News from our seafarers

Our most recent blog comes from Frank, a member of one of our Seafarer’s Link groups. He shares with us his experience of the events commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic.

“I was intrigued by the choice of May to commemorate a battle which began with the sinking of SS “Athenia” eight hours after the declaration of war on September 3rd 1939 and continued until the sinking of the SS ”Avondale Park” two hours before the signing of the armistice in May 1945. Apparently May 1943 was chosen as the turning point of the battle.

We started on Wednesday with a special choral evensong in St Pauls followed by a reception in the Mansion House. The refreshments were excellent and plentiful and the ancient hall looked as it must have done for the last Lord Mayor’s banquet and was awash with gold braid and magnificent decorations.

On Thursday, we were invited to afternoon tea and dinner with the captain of HMS “Illustrious” moored in the river off Greenwich. After tea we could rest until the other guests arrived for the Champagne reception. The BBC were already busy with their gear on the flight deck which was cold and windy. The “One Show” was to be broadcast from the flight deck where we watched the fly-past by a Fairy

“Swordfish” escorted by four helicopters and the landing of a “Merlin” and enjoyed the band of the Royal Marines (who later played during the dinner).

The VIP guest (Duke of Kent) landed later and we repaired to the hanger where we escaped from the wind and found our allotted places on the tables laid ready for the 350 guests. Dan Snow was the after-dinner speaker and, in his talk, he related an outline of the Battle of the Atlantic

One veteran was allocated to each table which seated a dozen guests and we were made very welcome. We had a sailor to look after each table and he made sure that every glass remained full. Not being a wine-drinker I asked if I could have a beer and was advised to go down to the seamen’s mess after the dinner where I would be able “to fill my boots” with all I could drink.

The starters were already on the table (Thin-sliced herb-crusted fillet of beef on a bed of rocket and spinach with coloured beetroot and mango salsa). We then collected our own selection from the side-tables of thirteen cold meats, eight fish dishes, eighteen salads, five desserts and with coffee and whisky to end. There followed a special toast to the veterans which made us all feel ten feet tall. The event was supposed to finish by 2230 for the boat back to Greenwich but the programme ran late, everyone was having such a good time and it was just after midnight by the time we had everyone aboard the tender. Not wanting to spend a night on a seat at Stratford station, I joined the people staying in the Victory Club and arrived home at 1110 on Friday.

The final event was a parade and service at the Merchant Navy war memorial at Tower Hill on Saturday, with a short reception in All Hallows-by-the-Tower church – again awash with gold braid and decorations. Altogether a memorable week which we will all remember for a very long time.”

Frank Kelley R241421

If you are a former seafarer and would like to join one of our telephone link groups please contact Chris Rankin at Community Network on 01752 812674 or 0845 619 9992. Or email her at chris@community-network.org.