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Latvia welcomes Duke of Edinburgh - on British soil

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday October 18, 2006

Riga- The Duke of Edinburgh made history on Wednesday by unveiling a memorial in Latvia while standing on British soil. The memorial - commemorating over 100 British sailors killed in fighting for the independence of Latvia in 1919 - is located in Riga's Anglican church, which is built entirely on British earth.

The red-brick church was constructed in the nineteenth century, when trade between Britain and Latvia was at its height. British ships regularly docked in Riga to buy Baltic hemp and spars - vital supplies for the sail-powered navy.

Since the ships had no bulk cargoes to carry from the UK, they filled their holds with earth as ballast. This earth was dumped on the bank of the river Daugava, forming the church's foundation.

The church, which was used as a community centre in Soviet times, was restored to Latvia's small Anglican community in the 1990s. It now offers them spiritual relief and the only Scottish-dancing club in the Baltics.

After the end of World War One, Latvia declared its independence from the Russian empire and fought a two-year war against Soviet and German occupying forces.

Britain's Royal Navy sent a cruiser squadron to their aid. In 1919 and 1920 the squadron housed the Latvian provisional government and took part in battles for Riga and the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

The Duke and his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, are due to visit Estonia on Thursday. The British fleet will also be commemorated there.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency