Navy Days 2010 – the rest of the sights

7 Dock

There’s always plenty more to look at at Navy Days other than the Warships – OK, so they are the big draw, but you can find some pretty interesting stuff on the docksides too.

I had an interesting chat with a Gentleman at the Project Vernon stand. Project Vernon aims to erect a statue at Gunwharf Quays, commemorating the sites heritage as the Royal Navy’s centre for Minewarfare until its closure in 1996. I’ve been researching a minewarfare man, CPO Reg Ellingworth GC, so I think its a wonderful idea and a very good project – good luck to them!

One of the highlights of the day, for me, was getting to visit the Royal Navy Historical Branch. This is one of those quiet departments that you know exists, but get to actually visit once in a blue moon. Their library seemed to have the Mariners Mirror, the Navy List, and practically every other kind of naval and maritime journal. While I was there a number of visitors were getting some advice about their ancestors naval service. I had a very interesting in-depth discussion with one of the members of staff about naval service records – how difficult they are to read, what all the abbreviations mean, and how to interpret them. The conclusion? Somebody needs to write a book on it! And also, it would be great if resources like this could be more accesible.

Type 26 model

The BAe System stand was very interesting. In effect the only shipbuilding company of note in Britain nowadays, BAe are leading the work on the Type 45 Destroyers, the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, the Astute Class submarines, and design work for the new Type 26 Frigates. As you might expect their stand was very flash indeed.

Another stand I found interesting was the HMS Intrepid stand. A small group dedicated to perserving her memory had on display some relics from the Falklands veteran landing ship. Apparently when it came to scrapping her the old girl put up quite a protest, and even her name plate would not come off without a fight!


In terms of harbour and air displays, things were a bit thin on the ground. I did catch the Royal Marines anti-piracy boarding demonstration, which looked excellently conducted, and shows what they can do when they’re actually allowed to (reference the incident in the Indian Ocean last year when a Marine boarding party was not allowed to rescue a kidnapped British couple). The Royal Navy Lynx Helicopter display team the Black Cats put on a display, as did the Royal Navy’s historic flight Harvard, but I’ve seen both of them before several times now. While I was on one of the warships the Royal Artillery’s Black Knights parachute display team – why is it that every armed forces unit has its own parachute display team?

The arena events were ok, if not spectacular or unusual. The Royal Marines, Royal Navy volunteer and Rose and Thistle Pipe Bands are firm fixtures at these type of events. I’m a bit mystified as to what the Solent Dog team has to do with Navy Days – I could have understood if it was an MOD police dog display or something like that. The Royal Signals white helmets motorbike display team disappeared from the programme, even though they had been announced earlier in the year. I can’t say I was particularly excited about Bloodhound either – the supersonic car. Again, quite what its got to do with the Navy, who knows…

Re-enactment groups are always good to see, whatever you think about re-enactors, it brings history to life in a far more accesible way. I spotted the Fort Cumberland Guard, The Coldstream Guards, some gentleman doing Napoleonic Musket firing near HMS Victory, and a group rowing a Victory-era small boat in 1 Basin. There weren’t as many wandering entertainers as I’ve seen in previous years, however.


While we’re talking about boats, I forgot to mention RCL Aachen, a British Army operated and crewed large Landing Craft. She’s run by the Royal Corps of Logistics, and based at Marchwood in Southampton Water. According to her crew she can operate with the Royal Navy’s amphibious forces, but spends much of her time operating as a kind of water-borne taxi for the army, taking small numbers of men and equipment from one place to another by water.

However, the biggest pleasant surprise was finding Jason Salkey, who played Rifleman Harris in the Sharpe TV series. This was really quite something, as Sharpe is probably the reason why I am into military history in the first place. Jason’s a very nice bloke, and happily talked about Bernard Cornwell’s books, Sean Bean, and how sad he is that after he was killed off in Sharpe’s Waterloo he cannot appear in any future programmes.

1 Basin

Something that not a lot of people appreciate, is that the Dockyard buildings themselves have an awful lot of history – all you need to do is take a look at one of the many books by Ray Riley or Brian Patterson – every dock, storehouse, boathouse, jetty or basin has its own history. If only those bricks could talk… And when Navy Days is on you get to look round parts that aren’t normally open to the public, and take pictures from different angles – especially of 1 Basin from the top of RFA Argus!

All in all, there could have been a more and better displays, in particular in the air and in the arena. I can’t believe that on its biggest showcase of the year the Navy – or indeed the other armed forces – could not put on more. Its either lack of resources, costcutting, or sheer lack of effort. Thankfully some of the rare gens – such as meeting Jason Salkey, the Historical Branch, finding out about Project Vernon, RFA Argus and talking to some of the sailors on the ships made up for things. But theres something wrong when the sideshows are more interesting than the ships…

Apparently the word is that there won’t be a Portsmouth Navy Days in 2012 as it clashes with the Olympics – what that’s got to do with it I’m really not quite sure… why not just move it to another part of the year? Sounds like cost-cutting to me, unless of course the Type 45 Destroyers are going to be part of the air defence cordon off the Thames Estuary… There is talk of an event being put on next year, but as usual it looks like Portsmouth will miss out.



Filed under Dockyard, event, Navy, out and about, Uncategorized

32 responses to “Navy Days 2010 – the rest of the sights

  1. Having taken part in one, I can say that the boarding/hostage rescue demonstration is PR cack of the highest order. If that was tried for real a bloodbath would result, with dead hostages and dead marines.

  2. James Daly

    Interesting… how come they can’t put on something more realistic? Is it because the PR version makes for more exciting viewing?

  3. Yes. Broad daylight, Marines in a fast noisy boat (let me guess there was a helicoper involved too), out in the open….

  4. James Daly

    True, it wasnt exactly Iranian Embassy or Entebbe stuff…

  5. Hello James,

    Thanks for mentioning Project Vernon for which I am a committee member. I helped man the stand each day but must have missed you. I’m also Vice Chairman & Webmaster of the RN Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers’s Association ( and have provided an illustrated account of the weekend from our perspective in the second entry for 2 Aug 10 on the MCDOA website’s ‘Latest News’ page.

    Incidentally, the opposed boarding was meant to be an entertaining and deliberately spectacular display of RN/RM capabilities, not a realistic re-enactment of an actual incident which might well involve SF and reveal some sensitive tactics and capabilities. When I organised such displays at Plymouth Navy Days, we had to use two sets of divers for an underwater attack because the public would have been bored to tears during their submerged transit; there weren’t even any bubbles to see. Hardly realistic but that wasn’t the point of the exercise which was to send most people home rejoicing.

    Incidentally, I am the ex-officio historian and archivist for the Minewarfare and Clearance Diving Branches. Let me know if I can help you with your research into CPO Ellingworth. What is your particular interest?

    Best wishes,

    Rob Hoole

  6. James Daly

    Hi Rob, thank you for your message. I’m very happy to support Project Vernon, its a very worthwhile cause and very important to Portsmouth’s heritage.

    I have been researching people from Portsmouth who died during WW2, and CPO Ellingworth’s name came up in my database. I am researching 10 or 12 of the most interesting stories with a view to possibly getting them published, something like ‘Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes’. I’ve written up the basic details of some of them on my blog over the past year or so. I have his service record (he was a submariner earlier in his career) and details of his family, his GC citation, information from Dagenham where the fatal incident occured, and his death notice in the evening news. I’ve also just managed to track down where his medals are – the Imperial War Museum, no less!

    Best wishes


    • James – Thank you for your response.

      I have provided Lord Ashcroft’s researchers with some information for the exhibition of his collection of medals in a new gallery at the IWM in the Autumn (see I assume that CPO Ellingworth’s GC will be displayed along with the other GCs and VCs.

      You probably know this but another good source of information about GC recipients is Marion Hebblethwaite who founded the GC Database ( and has written the series of books about them: ‘One Step Further’. We often share information and contacts.

      WEBF – With regard to your comment, I’m sure you’d agree that the sort of rescue mission you describe and the circumstances in which it would be undertaken would not make a very good ‘spectacle’ for Navy Days consumption but I agree that the public needs educating about such complicated matters as ROE and the subtle difference between armed conflict and maritme constabulary duties, especially under the auspices of the UN.

      It’s such a shame that there are no knowledgeable, non-partisan defence correspondents around these days. This includes the rabidly anti-Navy Max Hastings who seems to have forgotten the cost in naval ships and lives of ferrying him to the Falklands to liberate Port Stanley single-handed and the appallingly ill-informed Lt Lewis Page RN (Rtd).

      Best wishes,


      • James Daly

        Hi Rob thanks for your suggestions. I’m corresponding with the IWM at the moment about what material they have, apparently Ellingworth’s GC will be going on display in the Ashcroft Gallery. Personally I find Ashcroft hard to stomach but it will be an amazing exhibition.

        I think Max Hastings is anti-everything. I despair of people who describe him as a Historian, he’s nothing of the sort – he would benefit from a few years learning how to study history properly. His books are much like his journalism – sensationalism without substance. Would expect better from someone who liberated Port Stanley single-handedly! (removes tongue from cheek!)

  7. RH

    I realise that the boarding demo is not meant to be realistic. But does the public realise this?

    I remember some of the infantile comments made by members of the public in response to one of Max Hasting’s “The Navy are Cowards” type pieces, when RFA WAVE KNIGHT was unable to rescue the pair of yachties captured by pirates. I remember suggestions that the pirates could be engaged by rifleman (sic) and the hostages rescued by swimmers (sic). Wouldn’t it be better not to give Joe Public the impression that these sorts of operations are easy, and can be done by any man and his dog.

    Not all members of the public seem to realise that real life is seldom as simple.

  8. James Daly

    I’ve been scratching my brains trying to think of what other similar displays could be put on, but which might be more realistic?

    …But given that my military experience is limited to Navy Days, I’ll bow to the professionals on this one…

  9. RH

    My thoughts about the Navy’s lack of PR, and the media’s lack of understanding, has been seen elsewhere on this site:

    As you say, it is a shame that the only experts are self appointed buffoons suxh as Hastings or Page. There are nobe so blind as them who won’t see.

  10. James Daly

    There do seem to be a large number of retired Army officers being wheeled out by the pro-Army media at present. On the whole I think the Tory’s are and have been pretty pro-Army – people such as Ian Duncan Smith, Patrick Mercer etc are all ex-officers. And I guess your average ex-Army officer – particularly Cavalry, Guards etc – is likely to lean towards the Tories.

  11. I guess that’s partly (at least) due to the fact that the Army is larger than the other services. Akso it is the one people see on their TV screens most often.

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