A beautiful sunny day greeted the Newport RNA shipmates as they disembarked on the hallowed ground of the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth under the attentive eye of Shipmate Spider Kelly – organiser supreme and guide extraordinary.
And again we were challenged by the captain himself – no, not that one! The REAL one – Captain Jack Sparrow, who demanded to see our ID.
But he was immediately advised to desist by Shipmates Kelly and Routly.
They were about arrest him when he produced a warrant giving him free passage for the day! So we ambled off down the road to the Parade Ground where a Cadet rounded us up for a tour of the college.
And no matter how many times you visit this amazing place you’re still impressed by it. You can almost taste the history that seeps from every brick of an establishment that dates back to 1905. Designed by Sir George Aston Webb, one of the more distinguished architects of his day, he also designed Admiralty Arch and the East Front of Buckingham Palace. The foundation stone was laid by King Edward VII in March 1902 and the first cadets entered the College three years later.
First up was the Captain’s garden where the teenage Princess Elizabeth was accompanied by the dashing Lt Prince Philip of Greece during her visit to the college. And the guide drew our attention to a bricked up window, reminding us of the class prejudices of the time when cadets weren’t permitted to see into the Captain’s apartments.
Next we visited the chapel and saw the small round window up in the wall through which, once every year, the sun casts a beam of light that touches on the statue of Jesus – at the exact moment Lord Nelson died at the battle of Trafalgar! Glass doors replaced the old oak ones in 2000 to celebrate the millennium and are engraved with the prayer ‘They that go down to the sea in ships …’
The Museum was a place you could spend a whole day in. There was an impressive collection of artefacts that illustrated the college’s longstanding Royal connections. Generations of the Royal family have trained at Dartmouth, including King George VI, The Queen’s father, whose dress uniform is still on display. Also on display was the sea chest of a young cadet, assumed to be fifteen years old, in which were his whole worldly possessions, including a half written letter to his parents. There was a desk with a typewriter and parchments, a writing bureau with original pens and ink. We could also listen to the Britannia Voices oral history project, which captures first-hand accounts of College life from the 1930s to 1980s.
Photos taken after a German gunboats came up the river Dart and bombed the College in September 1942 showed the damage to the dining hall. Fortunately the college was practically empty at the time and the only fatality during the dreadful episode when a young WREN who was walking through it.
As it was an open day over 3,000 visitors came to see the College and stalls, and to enjoy the many demonstrations throughout the day. Highlights included a Field Gun run, the chance to look inside a Royal Navy helicopter and of course the beer tent, which came second only to the hot dog tent.
For the final event, a performances by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth, the Newport RNA Shipmates were invited to stand with Captain Jol Woodard RN on the balcony. The band gave us a wonderful display of music, marching and humorous sketches for which they got enthusiastic applause.
As we were about to disperse Captain Woodward chatted with us and posed for a group photo before wishing us well and inviting us back again in the near future.
It was a wonderful day, and we enjoyed being one of the attractions for the public. People asked us about Newport RNA and said how much they admired the way we turned out in smart blazers and military bearing. It reminded so many people of relatives who served in the forces and they were anxious to tell us their stories.
Then it was back on the bus and a quick buzz up the road to our friends at the White Ensign Club, Exeter where we were welcomed with the usual warmth.
And a rousing serving of rum by the excellent Rum Bosuns. Then a beautiful buffet was laid on followed by live music that had some people shuffling around the dance floor as if they knew what they were doing. And the beer flowed and the food disappeared with great gusto.
Then back on the bus for the last leg home, arriving in Newport at 11.30 knackered but satisfied.
The credit for this great day out must go to Shipmate Spider Kelly, but also to the rest of the group who were fantastic company and an honour to spend time with.