On St George’s Day 23 April, British Ambassador, Defence Attaché and soldiers from Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment attended a service and plaque dedication at Estonian Soldiers Memorial Church in Tori.
On 23 April a traditional St George’s Day memorial service was held at the Estonian Soldiers Memorial church in Tori. The service this year also marked the first Estonian Veterans Day and was attended by the Minister of Defence, Commander of Defence Forces, MP’s of the National Defence Committee, current and former members of the Armed Forces and Defence League (Kaitseliit) and local schoolchildren. Britain was represented by the British Ambassador Chris Holtby, Defence Attaché Lt Col Simon Fitzgibbon and embassy staff. Especially for the occasion 5 soldiers – all recent veterans of operations in Afghanistan – from 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment visited Estonia for the event.
After the introduction Lt Col Taavi Laanepere, Chief Chaplain of the Estonian Defence Forces announced the dedication of the British memorial plaque titled ‘Estonia thanks and remembers the War of Independence Heros’. With everyone standing the ceremony was conducted by Estonian Lutheran Church Archbishop Andres Põder and EDF Chaplain Maj Aivar Sarapik.
In his speech HMA Chris Holtby said that today we remember all soldiers who have fought and died for their country. He recalled that Estonia and Britain have worked together for almost one hundred years – from the time of the War of Independence and subsequent prosperous interwar decades to present day where British and Estonian forces have served together on ISAF mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan since 2006. He said: ‘Great Britain respects and thanks Estonian soldiers and we are committed to close co-operation also in the future’.
Estonian Defence Minister Urmas Reinsalu in his speech, partly in English, emphasised that Estonia will always value the contribution of her close allies and on this day we particularly remember the British sailors who were killed in the War of Independence.
Mr Jüri Kask, the Chairman of Estonian Soldiers Memorial Church and driving force behind the restoration of the church, presented British Ambassador Chris Holtby with St George medal of the church society and a framed copy of the engraved memorial plaque. The latter will be displayed in the British Embassy in Tallinn.
During the service, the names of all 29 Estonia soldiers who have died in service of defence forces since restoration of independence were read out. These men were killed during exercises (an ill fated sea-crossing to Pakri Island near Paldiski in 1997) or in the line of duty in Estonia as well as on foreign missions in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A St George’s Day memorial fire was also lit at the church where it was taken by volunteers to the different parts of the country. The event finished with wreath laying at St George and the Dragon monument outside the church on the banks of Pärnu River.
The Estonian Veterans Day concluded with a big rock concert in Tallinn’s central Vabaduse square, featuring veterans of Estonian rock music. The evening was cold, windy with occasional light rain – a true infantryman’s weather – nevertheless people young and old filled the square. Many were wearing a blue-black-white liverwort badge (a new veterans support symbol launched this year) in similar fashion to the British remembrance poppies.