Tuesday, April 19, 2005


30 Members of British Fleet Reburied


Yahoo News
By Tanalee Smith

April 18, 2005

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt - The remains of 30 members of the British fleet that wrested Egypt from Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago were reburied Monday in a full military ceremony after being discovered in an archaeological dig.

Paolo Gallo, an Italian, was searching for Greek and Roman ruins on Nelson's Island, off the coast of Alexandria, three years ago when he uncovered what turned out to be a British burial ground.

He enlisted fellow archaeologist and British naval historian Nick Slope, who helped excavate and remove the remains, which were threatened by erosion and by people coming to the tiny island for picnics and disturbing the site.

The team proved that the burial ground held graves dating to the decisive 1798 Battle of the Nile, in which Adm. Horatio Nelson captured and sank most of Bonaparte's fleet. Other graves were from a massive land battle three years later that drove the remaining French troops from Egypt.

"If we didn't rescue them, they would have disappeared," Slope said of the remains during the funeral at the British Commonwealth cemetery. "This is an amazing moment."

On Aug. 1, 1798, Nelson's fleet of 14 ships led the attack on Napoleon's fleet in Abu Qir Bay, capturing six and destroying seven of the 17 French vessels. The flagship of Napoleon's fleet, L'Orient, sank in the battle — it was uncovered by a French team in 1998.

More than 1,500 Frenchmen and 200 British soldiers reportedly died in the sea battle, which ended Napoleon's campaign in Egypt. His army was stranded there and forced to surrender after the 1801 fight.

Slope used Nelson's logs and other documents of the time to try to identify the remains, matching up only one — Royal Navy Cmdr. James Russell, who died in the 1801 battle.

Russell was the only one buried in full uniform, some of which was intact enough to help identify it as an officer's clothing.

Under gray, misting skies, a delegation from the visiting British frigate HMS Chatham marched the five, Union-flag covered coffins bearing all the remains to a burial site near a tall stone marker commemorating the 1801 British-French battle.

British Ambassador Sir Derek Plumbly told some 40 guests that it was "an appropriate coincidence" that the remains of Nelson's troops were buried the same year that Britain is marking the 200th anniversary of the naval hero's death.

Prayers and psalms were read by British officers before the flags were folded and the coffins lowered to the ground.

An officer presented a folded British flag to 87-year-old Gordon Watson, one of Russell's descendants who was flown to Egypt by the British navy.

Watson, himself a Royal Air Force veteran, stood at attention as two buglers played. After the service, Watson reverently approached one of the graves, hugging the flag to his chest, where he wore his Air Force medals.

"I feel very pleased that he's being buried in this country," Watson said of his ancestor. "This is where he died; this is where he belongs."


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