Sisters' court victory over father's war grave

Date:

05/10/2006

Source:

Daily Mail

Matter:

Fogg - SS Storaa

Two sisters' court victory to have their father's final resting place designated as a war grave could mean that most convoy vessels sunk by enemy action will now be protected.

Defence Secretary Des Browne had appealed after a High Court judge quashed his decision that the steamship Storaa should not be designated a war grave under the Military Remains Act.

He argued that if the ruling was upheld, then most merchant vessels sunk while travelling in convoy during the Second World War would have to be similarly protected.

Petty Officer James Varndell, 44, a Royal Navy gunner assigned to the ship, died with 21 others when the vessel was torpedoed in November 1943 by German E-boats while travelling in convoy.

His daughters Rosemary Fogg and Valerie Ledgard, both from Worthing, West Sussex, accused the Government of unlawfully failing to honour the memory of their father and the shipmates who died with him.

They feared divers would be at liberty to disturb their father's remains. In 1985 the MoD sold the salvage rights to divers from Hastings Sub Aqua Association for £150.

At a hearing in June, the panel of three appeal judges headed by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, was told that High Court judge Mr Justice Newman had misinterpreted the Military Remains Act.

Nigel Teare QC, representing the Defence Secretary, said that the vessel and the grave of PO Varndell could not be protected under the 1986 Act because he died on board a merchant navy ship, not "on military service".

He said that although the Storaa was armed and there were members of the forces aboard, like all convoy vessels, it was not in service with the Armed Forces but carrying a cargo between Southend and Cardiff.

Sir Anthony, in a ruling given today, agreed with the High Court judge that sailing in convoy could easily "assume the character of a warlike operation" if it was attacked or an attack was impending.

Richard Buxton, the solicitor representing the sisters, who were not in court today, said: "This has been a three-year court fight but it has taken 60 years since the end of the Second World War to get recognition for these Merchant ships on a par with the Royal Navy."

Rosemary was 12 and Valerie just four when the Storaa went down in the English Channel ten miles south of Hastings.

The Secretary of State must now reconsider the whole issue in the light of the court's findings. Mr Buxton said that in practice this meant that the court victory had "considerably widened" the scope of vessels eligible for designation as a war grave.

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Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below?

Brilliant news.

I salute all those heroes.

- Captain Bryn Wayt, Heathfield, England

The Atlantic convoys were vital to our survival during WW2. The heroes who served on these ships died in their thousands and no one, least of all a British politician should dare to deny them the basic dignity of their last resting place being considered a war grave. Disgraceful!

- M Young, London UK

If PO Varnell had been assigned to the SS Storaa, then he was on military service.

These merchant ships were our lifeline during the war and the service personnel assigned to them were on active service, and must be rembered as such. These sunken ships are war graves.

- John Groves, Shropshire