Events to commemorate 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate, 2014
The memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum was dedicated and unveiled on 12 April 2014. It was designed and constructed by H.L.Perfitt Ltd, Diss, Norfolk, in conjunction with The Battle of the River Plate Memorial Committee. It is made of a single slab of black Indian granite, inscribed on both sides, with a grey granite pavement depicting the relative shell sizes of the four ships to convey the inequity of the firepower. Granite benches are dedicated to Commodore Harwood and the three Captains of the British ships where visitors can take time to relax and reflect. A buried time capsule has the inscription “Sealed herein are the names of those who served in HMS Ajax, HMS Achilles, HMS Exeter and Admiral Graf Spee and who gave their lives whilst serving their country. Also those who, 75 years later supported the commissioning and dedication of this memorial on 12 April 2014.” See here for further details.
In June 2014 the HMS Ajax and River Plate Association visited the Town of Ajax in Ontario, Canada where Admiral Harwood’s day uniform was presented to the town by his grandsons, Jonathan and Ben Harwood. Ajax was originally developed as a munitions factory in 1941 supplying the war effort and grew into a community that chose to take its name from the plucky cruiser, HMS Ajax. It was incorporated in 1955 and many of its streets are named after crew members of the ships involved. See here for further details.
To the day, the 75th anniversary of the Battle was marked with a luncheon at the Royal Beach Hotel in Portsmouth on 13th December 2014 for 151 guests, all organised by the HMS Ajax and River Plate Association. River Plate battle veterans, John Garrard and Ted Wicks from HMS Ajax, together with Basil Trott and Jim London from HMS Exeter, who all fought at the battle, were present with their families. Commodore Jeremy Rigby represented the First Sea Lord. Also present were the Lord Mayor of Exeter, Councillor Percy Prowse; the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Steven Wylie; Mayor Steve Parish, Mayor of Ajax, Ontario; Commander Andrew McMillan RNZN, representing the New Zealand High Commissioner; Captain Juan Retamoso, Defence Attaché of Uruguay. Also in attendance were Stephen and Henry Harwood, sons of Admiral Henry Harwood, together with many members of the families of those who fought at the battle and other association members.
Jonathan Harwood gave a presentation on the battle and there followed a sherry reception and an “Up Spirits”. A Mess Retreat by the Corps of Drums of HMS Nelson Volunteer Band preceded lunch.
On completion of the speeches, Stephen Harwood showed newsreels of the day taken in Montevideo and showing the ship’s company of the three ships being welcomed in London, Plymouth and Auckland.
A full report of the Portsmouth commemoration luncheon can be found here.
Commemorations were also held in Exeter (UK), Auckland (New Zealand) and Montevideo (Uruguay).
In Exeter, Devon, an honorary Freemanship was conferred on Admiral Harwood’s eldest grandson, Ben, in recognition of the part played by HMS Exeter in the battle. There was also a dance, an exhibition and a dinner to commemorate the Battle.
In Montevideo there were four days of commemoration including lectures, the laying of wreaths at the British cemetery and at the position where Graf Spee was scuttled by HM Ambassador and Naval Attaches.
In Auckland, New Zealand there was a ceremony at Achilles point, a service at the Naval Memorial Chapel of St Christopher in HMNZS Philomel and a march-past and wreath-laying with the salute taken by His Excellency the Governor General, Lieutenant General the Rt Hon. Sir Jerry Mateparae. An open-air screening of the 1956 film, “The Battle of the River Plate” had to be cancelled because of adverse weather conditions. The commemorations were attended by four veterans of HMS Achilles who were present at the battle, namely Bob Batt, Roy Waide, John Thomas and Harold Heffer. A booklet was produced for the day by the Navy museum and a schools’ essay competition was held on the subject “You are a sailor in HMS Achilles after the battle and are writing a letter home”. The winning essays are of high quality.
In a letter to Henry and Stephen Harwood, Commodore McDougall RNZN wrote “The commemoration was a fitting tribute to the men who took part in the battle planned and executed by your father which was a defining moment in the history of the Royal New Zealand Navy”.