HMS Montagu awarded heritage status after war veterans surveyed wreck site
The wreck of a battleship that ran aground more than a century ago has been granted special protection after wounded military veterans carried out the first full archaeological survey of the remains.
HMS Montagu, a pre-first world war Duncan-class British battleship was wrecked in 1906 on Lundy island, off the Devon coast, while taking part in secret radio communication trials when a navigator miscalculated its position in heavy fog.
A group of wounded veterans took part in a series of dives on the wreck site to map out exactly what remained of the ship.
On Friday it was announced the government had granted protection to the wreck and also to cut steps in the granite cliff face as part of the salvage operation on the advice of Historic England. The wreck and steps have been scheduled and added to the National Heritage List for England, which protects notable buildings, sites and landscapes.
Among the divers was Sacha Bamford, who served in the Royal Navy as a warfare specialist between 2009 and 2012 and has physical and mental health issues as well as PTSD.
She said diving the wreck made her feel free, weightless, and at peace. “It’s a bit cheesy but I feel like I’m home. I’m a mermaid at heart. I feel safe underwater and relaxed. Concentrating on the here and now I forget everything that happens. And I feel little or no pain.”
Another participant, Andrew Phillips, who sustained a spinal injury during the Gulf war before being medically discharged, said he also felt pain free when diving. “For me that is huge,” he said. “It’s great physiotherapy.”
HMS Montagu was built in response to large French and Russian shipbuilding programmes before the first world war. It is an example of the transition of warship development between the 19th century ironclads and the revolutionary turbine-powered big gun British Dreadnought warships.
On 30 May 1906, HMS Montagu grounded on rocks around Lundy in the Bristol channel in thick fog. It could not be saved and had to be broken up.
As part of the salvage operation, an aerial walkway, suspended from the island cliffs to the wreck, was constructed and a series of steps cut into the cliff face.
The Montagu steps survived and appear on Ordnance Survey maps, reinforced with iron plates that are likely to be parts of the salvaged ship’s hull.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said: “Not only is the wreck of HMS Montagu important for what it can tell us about pre-first world war naval shipbuilding, but it is forever linked to the landscape of Lundy island by the distinctive flight of rock-cut steps. Combined, the wreck and the steps provide a rare group of maritime monuments.”
As well as Historic England, the dive project has involved the charity Help for Heroes, which helps British service personnel and veterans wounded in the line of duty and their families, as well as Wessex Archaeology.
Archaeological and historical data gathered contributed towards the decision to protect the site. The scheduling means Montagu is recognised as a nationally important archaeological site and is closely managed. Recreational divers are free to enjoy it but must respect the wreck site and not damage or remove anything.
Dan Atkinson, the coastal and marine director at Wessex Archaeology, said: “HMS Montagu is a rare example of a pre-Dreadnought battleship, marking a fascinating period of expansion and innovation in the UK’s naval forces and, since its foundering in 1906, has remained an intrinsic part of the Lundy community’s cultural identity.”