The Fleet’s in Town!!
Three ships came sailing to take part in the Atlantic Convoy Commemoration ceremonies in the City.
HMS Edinburgh (a destroyer) and HMS Blyth (the minesweeper) cruised up to the Pool of London. HMS Illustrious squeezed through the Thames Barrier and came up to Greenwich stern first, tended by a flotilla of tugs who eased into the Greenwich Tier moorings just off Deptford Creek.
A number of enthusiasts gathered by the Trafalgar Tavern to welcome the old aircraft carrier, many related to crew members who lined the decks in the time honoured manner. One family had first greeted her at Gravesend and raced to witness her passage upstream past the Old Royal Naval College, where once the officer of the day would have taken the salute on the Queen’s Steps in the naval tradition.
On a bright Thursday morning with a bracing wind, the giant, grey vessel broke out like a swarm of butterflies as she dressed overall, with flags and bunting stretched out from stem to stern.
The chapel bell rang out in accord, echoing the days of yore when naval pensioners – and later naval staff – occupied Wren’s great palace. I paid my respects to the memorial commemorating the Navy’s convoy escort role.
I well remember the day when the Admiral President rose from his sunlit desk to greet me to calm my concern that my neighbours were moving out to a new, Joint Service College. I could not but help notice a ‘toast rack’ of formal invitation cards, which reminded me of the many celebrations held in the Painted Hall, when the Admiralty entertained in grand style, especially on Trafalgar Day. The Thursday night formal dinner attended by the Duke of York in the Painted Hall echoed to an historic account of the Battle of the Atlantic, no doubt stirring the anxiety of World War II. The University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music now celebrate graduation day and the like in these hallowed halls in similar grandiose style.
Memorials in the chapel record the naval losses when escorting convoys across the Atlantic. The Merchant Navy at long last held a commemoration service in St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by the Queen and seafarers. The Merchant Navy memorial plaque on board Cutty Sark has been positioned for all to see and remember.
Before the aircraft carrier was opened to the public, the ship entertained the great and the good. Guests arrived by boat and by helicopter, and we witnessed a fly past by a WWII Catalina flying boat in weather conditions dissimilar to the Atlantic, where these American-built machines played an important part in anti-U Boat patrols, actually rescuing air crew from the sea.
A gallant crew from Trinity House played a ceremonial role as they performed a ‘row by’ in Trinity Tide – a waterman’s traditional cutter. Their return journey was rowed against a blustery ebb tide – they certainly deserved a good supper and perhaps a tot of rum or two!!