Royal Navy returns stone to its proper place at grave site

RETURNED: The stone taken from Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave 75 years ago. Picture: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare
RETURNED: The stone taken from Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave 75 years ago. Picture: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare
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SAILORS on board HMS Protector have returned a stone to an isolated grave 75 years after it was removed by a young rating.

Joseph Collis served on board HMS Ajax when it anchored in South Georgia in the South Atlantic in 1937.

During a brief visit to Grytviken, a former whaling station, Joseph visited the grave site of Sir Ernest Shackleton, and decided to take a piece of green granite as a trophy.

But the decision stirred remorse within the sailor, who always regretted taking the stone.

Now Portsmouth-based HMS Protector has fulfilled his long-held wish to return it to its rightful place.

Captain Rhett Hatcher, HMS Protector’s commanding officer, said: ‘HMS Protector was pleased to be able to carry the stone on what was the last leg of its long journey.

‘Returning the stone to Shackleton’s grave was an excellent finale to our period working with the government of South Georgia and members of the South Georgia Heritage Trust.’

Joseph Collis died in November last year at the age of 95, but it was one of his last wishes to see the stone returned.

At his funeral, Joseph’s son Malcolm Collis recounted his remorse at taking the stone and pledged to see it returned.

Malcolm contacted the government of South Georgia and asked for assistance. Touched by his story, the government said it was happy to help, and arranged for Malcolm to send the stone to HMS Collingwood in Fareham.

The stone was then flown to the South Atlantic and passed to the first ship headed for South Georgia – HMS Protector.

The Portsmouth-based ice patrol ship has been tasked to visit Grytviken to collect hydrographic data.

So Capt Hatcher seized the opportunity to replace the stone, ending its 8,000 mile journey around the world.

Malcolm Collis said: ‘To know the stone has finally returned to its rightful place after 75 years is fitting.

‘I would like to thank the Royal Navy for helping my late father fulfil his long-held wish.’

Sir Ernest was a polar explorer who led three British Antarctic expeditions.