Royal Marines

One last trip

As a final courtesy to former Royal Marines who ‘cross the bar’, the Royal Navy commits their ashes to the sea and provides a dignified ceremony for this emotive leave-taking – completely free of charge.

This singular good deed is arranged in Portsmouth by the Chaplaincy, HM Naval Base (tel: 02392 724232), who report a growing demand for the service – due, no doubt, to the number of wartime veterans who are bowing out.

Those who rarely give a thought to the subject may be surprised to learn that there is more to committal of ashes than just scattering them on the surface of the sea. The Chaplaincy and the funeral director are two of the key players in this final drama. The former deals with relatives of the deceased and arranges the date of the committal. The task of the funeral director is to deliver the casket containing the ashes to the Naval Base, at least seven days in advance of ceremony, for safe-keeping in St Ann’s Church.

To comply with Government regulations, the casket cannot be synthetic, or make of oak or elm. It must have holes, not less than half an inch in diameter, drilled in the bottom and the sides, and be weighted inside to ensure it will sink. To ensure rapid assimilation in the marine ecosystem, the casket – usually made of softwood of veneered chipboard, must not contain any material harmful to the environment, such as copper or brass. The removable lid must be fastened with countersunk screws, of ferrous metal, not less than one inch in length.

The funeral director, whose expenses are met by executors/next of kin, is well-briefed on regulations. If, however, a Sea Salt casket is used for the committal, it need not be brought in advance to St Ann’s church but to the Naval Base on the day of the ceremony.

Relatives of the deceased are also fully briefed on the regulations governing the ceremony, which includes a short religious service conducted by a Naval chaplain from a Fleet Tender and carried out at Spithead, at a point near to Spithead Fort.

Health and Safety regulations permit only six mourners on the Tender – and no children under the age of 14. The mourners are met at the Victory Gate of HM Naval Base, close to Portsmouth Harbour station. Should the weather be unsuitable for small craft to venture out, relatives are normally advised of cancellation 24 hours in advance.

Those tasked with committing the ashes of a relative or fellow Royal Marine to the sea will be give all the information they require,  contact: All Lee, Verger, The Chaplaincy, Admiralty House, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, Hants, PO1 3LS, Telephone: 02392 724232.

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