SAILORS from a Portsmouth warship have made a sea pilgrimage to the spot where their predecessors died.
And they were joined by emotional descendants of the people their predecessors tried to save.
The crew of HMS Diamond stood in silence at dawn to mark the sinking of the old HMS Diamond 60 miles north of Crete.
The new Diamond was commissioned 70 years to the week after the old one was sunk by German warplanes in 1941, with the loss of 148 lives. Diamond’s commanding officer, Commander Ian Clarke, took the opportunity to take his ship to the site as they head east on their first deployment.
HMS Diamond’s sinking was part of a dark chapter in the war that claimed nearly 1,000 lives in a matter of hours. In all 983 men died on April 27, 1941 with the loss of three ships.
The Dutch troop ship SS Slamat had collected hundreds of people under Operation Demon, the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Greece. She was trying to evade attention but was hit by Junker and Messerschmitt warplanes and was crippled.
The destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck picked up more than 700 survivors from the Slamat but were caught in more German raids and were sunk within minutes.
So Tuesday’s ceremony on the flight deck was more significant because relatives of the victims were there for the first time.
Dutchman Frans Luidinga, the 77-year-old son of the SS Slamat’s captain Tjalling Luidinga, said: “This is very emotional for us because it is the first time any family has come to the places where our relatives died.
“We owe Cdr Clarke a great deal for inviting us to pay our respects.”
Cdr Clarke and several members of Diamond’s crew visited went to Rotterdam in Holland last year for the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.
It was organised by Eduard van Lierde, 67, founder and chairman of the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd Museum Foundation.
He said: “This is the greatest untold tragedy in Dutch wartime history and we are determined to mark it with respect.
“For the descendants of the hundreds of victims this event caused great trauma, partly because there has been no grave and partly because we have found it hard to find each other.
“So we owe a debt of gratitude to Cdr Clarke for showing such an interest and such hospitality by inviting us to this commemoration.”
Cdr Clarke said: “I felt, as soon as we knew we were coming close to the site, that it was something we had to do – to pay our respects.
“I’m so glad we have been able to do this with our Dutch and New Zealand friends on board and I hope it has given them some closure on such a tragedy.”
The commemoration event was also attended by Rear Admiral Konstantinos Mazarakis, Commander in Chief of the Hellenic (Greek) Navy. He met the family members and laid one of five wreaths at sea.
He said: “At that time we lost half of our entire fleet, which was normal because we were defending our very homeland.
“I am honoured to visit a navy that has such respect for its traditions, its fathers and its grandfathers.”
As well as wreaths several capsules were launched over the side, containing letters and e-mails from family members over recent years.
Ms Kate Saxton, 40, from Oamaru in New Zealand, is the granddaughter of a Kiwi Surgeon who was one of the Slamat’s victims.
She said: “It’s not something that is easy to put into words, being here.
“It means so much to be able to see the environment they were in and to be able to pay our respects.”
Images by LA(Phot) Weatherston