• Simon Biggs

Annexation of Rockall


18th September 1955 Rockall was annexed by the British Crown when Lieutenant-Commander Desmond Scott RN, Sergeant Brian Peel RM, Corporal AA Fraser RM, and James Fisher (a civilian naturalist and former Royal Marine), were winched by a helicopter onto the island by a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Vidal (The annexation of Rockall was announced by the Admiralty on 21 September 1955.

Queen Elizabeth authorised the annexation on 14 September.

Her orders stated: "On arrival at Rockall you will effect a landing and hoist the Union flag on whatever spot appears most suitable or practicable and you will then take possession of the island on our behalf."

The expedition team cemented in a brass plaque on Hall's Ledge and hoisted the Union Flag to stake the UK's claim. The inscription on the plaque read:

BY AUTHORITY OF HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH THE SECOND, BY THE GRACE OF GOD OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND AND OF HER OTHER REALMS AND TERRITORIES, QUEEN, HEAD OF THE COMMONWEALTH, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, ETC. ETC. ETC. AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH HER MAJESTY'S INSTRUCTIONS DATED 14. 9. 55. A LANDING WAS EFFECTED ON THIS DAY UPON THE ISLAND OF ROCKALL FROM H.M.S. VIDAL. THE UNION FLAG WAS HOISTED AND POSSESSION OF THE ISLAND WAS TAKEN IN THE NAME OF HER MAJESTY.

[Signed] R H Connell, CAPTAIN, H.M.S. VIDAL, 18 SEPTEMBER 1955

It was the final territorial expansion of the British empire.

Survey ship HMS Vidal reached the rock on 15 September equipped with a helicopter for ferrying the men to the island, but high winds prevented them from landing for three days.

Lieutenant Commander Scott told the BBC the whole operation had gone without a hitch, but said the large helicopter had made the pilot's job difficult.

"The landing space on our flight deck is only 33 ft [10m] square and the rotor blades of the helicopter sweep an arc of 49 ft [15m] so he has to be very, very careful," he said.

"Despite all this there were no snags. The one landing he made he bounced and stuck - much to our relief."

The first person to set foot on Rockall since the British Navy landed in 1862 was Royal Marine Sergeant Brian Peel, an experienced rock climber.

Sergeant Peel climbed down to the waterline to collect seaweed and other specimens for naturalist James Fischer. The marine said the descent had been straightforward, but admitted he had misjudged the heavy Atlantic swell.

"I did not get up the rock in time and a wave went right over the top of me," he said.

"I had to grab a handful of seaweed, ram it in my mouth and get up the rock as fast as possible."

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