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The Royal Navy's Portsmouth-based Ice Patrol ship HMS Protector has returned a stone to Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave in South Georgia - 75 years after it was removed by a young sailor.
Joseph Collis joined the Royal Navy in 1935 and joined his first ship, HMS Ajax, a Leander Class light cruiser, shortly before she deployed to the South Atlantic. During this deployment, HMS Ajax was tasked with transporting the Governor of the Falkland Islands to South Georgia.
Arriving at South Georgia, HMS Ajax anchored at Grytviken, a former whaling station and location of Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave, on 11 January 1937. During Ajax's brief visit to Grytviken, Joseph visited Shackleton's grave, and decided to take a small piece of green granite as a youthful trophy.
HMS Ajax departed Grytviken to take the Governor back to the Falkland Islands, and Joseph took the stone with him but always regretted doing so.
Joseph Collis passed away in November 2012, aged 95. At his funeral his son, Malcolm Collis, recounted his father's deep remorse about removing the stone and made a promise to return it to its rightful owner. Keen to ensure that he fulfilled the promise that he had made during his father's eulogy, Malcolm contacted the Executive Officer of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and asked for his assistance.
Touched by Joseph and Malcolm's story, the Government of South Georgia were happy to assist in returning the piece of granite to Shackleton's grave and, after much work, arranged for Malcolm to pass the stone to HMS Collingwood.
The stone was then flown from the UK under the care of Warrant Officer Andy Welch, who was departing HMS Collingwood in order to take up post in the South Atlantic. After two months in WO Welch's care, the stone was passed to the first Royal Navy ship bound for South Georgia - HMS Protector.
Operating in the British Antarctic Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands throughout the Austral Summer, HMS Protector was tasked to visit Grytviken in order to collect hydrographic data and to assist with ongoing environmental and conservation work on the Island.
When in position at Grytviken, and survey operations were underway, HMS Protector's Commanding Officer, Captain Rhett Hatcher, joined with the South Georgia Heritage Trust and replaced the stone to its rightful place after an absence of more than 75 years; ending the stone's 8,000 mile journey and fulfilling a son's promise to his father.
HMS Protector's Commanding Officer, Captain Rhett Hatcher, said "Returning the stone to Shackleton's grave was an excellent finale to our period working with the Government of South Georgia and members of the South Georgia Heritage Trust. HMS Protector was pleased to be able to carry the stone on what was the last leg of its long journey".
Malcolm Collis said: "To know that the stone has finally returned to its rightful place after 75 years is very fitting and I would like to thank the Royal Navy for helping my late father fulfil his long held wish".