Monday, 28 September 2009

Memories of Portsmouth Naval Base and the Historic Dockyard over the years

Early 1960s

My father was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy (retired as Lieutenant Commander) and based at Whale Island followed by a ship berthed in the Dockyard.

At around the age of 7 I found myself despatched on Saturday mornings with my father, just for the morning.

At first we were at Whale Island where I ‘played’ in the office on the typewriter and with different coloured inks and where there was a very nice elderly gentleman by the name of Ernie.

My father one day summoned a young rating to take me to the ‘sweet shop’; this young man was obviously very unhappy at toting a little girl around and was teased by his mates.

On another occasion, having watched my father salute as we passed various naval personnel, I was determined that he would not on one occasion; so as he raised his arm in salute I pulled it down – I can still remember now just how unpopular I was!

I was also taken to see the Royal Yacht, which was moored at Whale Island. I remember asking if we could go on board and being told that we could not.

During this period I was also taken to a fireworks night and children’s Christmas parties (I still have my gift of ‘Compendium of Games’ which has been played with countless times over the years).

My father then moved on to a ship (I forget the name) and we parked the car directly by the side of it.

On one occasion he took me through the dockyard to HMS Victory and took me on a tour of it. I remember standing where Nelson fell and watching and listening to my father in his uniform and feeling that this was a very special occasion and I wished I’d had a camera.
On the various occasions since then that I have visited I have always thought of this one time.

I was also taken on a tour of his ship and to a high point on the ship where there was a single seat in a glass ‘turret’; this I was told was where the captain sat. (This is the version I have fixed in my mind – whether this is 100% correct I have no idea).

At mid morning a youngish man would arrive, call me ‘Miss’ and bring us coffee.
At some point in the morning my father would take me down an external staircase and a man in a small boat would arrive; I was to go with him and he made various stops around the dockyard. This was another treat most weeks. When we arrived back my father was always waiting.

My father would also visit the Wardroom where I would sit quietly in a large chair; other officers in there would scowl and look disapprovingly at me.

I was also shown the ‘duty cabin’ where my father slept when on night duty – I remember thinking that the bed was very strange – it seemed very high and nothing like ours at home.

I have one photo taken of the three of us on HMS Vanguard; I don’t remember much about the visit but I do remember the photo being taken.

At the age of 50 my father retired from the Navy and he died at age 54.

Late 1960s

My mother and I went to ‘Navy Days’. What a wonderful event!
It was to become our ‘annual event’ – for years.

We clambered over ships, were given talks and had a very nice lunch in a restaurant erected on the Quay. There was always music – ‘pop music’ and that made the atmosphere wonderful. I remember on one ship that The Monkees ‘Happy Valley Sunday’ was playing.

We queued and went on submarines – they had notices beside them warning that they were ‘Unsuitable for the Elderly and Infirm’. I was quite worried and asked my mum if she fitted that category? The answer was ‘No’! The submarines were very interesting but I knew that I would never want to serve on one or have anyone I knew serve on one.

The toilets were always intriguing with large Union Jacks. Only years later I realised what they were covering(!).

We went on landing craft trips around the dockyard. This was wonderful because the naval personnel would make it bounce a bit and the spray engulfed us – great fun! Everyone laughed and joked.

I simply LOVED these annual trips and one of my favourites was the deck of the aircraft carrier.


I still love the dockyard!

I love the smell of the ships and the sounds and the atmosphere.

I absolutely love the aircraft carrier and could stand all day on the flight deck. I love them totally. Over the years I have visited with my husband – and we’ve taken our son.

I think it was the year my mother-in-law passed away and our son was aged 7 – we entered the ‘Guess the Name’ of a huge cuddly elephant; it could only be one name – my mother in laws. We won the elephant!

Today Navy Days has changed totally. I think it is ‘less about ships’ and ‘more about everything else’.

Over the years I have enjoyed visits to HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose, the Museum, the Submarine Museum and to Explosion!

The Future

I am already looking forward to 2010 when I can visit the ships again and as with the last Navy Days we went straight for the aircraft carrier and got on within 30 minutes or so – I think we left some 2 hours later! I was in ‘7th Heaven’ having looked around and purchased souvenirs.

I think we walked around the Dockyard about twice and I was visibly tired even in my trainers – at the end of the day.

Written by
Mrs Helen Bailey

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