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The British and German Embassies in Santiago organised a commemoration event to mark the 100 years of the Battle of Coronel.
100 years ago on 1 November 1914, one of the first Naval battles of the First World War between the Royal Navy and the German Navy took place 50 miles off the coast of Coronel. On the evening of 1 November, in failing light and a strengthening southerly wind, the German ships “Scharnhorst” “Gneisenau, Leipzig”, “Nürnberg” and “Dresden” under command of Admiral Maximilian von Spee confronted the technologically inferior British ships “Good Hope”, “Monmouth”, “Glasgow” and “Otranto”, under the command of Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock. Within hours both “Good Hope”and “Monmouth” had been sunk with all hands. There was not a single survivor. More than 1500 British sailors perished in this resounding defeat for the Royal Navy.
To mark the centenary of this event, the Chilean Navy, the Municipality of Coronel and the British Embassy organised a service of commemoration in the plaza 21 de Mayo in Coronel.
More than 300 people attended the ceremony including the Superintendent of the Bio-Bio region, Rodrigo Díaz Wörner; the Commander in Chief of the Second Naval Zone Rear Admiral, Osvaldo Schwarzenberg, and Senator Alejandro Navarro. The United Kingdom, Canada and Germany were represented by Ambassadors Fiona Clouder, Patricia Fuller and Jens Lutkenherm. Four direct descendents of crew members who died aboard “Good Hope” also made the long journey from the UK to be present. This emotional occasion was made even more poignant by the Chilean Navy who kindly provided a launch to take the relatives to the estimated site of the sinking of the Good Hope for a private ceremony.
The simple but moving ceremony in the plaza 21 de mayo consisted of a short historical briefing on the Battle of Coronel followed by brief addresses from the German and British Defence Attachés a short ecumenical religious interlude, followed by the laying of wreaths and a gunfire salute to the fallen and concluded with a parade by the 120 strong honour guard provided by Chilean Navy.
On the occasion, Ambassador Fiona Clouder delivered the following speech:
Superintendent of the Eight Region, Mr. Rodrigo Díaz; Mayor of the Municipality of Coronel, Mr. Leonidas Romero; Commander in Chief of the Second Naval Zone Rear Admiral, Osvaldo Schwartzenberg; Canadian Ambassador, Ms. Patricia Fuller; Deputy Ambassador of Germany, Mr. Jens Lutkenherm; Deputies; civilians and military officers; ladies and gentlemen.
It is a honour and a privilege to be here today, to remember those, on both sides, who lost their lives in the tragedy of war. Thank you all for attending this unique and important commemoration of the Battle of Coronel, one of the first naval engagements of World War I. Many of you have made a long journey to be here today. Descendants of sailors from the ships, including “HMS Good Hope” and the “Dresden”, members of The Royal Navy, and the Chilean Navy; Representatives from the local British and German communities, from the Municipalidad de Coronel, from local British and schools, from the Canadian and German Embassies, and many others. All of us here today are joined together in remembrance.
Like the previous speakers - I would like to thank the Chilean Navy and the Municipalidad of Coronel for the great support and enthusiasm they have shown in supporting this unique commemoration. It has been a spectacular day and a fitting memorial to those brave men who died so far from home. Today’s commemoration would not have been possible without you. Thank you all.
In particular I would like to record my sincere gratitude and the gratitude of Her Majesty’s Government to the following:
Mayor of the Municipality of Coronel, Mr. Leonidas Romero; Historian José Miguel Hidalgo; all the people of Coronel who helped in the organisation of this event; Commander in Chief of the Second Naval Zone Rear Admiral, Osvaldo Schwartzenberg; Captain Jorge Rojas, who has been the main organiser of this commemoration; Chilean Navy officers who are here today; Carabineros de Chile.
Thank you all.
Today is a time to remember and honour those who died, to recognise the historical significance of this battle and to think about the future.
The First World War or the Great War, was unlike any other. It was a global conflict that stretched from the Western Front in Europe to the deserts of the Middle East, from the extreme south of south America to the frozen mountains of Austria. - Touching - and ending - millions of lives. It is estimated that the war claimed 14 million lives, including 5 million civilians as well as 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. At least 7 million troops were left permanently disabled. The legacy of the First World War still affects us today – in ways both good and bad.
The Battle of Coronel brought the First World War to Chile. On the evening of Novmber 1st, one hundred years ago today, German and British ships fought a fierce battle just off the coast of Chile. Within hours nearly 1600 British sailors were dead. The Canadians had also suffered their first military casualties of the Great War, with the loss of 4 midshipmen on the British ships. HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth had gone to the bottom of the Pacific where they rest to this day.
Earlier this week, whilst in the UK, I visited the National Archives to read the Foreign Office file about Coronel. It contains reports and summaries of what happened. I would like to take a few moments to draw on some of those documents:
From John Luce, Captain, HMS Glasgow, Royal in an official report:
‘Our Admiral’s gallantry in immediately attacking a superior force, rather than risk the possibility of losing an opportunity by waiting for reinforcements, though it proved ill-fated, appears to me to be in accordance with some of the highest traditions of His Majesty’s navy’.
A German sailor wrote to his parents:
‘This day cost the British two armoured cruisers; 1550 men went down in them; none could be saved on account of the darkness and the rough weather. ..It is our first important victory at sea. We sail again tomorrow morning’.
The writer, Sub Lieutenant Walter Mertz, was on the SMS Scharnhorst, was killed in the action a month later off the Falkland Islands.
From the Foreign Office, London 6 November 1914:
‘The Admiralty feel confident that the ancient traditions of comradeship which unites the British and Chilean navies will prompt the Chilean government to do their utmost within the limits of neutrality to find and rescue our officers and sailors cast away on the Chilean Coast or islands. If necessary merchant ships should be chartered to aid in the search, for which the Admiralty will bear all costs’.
From the Chilean Government, 6 November 1914:
‘The Government has no other information as to the naval engagement than that furnished by the German Admiral… from which it appears that the engagement took place at a great distance from territorial waters, since at no point on the coast was firing heard, nor has any wreckage been seen of the ships which are said to have been sunk. The Government has sent to the latitude indicated as the scene of the combat a vessel which will cruise over the zone and afford humanitarian assistance should there be occasion therefor’.
From British Embassy, Santiago, 7 November 1914:
‘Two ships have left for the scene of the engagement one last night the other this morning. ..Chilean transport has returned from search and reports nothing seen or found’.
From Chilean Government, 8 November 1914:
‘The ships of the fleet and the tenders sent to the region where the naval engagement is said to have taken place have just returned from their voyage of exploration without having discovered the slightest indication or trace of remains or effects corresponding to the vessels which are supposed to have sunk’.
The Governor of Lautaro in a telegram dated 12 November 1914, from Coronel states:
‘The steamers Chiloe and Valdivia which left Valparaiso with the object of rendering assistance to the survivors from the naval combat of the 1st instant, anchored in this port yesterday afternoon, after having searched the coast line without discovering any remains of the said combat’.
From Foreign Office, London 20 November 1914:
‘Search for survivors from action in Pacific. You should convey to Chilean government warm expression of thanks from His Majesty’s Government for their action throughout’.
From Francis Stronge, British Ambassador to Chile, 25 November 1914:
‘Report of a note from the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs forwarding a communication from the Ministry of Marine giving the result of the search for survivors of the naval engagement off the Chilean coast. I regret to say that this result has been absolutely negative, no trace of the lost vessels having been discovered’.
With thanks to help the Berkshire Records Office and Felicity McWilliams, yesterday I saw a copy of a letter from an unknown sailor, serving on HMS Glasgow.
Written on 9 November 1914, it gives a vivid eye witness account of the Battle:
‘We left Coronel on the morning of Nov 1st and joined up with the Good Hope, Monmouth and Otranto, westward of Coronel …We soon made out 3 German ships. They saw us at the same time and altered course towards us and started to chase us back…The sun set about 0645. The light was entirely changed. We were then silhouetted against the afterglow of the sunset, and they were almost invisible with a dark cloud behind them. ..By this time a 4th small cruiser had joined up…Then they opened fire…On the 3rd salvo Hope and Monmouth were both hit forward. ..Hope was hit all over and after the first 10 minutes had many guns out of action…She was on fire forward and all along the port side …At 0750 she blew up with a tremendous explosion…After that she never fired another shot and the enemy stopped firing on her also. There could have been practically nobody left alive aboard…’
‘The Monmouth had been frightfully knocked about early in the action too. Her fore turret took fire and she never got it out. She also was on fire all along her port side …There was a big head sea and half a gale too. ..She ceased firing when the Good Hope blew up…’
‘I had a lot of friends in the Monmouth. I fear none are saved…The blowing up of the Good Hope was an awful sight. I shall never forget it till I die’.
The Battle of Coronel was the first act in a tragedy that saw the destruction of Von Spee’s fleet on 8 Dec in the Falkland Islands with the loss of 2000 German lives - including Admiral Von Spee and his two sons. Only one ship, the “Dresden” survived. With the help of the German community in Chile she spent months hiding in the canals and fijords, but, she was trapped and sunk in the Chilean waters off the Juan Fernandez Islands in March 1915. Her crew were brought back to Chile and interned on Quiriquina island. Some of them chose to make their homes here and I understand that there are some descendants of “Dresden” crew members here today.
This was a World War. Chile - a neutral country on the other side of the world, thousands of miles from the battlefields of Europe was not immune to the effects of this conflict. Thousands of Chileans of British and German descent took the personal decision to make the long, difficult and expensive voyage to Europe – to the other side of the world – at their own expense, to fight for the cause that they believed in. In many cases they travelled together as friends as far as Buenos Aires before separating and going in their very different directions. Many did not return.
Today, 100 years later, the World is different. Reconciliation has taken time, but the fact that we are here together as allies and partners is significant. Painful and costly lessons have been learned. Enemies are now friends; and, as friends and allies, we have worked together to preserve peace and democracy and to promote our shared values around the world. But, standing up for principles has a cost, - as the recent cold blooded murder of two soldiers in Canada illustrates. We must never underestimate the work and the cost involved in standing up for a better world.
From the wars of the last century, today we are friends and allies. 100 years on it is right that we meet here to reflect on the unspeakable carnage, the unbearable loss, the unbelievable bravery. To remember the past and to ensure that younger generations learn the lessons that cost our ancestors so much. We salute those who died. “We will never forget. We will remember them.
Muchas gracias por su atención.
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