Kent

WW1 ship wreck off Folkestone 'should be war grave'

The sinking of HMHS Anglia Image copyright Imperial War Museum
Image caption HMHS Anglia sank 15 minutes after hitting a mine laid by a German U-boat off Folkestone in 1915

There are calls for a ship which sank with the loss of more than 160 lives, many of them soldiers injured on the battlefields of World War One, to be classified as a war grave.

HMHS Anglia hit a mine in November 1915, laid by a German U-boat about 1 mile off the Kent coast near Folkestone. It sank within 15 minutes.

The hospital ship was carrying soldiers, some severely injured in the Battle of Loos, back from France to England.

Many of the injured men had been placed in splints and strapped to their beds below deck for the journey home.

One nurse on board who survived, wrote in her diary: "The deck was covered with wounded men lying everywhere, the sisters and orderlies working heroically to get them free from their splints, tie them into lifebelts and throw them overboard into the sea, for this was their only chance."

Professor Christine Hallett, chair of the UK Association for the History of Nursing, said there would have been a rush of patients coming back from the Western Front so the injured soldiers would not have had much treatment in France before being put onto hospital ships.

She said: "They would have been put onto a ship like [HMHS Anglia] in an acute state and we know from this account that some these soldiers had only had amputations nine days previously."

Archaeologist Dr Peter Marsden said: "People with lost limbs just couldn't swim. It must have a nightmare just lying on a bunk with water coming up knowing you can't do anything - you know you're going to drown."

He is campaigning to safeguard the site of the wreck which is open for divers to explore.

He said: "Anybody can take anything from the wreck site because there's no designation. It's not protected in any way or recognised.

"So anybody can take anything from there - the possessions of the dead, the bones of the dead, the military supplies on board - as long as they're reported to the Receiver of Wreck."

Image copyright Crown Copyright courtesy Wessex Archaeology
Image caption The Ministry of Defence says it is carrying out surveys of the wreck

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said: "While the wreck meets some of the criteria for designation [as a war grave] the situation was complicated by the fact that in 1965 the Department of Transport sold the wreck to the Folkestone Salvage Company therefore the decision was made not to designate the wreck and this remains the position."

English Heritage has commissioned a 3D sonar scan to confirm the position and the condition of the wreck.

The MoD said this record of the Anglia's position and condition will be critical to the future management of the underwater site.

The MoD spokesman added: "It intended to determine the absolute position of the HMHS Anglia and begin to help us understand its condition so that English Heritage and the MoD can determine appropriate management of the wreck."

You can see more on this story on Inside Out on BBC One South East at 19:30 BST and nationwide on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.

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