By ALISTAIR MUNRO
THE FAMILY of a sailor who drowned in Italy during the First World War have received an unreserved apology for his body being dug up and “dumped”.
Royal Navy seaman George Jamieson was aged 26 when he died in Genoa Harbour on 24th April 1918 – just before the war ended – while serving on the warship Canastota.
His grandson George Munro, 65, went to Italy last month to pay his respects, as no family member had been before, but found his grandfather’s grave didn’t exist.
Mr Munro, from Dunrossness, was left shocked and devastated, as he had obtained details of the grave plot from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
But he was told by officials in Genoa that the sailor’s grave had been dug up and his bones “dumped”.
The War Graves Commission has now issued an apology to the family.
A spokesman said: “Investigations of our records here and of the cemetery authority’s records in Genoa indicate that at some point in the past George Jamieson was exhumed, in accordance with local practice.
“This happened because his grave was in a communal plot and so not under the direct control of the commission. Unfortunately, the commission was not notified of the exhumation when steps could have been taken to ensure that George Jamieson was still appropriately commemorated as a Commonwealth war casualty.
“This initial failing has then been compounded by the commission’s failure to recognise that something had happened to George Jamieson’s grave and to take action to reinstate a suitable commemoration.
“We apologise unreservedly to Mr Munro and his family and would like to thank them for bringing this matter to our attention.
“As a result, this unfortunate situation can now be rectified and arrangements are already in hand to ensure the suitable commemoration of seaman George Jamieson at Staglieno.”
The spokesman said the War Graves Commission had established that following exhumation the cemetery authority reburied Mr Jamieson in a common grave within the cemetery. But unfortunately it had not been possible to establish the exact location of this burial.
He added: “The commission would therefore propose to commemorate him on a special memorial headstone engraved with the superscription ‘Buried Elsewhere In This Cemetery’.
“This will be manufactured as soon as possible and in accordance with any wishes of the family – for example, personal inscription and religious symbol – and erected in the war graves plot within the cemetery.
“Should Mr Munro wish to return to Staglieno Cemetery following the installation of the special memorial headstone, we would be happy to assist with the cost of the journey.
“I would also hope that some form of re-dedication ceremony could be arranged.”
Mr Munro said he was delighted with the response of the War Graves Commission.
“Although we are disappointed we don’t know where he is buried exactly, the family is delighted the commission is to put up a memorial and to have a service of dedication.
“I am glad the bones are still in the cemetery. It is baffling why he was in a communal grave and, because those involved will probably be dead, we might never know.
But we take great comfort at the measures the War Graves Commission are taking.”
For years, Mr Jamieson’s family believed his grave at Staglieno Cemetery was being lovingly tended.
They only realised there was no grave when Mr Munro decided to make a pilgrimage to Genoa to pay his respects.
He said: “I took all the particulars from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and didn’t think there would be a problem.
“It said he was buried in Staglieno Cemetery and the grave reference was ‘Prot.Sect 1.7.1’.
“It didn’t match anything in the war grave sections so I searched through all the British cemetery, two or three times to no avail.
“After about five hours of searching and going backwards and forwards to the office I gave up for the day, very tired and stressed.
“The following morning one of the hotel receptionists telephoned someone in authority at Staglieno Cemetery with all the details.
“The answer that came back was very distressing and I was told ‘the bones were dug up in the year 1935 and dumped somewhere, but we don’t know where’.”
Mr Munro refused to believe they would treat a war grave in such a manner and went to the local authority, but was told the same.
“I was told no-one was caring for the grave so the remains were removed and disposed of. There is no record of where to.
“This was very distressing to hear as I could not believe that anyone could be this disrespectful of the dead.
“I returned home very disappointed, sad, angry and a feeling that my grandfather and family had been shown no respect and had been let down by the British and Italian Authorities.
“My grandfather’s family had a tragic time during the war. His wife Christina died in 1917 and four days later their son George died aged eight months.”