvage – without the British government being notified – by the Chinese in the 1970s.

... HMS Poseidon, which had been a state-of-the-art vessel when it was launched at Barrow-in-Furness in 1929, sank shortly after midday on June 9, 1931, after a collision with a Chinese merchant steamer, the SS Yuta, 20 miles north of the British naval base on Luigong Island.

The families of the crew were equally incensed when the Daily Telegraph revealed in 2009 that the Chinese had secretly salvaged HMS Poseidon in the early 1970s to test the skills of their naval special forces and newly-formed underwater recovery units, as well as to clear a fishing area of a hazard that had been damaging fishermen's nets for four decades.

After questions were asked in Parliament, the Chinese government admitted that it had raised the vessel and scrapped it, but denied that any remains of the 18 missing men or personal items belonging to the crew had been recovered. The families remain sceptical of that claim, particularly given that much older wrecks – including the Mary Rose, which sank as far back as 1545 – have yielded human remains. Experts believe that identity tags, watches, belt buckles and buttons would also have survived 40 years entombed in the sunken vessel.

Repeated approaches to the Chinese authorities have yielded no progress, with officials in Beijing insisting that records of the salvaging of the submarine were lost in the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution. Requests for information from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not been returned. The shattered gravestones were found by documentary makers Arthur and Luther Jones as they made a film based on the search for HMS Poseidon by Steven Schwankert, an American maritime historian. Their documentary, "The Poseidon Project," was to be screened for the first time at the Hoboken International Film Festival in Middletown, New York, tonight.

... Julian Lewis, the Conservative Party's former spokesman on Royal Navy affairs, told the Daily Telegraph that China has another opportunity now to improve its relations with Britain by coming clean on the details of the salvaging of HMS Poseidon, of the fate of the missing men and the destruction of the graveyard.

"We need to approach China and get it across that this is an opportunity for Beijing to show that it wants better relations with the rest of the world, that it can reach out the hand of friendship across the years and do something to suitably commemorate these gallant submariners who died,"

he said.

"This should also be an opportunity for them to carry out an exhaustive search of their records to determine exactly what happened, to erect a memorial and hold a service so the names of these men can be commemorated."