By land, sea, and air the ties of affiliation between the Feltmakers and the Royal Navy were strengthened early in July when my husband, George, and I took up the invitation to spend a few days at sea on board HMS Lancaster.
We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome from the moment Lt. Commander Paul Thomson met us in Holland to escort us to the Lancaster moored alongside the naval port of Den Helder on the north coast. After a formal welcome aboard, we were greeted by our old friend, Commander Steve Moorhouse and were duly introduced to some of the 180 crew which includes only four lady officers. It was Lt. Commander Paul Thomson who flew from the ship to join me at the Palace of Westminster on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee luncheon for the Queen, last month.
In the entertaining company of seven officers, we enjoyed a lively dinner ashore at a favoured restaurant as we indulged in the delights of Dutch cuisine on our first evening, before setting sail the following morning, and so began our non-stop tour of the amazing Lancaster.
The current ship is the sixth to bear the name , ‘Lancaster’, known as the Queen’s frigate and launched by Her Majesty in her official role as the Duke of Lancaster in May 1990. Having recently emerged from a twenty million pound refit the ship is now ready for active service, and it was with great pride that members of the crew acquainted us with her capabilities. Operations Officer, Lt. Kenny Dalglish conducted us through the busy Command Centre, the highly technical ‘brain ’and ever- alert nerve centre of this war ship. One could not fail to be impressed with the technology which constantly monitors the proximity and identity of every craft, whether friend or foe, above, below, and beyond the human eye. She is bristling with astounding equipment reacting to the myriad of her sensors, and is a hive of much activity by her skilled crew; a contrast with the apparent calm of the Bridge, with which the Command Centre is in constant communication.
A fact George and I were well aware of when each of us was given the great privilege on the Bridge, high above the gun turret, of taking the helm to steer the ship on a compass course set by Navigation Officer, Lt. Penny Hall, towards the familiar waters of the Solent.
Each day we enjoyed the hospitality of the Officers’ Ward Room and on one afternoon I had an invitation to visit the non- commissioned officers’ mess to address them and participate in general conversation. Needless to say, the subjects were the ‘Feltmakers’ , the Livery companies of the City of London and the reason I was on board. It proved to be an interesting and enlightening session for all of us.
Having completed the major refit, when the Command and Sea Wolf surface to air missile system was up-graded, the automatic small calibre gun added, and fully automatic close-range guns fitted on either side of the ship, HMS Lancaster is more than capable and ready to fight in air, sea and surface environments, and, complete with her flying taxi, the Lynx helicopter, is ideally suited to conduct maritime security operations against terrorism, drug-smuggling, piracy or any other task on the high seas. She has seen service in the Caribbean, the Falklands, the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean,has participated in the NATO Task Force and manages to fit in training, such as Self Protection, Warfare, and Damage Control as well as recently assisting the Trident submarine, HMS Vigilant with her first deep dive in at least two years.
She is a veritable fighting war ship and an equally intimidating deterrent!
Our departure was no less impressive and in keeping with the character of the Lancaster, that is, James Bond like in preparation, precision, and speed! As we anchored five miles off Portsmouth, the inflatable tender had to be employed to get us to shore. Once we were suitably kitted out in sturdy water-proof black and yellow suits with matching helmets and lowered to the sea in our get-away boat, there was little chance to wave good-bye when the engine roared and we were off. We clung onto the hand- rail for dear life, eyes tightly shut, mouths gaping in shock, as we bounced along the waves at break-neck speed, arriving at Portsmouth harbour shaken but not stirred!
I shall be forever grateful to Commander Moorhouse and all crew for their kind hospitality , the fun, the memorable privilege of unique days at sea on such a special vessel, and for the perfect opportunity for me, on behalf of the Livery, to renew and deepen the friendship of the Royal Navy with the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers.