Welcome to April’s Semaphore Circular which is a little early this month not because I’m any keener but rather my trusty DGS, Andy, has had enough of the March weather and is off to sun himself in Barbados and I need to exploit his publishing skills before the off. For the same reason, your Semaphore Circular is a little thinner than usual this month but that only means it’ll be a bumper edition next month.
It’s been an interesting month. Last week saw the Conference of Naval Associations meeting which was privileged to be addressed by Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, the current CO of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH. He tells a powerful story of this new capability the Navy is starting to understand and exploit and made us all feel very proud of where the Navy is going. After the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures which marked the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it is clear that the current Secretary of State, and indeed his predecessor, now understand the maritime narrative and are totally supportive of the naval case. They also understand the political power and respect a capability like the QEC wields.
On the tactical side, we’re now informed that QUEEN ELIZABETH is planned to sail from Portsmouth in early April but you’ll understand I’d be a fool to say when exactly. And then, a few days later, she arrives in the Firth of Forth to face all the challenges of docking her down back in the place of her birth at Rosyth. It’s like a navigator’s Trade Test getting her low enough to creep under the Rail Bridge and then high enough to get over the bar, and that’s before squeezing through the lock into the basin with only 43cm clearance on each side. Oh, and that’s backwards but that’s no problem because you can’t see the waterline from the bridge anyway!! Good luck Navs!
Saturday 16 March saw another Sir Donald Gosling funded project coming to fruition; the planting of the Jutland Wood at Langley Vale near Epsom. This was the culmination of several planting events arranged by the Woodland Trust who have managed a fantastic programme to plant four woods – one each in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the one at Langley Vale to commemorate all the British and Commonwealth personnel who fell in WW1. The Battle of Jutland was chosen as the focus for the 44,000 naval and merchant marine deaths during the War and the planting on Saturday saw an avenue of 14 oaks; each one representing a ship that was lost during the Battle and over 6,000 saplings to represent the men who were lost.
The National President, Admiral John McAnally, was invited to plant the oak representing INVINCIBLE while the National Chairman, Keith Ridley, planted the QUEEN MARY’s both ships going down with over 1000 souls. There was a good RNA turnout and, supported by the Sea Cadet Corps, it meant that all generations were represented. It was good to see Sir David Steel, the former 2nd Sea Lord, who was instrumental in connecting the RNA with the Woodland Trust on this project and, as our National President recognised in his vote of thanks, this will be a permanent living memorial on the land for those lost at sea and will be able to be enjoyed by generations to come. It was somewhat poignant to look back across the hillside and rolling fields beyond to see the many thousands of protective green plastic sleeves and realise that each one represented a personal sacrifice. BZ to all those who turned out.
Meanwhile, planning continues for the Annual National Conference at St Neots and it promises to be a marvellous weekend. Application forms are attached. Sign up!
Also, this year marks 50 years of Continuous At Sea Deterrent and, to mark the occasion, there will be a service in Westminster Abbey on Friday 03 May 2019. Veterans who have a connection are very welcome to attend and application forms can be found at the end of this edition. I have the honour of representing the RNA but with all those submariners crushed into the Abbey, I’ll be having a good scrub when I get home!
Open Days are starting to fill up. It includes a harbour tour of Portsmouth Naval Base to see all the works which have been done in the Base for the Queen Elizabeth Class. If you’re lucky, you may even see the carrier herself. The dates are: 17 May, 21 Jun, 26 Jul, 30 Aug and 11 Oct. Please book with Nigel on 02392723747 or Andy on 02392720782.
As well as the Annual Conference in St Neots, please do try and come to the Biennial Parade in Whitehall on 08 September. The RNA has this very great privilege to pay our respects to fallen comrades in a separate march on the Cenotaph and it is important that we exercise our right to do so. Clearly, we’ll be mustering on completion to raise a glass too.
Finally, a huge thank you to No4 Area for the kind invitation to their Area Reunion in Bideford, 1-3 Mar. What a cracking weekend and great to meet such a lovely group of people who clearly know how to enjoy life.
Best wishes from the Central Office Team
Stop Press: Sad news from No 12 Area; Shipmate Ivan Hunter BEM has crossed the bar eventually losing his battle with cancer. Ivan was a Life Vice President of the RNA, a stalwart NCM for many years and latterly Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee. Our sympathies are with Sandra and his family at this difficult time. An obituary will be posted next month.