Tuesday, 23 February 2010

James Daly: Navy Days then and now

After this week’s announcement about Navy Days 2010, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at Navy Days over the years. It’s very much a Portsmouth institution, theres nowhere else where you can see so much of the Royal Navy’s past and present in one place all together. Not only is it a great day out but it’s also a great chance for the Royal Navy to showcase what it does.

Not only does Navy Days tell us about the History of the Royal Navy, it is a part of Naval History itself. They have been taking place for many years - I’ve seen posters advertising Navy Days dating back to the early 20th Century, showing rows of battleships decked out in flags. My Granddad can remember going just after the war, and watching Fairey Swordfish Biplanes attacking ships with bags of flour. I can remember my Gran telling me about going on the US Warships, and the American sailors serving up hot dogs!

I first went to Navy Days in June 1994. It was the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, and there were plenty of interesting Royal Navy and foreign warships in the Harbour, to take part in the International Fleet Review later that week. I can remember going on HMS Ilustrious, and plenty of Destroyers and Minesweepers. I can also remember seeing the US Cruiser USS Normandy, and the wartime liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien. But what I remember most of all is my dad showing me round the Dockyard that he worked in, explaining how the Docks and caissons worked, and pointing out the parts of the ships that he worked on – ‘oh look, there’s number two weapons shop!’ and ‘that’s number three basin!’ sounds quite impressive when you’re 11!

The last time I went to Navy Days was in 2008. What I remember most from then is the foreign warships – Japanese, Chilean, Danish and French. It was interesting to have a look at HMS Ilustrious again 14 years later, and the Landing Ship RFA Largs Bay was a rare visitor to Portsmouth. And of course theres nothing quite like watching the Royal Marines Band close the day.

I’m looking forward to Navy Days already. I had a sneak peak of HMS Daring last year at the Royal Navy past and present event, and she really is something else. It’s a long time since RFA Argus has been in Portsmouth too. A former merchant vessel that served in the Falklands War before becoming and RFA ship, it will be a rare opportunity to visit a Falklands veteran. Hopefully we can expect to see some foreign warships too.

John Daly, Guest Blogger