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By Frances Casey, Project Manager

Ten years ago this month, the UK mobilised 45,000 troops and combined forces with the United States, Australia and Poland in an invasion of Iraq which sought to depose the Ba’athist government of Saddam Hussein. On 20th March 2003, following an air-strike on the Iraqi Presidential Palace the previous day, coalition troops entered Iraq by land and water. The invasion was named ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ by the United States. The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) assigned it the computer generated name of ‘Operation TELIC’. This followed MOD policy to allocate non-political names to operations.

Today, the invasion and subsequent conflict is commonly known as the Iraq War. For UK forces, the war lasted for 6 years and 2 months, with UK combatant troops withdrawing on 22nd May 2009, whilst US troops withdrew later, on 18th December 2011. The war deployed 15,000 more UK troops than the 30,000 involved in the Falklands War and the UK suffered 179 service personnel casualties over the period of the war.

Glenrothes civic memorial includes Iraq War casualties, Glenrothes (IWM 56533 ©Mark Imber)

To date, we have recorded 76 memorials commemorating the Iraq War. These include new memorials that have been created for the purpose, such as a memorial erected in memory of Black Watch casualties at Balhousie Castle and a stone of remembrance to six members of 849 Aircrew who were killed when two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters collided on 22nd March 2003. Both of these memorials were erected in the UK during the war.

The names of Iraq War casualties have also been added to existing war memorials, including those in Workington, Cumbria; East Cowick, Yorkshire; Warrington, Cheshire; and Bridgend, Wales. A new civic memorial of six standing stones has been erected in Glenrothes, Scotland which includes the names of two casualties from Iraq. The town of Glenrothes was established in 1948 and the memorial is the first commemoration for casualties of the town.  

Specific units have created new memorials or added the names of Iraq casualties to existing memorials. Casualties have been added to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit memorial in Warwickshire and in Edinburgh, the regimental memorial to the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) lists the names of casualties of the regiment from the Boer War (1899-1902) to the Iraq War (2003-2009).

Civilian casualties of the Iraq War are also commemorated by memorials. In St Brides Church, Fleet Street, in London there is a memorial to the 18 journalists ‘who lost their lives while covering the war in Iraq AD 2003’. The roles listed on the memorial include cameramen, translators, a sound recordist and news correspondents. Amongst those named is ITN Middle East Correspondent Terry Lloyd, who was shot by US forces on 22nd March 2003, as he reported on the invasion.   

Memorial to UK service personnel killed in Iraq Operation TELIC, National Memorial Arboretum (IWM 59914, ©IWM 2011)

The national memorial to UK Service casualties of the Iraq War was unveiled in the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire on 11th March 2010. This memorial takes the form of a wall mounted with 179 plaques with the name, regiment, date of death and age of each of the UK Service personnel and the one MOD civilian that died.

The original memorial wall was built in 2006 by troops stationed in Iraq, and had stood outside the HQ of Multi-National Division (South East) in Basra airbase. During the war, the wall and the plaques were a focus for remembrance for those serving. As discussions took place in 2008-9 to withdraw troops from Iraq, securing the future of the memorial was a concern for both families and troops, and it was decided to dismantle the wall when the troops withdrew. The bricks used for the original wall were found to be too soft for the UK climate, so a new memorial was devised which used the original bricks as the foundation and core of a memorial wall enclosed by marble.

The wall commemorates those Iraq War personnel who died as a result of accident or illness as well as those who died in the direct line of fire. It also lists members of the Coalition Forces who were killed whilst under UK command during the six years of conflict.

Ten years on, and number of memorials to the Iraq War is likely to increase. New memorials to casualties of the war are still being erected and the names of casualties continue to be added to existing community and regimental memorials. 

The last survivor of the sinking of the World War Two battle cruiser HMS Hood died in October at the age of 85. Ted Briggs was one of only three men out of the crew of 1419 to survive the bombardment of shells from the German battleship Bismarck, which led to the sinking of the Royal Navy’s flagship within three minutes on 24th May 1941. This attack led Winston Churchill to issue the command to ‘Sink the Bismarck’, setting the Royal Navy on a single focused mission which was to culminate in the destruction of the Bismarck in the North Atlantic, just three days after the sinking of HMS Hood.  The 18 year old Briggs, a signalman on HMS Hood, survived the sinking because he was caught in an underwater air pocket.

The German battleship Bismarck fires at HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait

The German battleship Bismarck fires at HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait

For 60 years the wreck of HMS Hood lay undetected in deep water in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. But, in 2001, it was found 3,000 metres below the surface of the sea. In July of that year, Ted Briggs stood on the deck of a craft above the site of the wreck and lowered a memorial plaque dedicated to the ‘shipmates, husbands, fathers, brothers and all relatives’ who died on board that day. This plaque, with a pressure-resistant case containing a CD of the Roll of Honour attached to it, was secured to the bow of HMS Hood using a remote control submarine.  

Ted Briggs often voiced how honoured he felt to become the president of the HMS Hood Association. In fact, it was after serving a 30 year naval career that he returned to represent the memory of his first ship. He unveiled several memorials to HMS Hood and was a figurehead of remembrance events. Over the years, he saw how technological advances could change the way in which HMS Hood was commemorated: from commemorative plaques to the remote submarine that memorialised the newly discovered ship. UKNIWM has records of a number of memorials to HMS Hood, including a plaque, commemorative memorabilia and a book of remembrance. Only last week the National Memorial Arboretum also dedicated a memorial to HMS Hood.  Now that HMS Hood has been found, and its last remaining survivor has died, we wonder whether there will be any new memorials or whether commemoration in the future will focus on those that now exist?

 

There was news last week that Tempelhof airport in Berlin is to close in October 2008.  The vast, semi-circular terminal buildings (one of the largest free standing structures in the world) were built in the late 1930s as a centre piece of the Nazi redevelopment of Germany.  Tempelhof played a vital role during the Berlin Airlift of June 1948 to May 1949, when the Russians cut off overland access to the Western occupied section of Berlin. 

All essential supplies required by the city’s 2.5 million inhabitants had to be brought in by air. 

At its peak there were over 1,500 flights a day, delivering more than 2.3m tons of supplies over the course of the eleven months.  

This photo shows an RAF Dakota being unloaded at Tempelhof airfield as army lorries stand by to take supplies into the city.

Such huge numbers of flights inevitably led to casualties, including 39 from Britain and the Commonwealth.  Several memorials in the UK mark these deaths, including one at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  It includes 39 trees and a smaller copy of a memorial at Tempelhof Airport.

Click to see the record.

A tree and plaque have been dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, in memory of servicemen used as test subjects during the Cold War.  Hundreds of servicemen took part in experiments between 1939 and 1989 at the Ministry of Defence’s Porton Down laboratories.  The tests included being exposed to chemicals such as Sarin and mustard gas and other nerve agents.  One serviceman, Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, died and many others claim to have suffered from ill health ever since.

In January the government issued an apology and £3m in compensation for 360 veterans.  The memorial was erected at the request of the Porton Down Veterans Support Group.

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Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy's zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmatesThere are calls for a memorial to Voytek, an Iranian bear that fought for the Polish against the Germans and ended up in a Scottish zoo.  Voytek was adopted by Polish forces after being discovered in Iran in 1943.

He was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds and saw action in Monte Cassino, Italy, before being stationed in Scotland with 3,000 Polish troops.  After the war, Voytek became a popular resident of Edinburgh zoo until his death in 1963.

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This photo is actually Barbara, a polar bear at the Royal Navy’s zoo at Whale Island, greeting old shipmates.  Rescued as a cub from drifting ice off Greenland, Barbara was for some time the ship’s mascot during the Second World War, until she became too large for the mess decks of a light cruiser and was moved to a new home on Whale Island.

While there are currently no war memorials to bears (although there are memorials to horses, donkeys, dogs, pigeons, a monkey, a cat, camels and a thrush, among others) there is one memorial that features a life-size sculpture of a polar bear.  This is the 49th Infantry Division memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.  The Polar Bear became the emblem of the division, chosen when they were stationed in Iceland during the Second World War.