Welcoming war ships to the City of London, known as Alpha One, is a naval tradition that still survives in that the crew line up around the visiting vessel to take the salute on entering a new port, and so it is still. Smartly turned out in their best uniforms, the matelots stand smartly to attention while the officers on the bridge return a salute.
So it used to be at Greenwich – the duty officer, if not the commander, would take the salute from the handsome Royal Watergate as the warship slides past on its way up to Tower Bridge and the Port of London. It is very sad that when the Navy left the Royal Naval College, this tradition ceased, while visiting naval units were unaware of their departure and their much rehearsed ceremonial often went part unnoticed and unreturned.
This Friday, a Belgian frigate Louise Marie passed upstream unnoticed, its attending police escort and a stand-by tug un-saluted. However, Tower Bridge was raised fully in tribute as she prepared to go alongside HMS Belfast where, no doubt, the full ceremonial would have been played out – especially as she was carrying sand bagged soil, complete with poppy seeds, from the battle cemeteries of the Somme to be utilised in a new Flanders Fields Memorial Garden within Wellington Barracks which are located close to Buckingham Palace close to Westminster Bridge. I hope that the ceremonial transfer was undertaken by boat.
This reminded me of the Naval Brigade war memorial which stands on Horse Guards Parade Ground close to the Admiralty. During the last war, this memorial was evacuated to close by Park Row in the Royal Naval College here at Greenwich. The memorial is a reminder of the thousands of sailors who were drafted in to man the Flanders trenches and other major actions during WW1. When re-erected in Whitehall, it was discovered that it faced the wrong way – oh dear!
I wonder how many Greenwich folk know that Flemish interest owned and farmed an area of marshland on the Greenwich Peninsula down by Lovells Wharf – an ancient ‘Flemish-style’ water mill was discovered during the preparation of the new riverside flats. It could be possible that this prefabricated structure might well have been re-erected where required – perhaps even in Flanders – now there’s a thought!!
Some years ago, a little further downstream, two great container cranes were removed by sea from Victoria Deep Water Wharf which is now a major sea aggregate wharf sometimes served by off shore dredgers. Ballast was an essential commodity for incoming vessels that had to sail home empty. Trinity House held the commercial rights of supplying to shipping this essential commodity, providing funds to lay buoys and lights to navigational channels. More of this anon, as this 500 year old corporation is the subject of my forthcoming exhibition of drawings to be held at The Greenwich Gallery in the New Year!!