Visiting Tarragona's British Cemetery

Post date: 14/03/2023

Geoff Cowling, former IBMT Trustee who served as Britain’s Consul General in Barcelona for many years, has written to the IBMT with a report and photos from a revisit to the British Cemetery in Tarragona on 27 February 2023.

In 2008 Cowling initiated the restoration of the graves of the nine British merchant seamen buried in the near-derelict cemetery, which is known locally as the Cementiri dels Jans. 

Among the graves are those of the two crewmen of the Stanwell, who were killed in a Francoist bombing raid which hit the British steamer while it was docked in Tarragona in March 1938.

Coordinated by Cowling’s successor as Consul General, David Smith, the work was carried out by sailors of the HMS Bulwark, which was on a goodwill visit to Barcelona at the time, and with the help of the Tarragona local council.

Cowling’s photos, along with an edited excerpt of his correspondence, are provided below.

I have to admit I was completely taken aback on entering the first catacomb to see that the plaques I had placed in my last act as HM Consul General, eighteen years ago, were still in place. My handwriting in (truly) indelible marker pen ink stared at me from every direction!

For the record I include photos of some of them, including the tombs of a British merchant killed in Tarragona harbour in 1938 when the SS Stanwell and Thorpeness were bombed by the Italian Air force.

I did note, but failed to photograph, the graves of a Royal Navy lieutenant buried in 1925, and that of a Vice Consul, but I assume the Embassy has the cemetery records and these details are noted. 

A couple of points. Your notice on the gate is a little worse for wear. The ornate metal gate is also showing the ravages of time spent close to the sea and probably needs a lick of marine anti-rust paint if it is to last longer. And many of the grave niches still await repair.

Posted on 14 March 2023.

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