British sailors’ remains to be put in ditch?

VOLOS (AP) – The graves of 16 British servicemen have rested undisturbed in a small patch of cemetery since a peacetime accident in 1929. But a decision to turn the site into a park now has Greek officials demanding more than seven decades of grave fees to allow the remains to be exhumed and reburied. The unusual wrangle highlights two distinct cultures regarding grave plots: the untouchable sanctity common in Britain and elsewhere and the routine practice of exhumations in Greece because of limited cemetery space. The British Embassy was informed nearly two months ago of the need to move 14 Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors buried in Nea Ionia, just outside the central port of Volos. The unpaid grave fees: 102 euros (US$114) per grave per year since 1929 for land use, Constantinos Morfoyiannis, a city council member charged with cemetery maintenance, said yesterday. British officials asked if the 120,000 euros (US$135,600) cost could be waived because they are longstanding allies, Morfoyiannis said. «But the soldiers didn’t die during a time of war,» added Odysseas Karavas, president of the cemetery maintenance association. «They weren’t here to fight.» The servicemen were killed by an explosion aboard the warship HMS Devonshire during exercises on July 26, 1929, near the island of Skiathos across from Volos, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Athens. The total fee for the exhumations has been reduced to about 40,000 euros (US$45,200), which the British plan to pay early next month, said Morfoyiannis. And if they don’t? «We will exhume the remains with all the honors befitting the dead. We will put them in a ditch and send the British Embassy a court order to pay,» Morfoyiannis said. «I cannot accept a little old lady giving me her only 100 euros for an exhumation and the British Embassy wanting a free ride,» he added. Plans are being made to have the servicemen reburied at the Commonwealth cemetery in Faliron, Athens, said Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Berkshire, England. The British Embassy said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Thessaloniki was in contact with local authorities to settle the issue.

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