Welcome to this week’s Musings, a special supplement!
I had considered putting this article in my Modelling Memoirs series but because it didn’t really feature as part of my modelling journey I decided to leave it out. There is, however, a military theme which I thought might be of interest to some of you. So, at this point, if you are only interested in modelling articles, feel free to bail out, continue reading or just look at some interesting photo’s as you see fit!
For those of you who may not be aware HMS Illustrious was until relatively recently the Royal Navy’s flag-ship aircraft carrier. My son Tom and I were lucky enough to sail on this iconic vessel in April 2012 when it was on maneuvers between Portsmouth and Glasgow. This is my story.
In 2012 a neighbour of mine by the name of Steve McCarthy was the Chief Engineer on HMS Illustrious. Steve’s twin sons, along with my son Tom, all attended Lamerton Primary School together with 42 other children (Lamerton primary is one of the smallest schools in England). Being part of a small village the dad’s all got to know one another and periodically we would meet for drinks at the local pub, The Blacksmith’s Arms. It was on one such occasion that Steve mentioned that HMS Illustrious was hosting a public relations event on board for families and friends. More than that it was a long weekend trip from Portsmouth to Glasgow starting on a Thursday and ending on a Sunday. If any of us were interested Steve said he would get more details. I was up for it as was Andy the local Police Sargent and one of the other dads.
The next thing we heard from Steve was that the trip might now be in doubt. Unbeknown to us HMS Illustrious , Lusty to the crew, was to be positioned outside London during the Olympics as part of the security arrangements. The trip had now been designed as a full-blown naval and Royal Marines exercise. The question of safety for members of the public had now arisen along with the administrative issue of public liability insurance. It was looking like we would have to get our own insurance cover or we wouldn’t be able to go. Despite our best efforts to get personal insurance cover nobody had ever heard the like before and we hit a dead-end!
As luck would have it a few days later Steve got back to Andy and I to inform us that the navy’s insurance would cover us and the trip was definitely on. It would be taking place on Thursday 12th April through to Sunday 15th April. As the ship was due to set sail early on the Thursday we would need to be in Portsmouth on Wednesday 11th April. He was also able to confirm that my son Tom could go too. Now the only problem I had with this was that the 12th April was my 30th Wedding Anniversary! Some how I had to break this news to She Who Must Be Obeyed!
The good news was the trip was a couple of months off so I had plenty of time to prepare a feasible explanation. I went through the whole gambit – “But we can’t disappoint Tom can we?”; “We’ll do something even better when I get home”; “I’m the man of the house I’ll do as I damn well please!” (not the best idea I ever had it must be said). Fortunately Steve came up with the suggestion that if SWMBO drove Tom, Andy and me down to Portsmouth then he would arrange to take all of us including SWMBO and Jenny my daughter on a tour of the ship on the Wednesday before setting off on the Thursday. A master stroke! Well almost. I was left in no doubt that I was in her debt, roughly to the tune of several hundreds of pounds being the cost of a necklace and earing set she had seen.
The trip was on!
Wednesday 11th April 2012
On the morning of Wednesday 11th April we drove down to Portsmouth and as pre-arranged met up with Steve at the relevant naval dock yard gate. Greetings and pleasantries exchanged we unloaded our baggage and Steve showed us to our quarters. Steve being a senior officer meant Tom, Andy and I benefitted from officer accommodation and dining too. Brilliant! We were then off for a quick tour.
Left to Right – On Deck – Steve (who is very tall at six-foot six), Andy, SWMBO (also known as Margaret), Jenny and Tom
Up in the Bridge
The brief tour laid on specifically for the wife and daughter came to an end and we said our goodbye’s. Next stop was Portsmouth city centre and a bite to eat and one or two drinks. As much as I would have liked to have stayed on board the navy were in town and it was time to be ashore.
I have no idea what time we got back but I seem to recall seeing a pizza at some point during the evening and then again the next day. Top tip – try to avoid drinking with sailors at all costs, especially if you are setting sail the next day in less than ideal sea conditions!
Thursday 12th April 2012 to Sunday 15th April 2012
Happy 30th Wedding Anniversary dearest!
Fortunately my stomach settled down quickly, aided no doubt by a full English breakfast and a huge infusion of black coffee. First up on Thursday morning was setting sail.
All hands on deck to say goodbye to Portsmouth and hello to Mike Bannister. Never heard of him? Neither had I so I asked him what he did for a living thinking he was a guest of his son or someone Turns out he was a guest of the ship’s captain and the Chief Pilot of British Airways’ Concorde fleet (retired)!
Mike Bannister is on the far right.
The next couple of days on board were all planned out. Split into smaller groups we were taken round the ship and introduced to some amazing people. We also had plenty of free time and were able to wander around pretty much as we pleased but with helicopters buzzing about all over the place outside our time was spent there.
We checked out weapons …
We met some Marines …
Played with water …
But most of all we had fun with helicopters, lots of helicopters!
Tom Top Gun!
Now for Steve this was work but there were periods outside of meal times when he was free to join Tom, Andy and me and on these occasions we were given exclusive tours of areas others hadn’t got to see, namely the engine rooms. We also got to hear some fascinating facts (the ship is very economical and can achieve a travelling distance of one foot to the gallon!) and climb up some ladders, lots of ladders to the tallest part of the ship from the inside. It was on one of these occasions that I had an accident involving my wrist watch.
For my 40th birthday SWMBO bought me a Rotary gold watch. An expensive item but priceless in its sentimental value. It was when I was climbing up a ladder and a good hundred feet or more up that I caught and broke the watch strap. The watch came off and dropped like a stone to the floor way below. I was seriously heart-broken. Without further ado we started back down. The outside casing was found part way down but only at the bottom did we find the internal mechanism. To find it was incredible and had it not been for the amazing cleanliness of the ship we wouldn’t have done so.
I couldn’t be sure that we had found everything but back in the cabin I started to look at the various pieces. On the face of it all the pieces had been found. More than that the watch itself was still working! A broken strap, a broken glass and a few dents but still working! Unable to put it together myself I felt encouraged that all was not lost and a jeweller could put it right.
When we got home I took it to a local jeweller who managed incredibly to put it all back together save for a few “character” enhancing dents. I then wrote to Rotary and told them the story for no other reason than I thought they would be interested, after all there can’t be too many stories like this one can there? Well I can only assume my tale was common place as to this day I’ve never heard back from them!
Our tour with Steve down to the engine rooms
One of the propeller shafts well below sea level and with the sea just the other side!
Climbing up ladder after ladder. It was here I broke my watch!
We finally arrived in Scotland on the Sunday. A stunning day with a wonderful scenery backdrop. Time to say our farewells, take the navy bus into Glasgow and collect our hire car to begin the 8 hour drive home.
With thanks to Steve!
The adventure of a life time and a truly unique experience.
Until next time.