HMS Echo visits wall of honour in Georgia

Sailors from HMS Echo have honoured 68 Britons killed during a largely-forgotten military campaign in the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia.

Commander Matthew Warren led tributes at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission 'wall of honour'. The wall was erected in memory of 68 British military personnel – five of them RN – buried in Batumi British Military Cemetery between 1918 and 1920 during the failed attempt by anti-Communist forces to prevent the Bolsheviks from overrunning the country in the civil war.

No trace of those graves could be found after the fall of the Soviet Union, so a memorial wall was put up to ensure the sacrifices were not forgotten.

It is the second time in 12 months the distant memorial has been visited by the Royal Navy. HMS Dragon called in at the port of Poti in May 2018 on NATO duties. Seven months later survey ship Echo became the first Royal Navy ship in several years to enter Batumi itself.

HMS Echo has been exceptionally busy over the festive period visiting Black Sea countries, reassuring them of Britain’s support and determination to uphold freedom of navigation.

She squeezed in three countries and three major ports inside a fortnight: first Ukraine’s principal coastal city of Odesa, where she hosted Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson; then Constanta, Romania’s main naval base, before leaving the latter on Boxing Day for the 700-mile crossing to Georgia.

Christmas was marked in traditional Royal Navy-style, kicking off with a dip in the Black Sea (temperature 7 Celsius) by some of the braver members of the ship’s company.

That was followed by a visit by Father Christmas and a giant snowman to the flight deck and the most junior member of the ship's company, Engineering Technician Matthew Sutch, trading places with his commanding officer for the day, and a turkey dinner served by officers to ratings.

The sailors also spread some festive cheer among the local community, dropping in on the Cristina children’s hospital in Constanta to hand out gifts to youngsters spending December 25 on the wards. With stomachs still digesting turkey and trimmings, the ship crossed the Black Sea for the two-day visit to Georgia.

The Devonport-based hydrographic vessel was greeted by Georgian military commanders and UK representatives in the Eurasian country, but also a traditional dance troupe.

"It was, without doubt the most athletic and enthralling welcome we’ve ever had! If you’ve never seen Georgian dancing you really should," said Commander Warren.