This a story I will tell in three parts and it is the documentation on my conversation with the Ministry of Defence MOD, relating to a printed specification for an urn, although my title is ‘slightly’ leading I wonder if you will share my view?
Halfway through last year I got a call from a Funeral Director asking me for a very specific type of urn, one needed for the interring of ashes for a Royal Navy ceremony. I replied we did a range of water urns ideal for the job some approved by the Navy. However he was after a specific one – he said he had seen a specification and it involved weights on ropes and such things. Rather annoyed with myself I had to admit that I was not aware of such an urn or where one could be found. Although after finishing the call I resolved to get to the bottom of the issue.
So I trawled the internet for some time and I could not find the elusive specification, but I did get lead. All the searches pointed to a paragraph in a MOD document relating to the treatment of service personnel after death. I found this – Only ashes contained in a suitable casket will be committed at sea. The scattering of ashes not in a casket from ships or aircraft is not permitted under any circumstances. The precise specifications of a suitable committal casket are given in JSP 751, Vol 2, Ch3.
So next step ask the MOD about what they would like urns for their services to look like, simple.
I then searched the MODs website and found three email addresses for Departments they may be appropriate. I then wrote the following email:
I would like to find the source of the following – relating to the specification of ashes caskets for funerals it has been causing my clients some concern and I need your help. It is the reference at the end of the paragraph.
Only ashes contained in a suitable casket will be committed at sea. The scattering of
ashes not in a casket from ships or aircraft is not permitted under any circumstances. The
precise specifications of a suitable committal casket are given in JSP 751, Vol 2, Ch3.
Polite to the point, pretty easy stuff. The email address that got a response from was through the good old Freedom of Information Act.
I got the following response:
Reference: FOI 18-10-2013-151249-009
Richard of Scattering Ashes
Ministry of Defence
15 November 2013
Thank you for your email of 21 October, which has been considered a request for information in
accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act). Your request has been passed to
this department and I have been asked to respond.
You have requested the following information:
“I would like to find the source of the following ‐ relating to the specification of ashes caskets for funerals it has
been causing my clients some concern and I need your help. It is the reference at the end of the paragraph.
Only ashes contained in a suitable casket will be
committed at sea. The scattering of ashes not in a casket from
ships or aircraft is not permitted under any circumstances. The precise specifications of a suitable committal
casket are given in JSP 751, Vol 2, Ch3.”
A search for the information has now been completed within the Ministry of Defence, and I can
confirm that information in scope of your request is held. Therefore, I can advise that the MOD
places the utmost importance on the way the Services deal with their Casualties. The MOD joint
casualty & compassionate policy and procedures, which are set out in JSP 751 are controlled and
revised where or when necessary by staff within the Directorate Service Personnel Policy.
When a Serviceman or woman dies during their Service, they are provided with a military funeral (or
cremation) if that is what their next-of-kin (NOK) indicates they want, or the family is assisted with a
private service if they do not wish for a military funeral.
Where cremation is carried out at public expense, whether in the UK or overseas, the NOK can
choose to have interment of the ashes in a military / civil cemetery with the site marked by a military
pattern urn plot marker. Alternatively, a casket may be provided and the ashes delivered to the
NOK’s home address or scattered in a garden of remembrance. In such circumstances, an entry
may be paid for in a Book of Remembrance.
Oak caskets are not made to any military specification and are provided by the funeral director.
However, urn markers in UK Military Cemeteries are of a standard type approved by MOD, and
following receipt of a completed engraving schedule from the NOK, the MOD will order the urn
Burial at sea is only permitted in exceptional circumstances for very distinguished Senior Naval
Officers or Naval holders of the Victoria Cross who have expressed such a wish. However NOK
may request committal at sea of the cremated remains of Serving or retired Royal Naval personnel
at the discretion of the Commander in Chief of the Fleet or the appropriate Flag Officer.
If you are not satisfied with this response or wish to complain about any aspect of the handling of
your request, then you should contact my office in the first instance. If informal resolution is not
possible and you are still dissatisfied then you may apply for an independent internal review by
contacting the Deputy Chief Information Officer, 2nd Floor, MOD Main Building, Whitehall, SW1A
2HB (e-mail CIO-FOI-IR@mod.uk
). Please note that any request for an internal review must be
made within 40 working days of the date on which the attempt to reach informal resolution has come
to an end.
If you remain dissatisfied following an internal review, you may take your complaint to the
Information Commissioner under the provisions of Section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act.
Please note that the Information Commissioner will not investigate your case until the MOD internal
review process has been completed. Further details of the role and powers of the Information
Commissioner can be found on the Commissioner’s website, http://www.ico.gov.uk
Defence Personnel Secretariat
Thanks! I thought that is almost everything I need to to know apart from what I asked for, well really… what happened next I hear you ask! Tune in next time folks for another thrilling episode of The Old Sailor and the MOD…