HMS Albion honours 'forgotten sailor' in Finland

Sailors from Britain’s flagship HMS Albion joined the crew of one of the UK’s smallest warships, HMS Exploit, to pay their respects to Leading Seaman George Quinnell, at peace on the island of Isosaari since the morning of June 23 1855.

The married 33-year-old who lived in Jersey but was based in Portsmouth was killed during the Baltic element of the Crimean War, shot by the defenders of forts on islands off Helsinki – then part of Russia… Britain’s arch foe in the conflict.

British and French warships spent a year in the Baltic besieging and attacking Russian’s principal ports and naval bases, including Kronstadt near St Petersburg, and especially Helsinki.

In June 1855, steam-powered frigate HMS Amphion was sent to reconnoitre the defences on the islands guarding the Finnish capital – in particular the fortress island of Sveaborg (today known as Suomenlinna and one of the country’s main tourist attractions).

We commemorate all the lives of the fallen in this campaign of action, particularly those on or close to Finnish soil, whatever nation they were serving.

Rev Edward Wills, Naval Chaplain

In doing so, the frigate drew heavy fire from several batteries in forts on the islands around Sveaborg before returning to the fleet’s anchorage.

It was there that shipmates found George Quinnell dead at Amphion’s helm.

He was buried the next day on Isosaari – possibly the last Briton buried on Finnish soil during the Crimean War (even though the major bombardment of Sveaborg was yet to come) – and his grave has become something of a tourist attraction (even found on Google Maps), marked with an impressive headstone, but on its own in a quiet spot towards the eastern end of the island, which is said to be haunted by his widow Eliza.

With the UK’s Baltic Protector task group, led by HMS Albion, spending several days in Helsinki as its deployment draws to a close, the lengthy stop has allowed sailors and Royal Marines to celebrate Anglo-Finnish ties and shared heritage.

So patrol boat HMS Exploit made the six-mile journey from the main harbour to Isosaari, carrying British Ambassador Tom Dodd, Albion’s head of logistics Commander James Farrant, Lieutenant Commander Mika Karvonen, Finnish Navy Coastal Brigade, plus other sailors and naval chaplain the Rev Edward Wills for a short service of remembrance.

“We commemorate all the lives of the fallen in this campaign of action, particularly those on or close to Finnish soil, whatever nation they were serving,” Rev Wills told those gathered at the graveside.

For the past two months Albion has led the Baltic Protector deployment as flagship of the new Joint Expeditionary Force, a naval task group forged from nine nations with vital interests in the Baltic.

The two-month-long deployment is drawing to a close after three major international exercises, latterly in Estonia and Latvia.