HMS Belfast

Star Travel Rating

5/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

HMS Belfast

Date of travel

2012

Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with

Adult family

Reasons for trip

I first set eyes on this formidable battle cruiser when she was berthed in the port of Sasebo, Japan. I had arrived there as a young Naval Rating back in the 1950s to start my two year posting to the Far East and the Belfast was to be my home for the duration. I was a seventeen year old boy seaman trained as a gunner and still walking around wide eyed in astonishment at the exotic and strange sights of the Far East. A far cry from the Yorkshire mining village where I grew up. I was no sooner settled in to my berth on board when the Captain announced over the Tannoy that we, as part of the United Nations had declared war on North Korea who had been naughty and invaded South Korea! He went on to declare that we had orders to proceed up the Yellow sea and give them hell with our big guns. Fortunately I survived this Korean War and after a few more adventures and years left the Royal Navy got married and started a family… The next time I set eyes on the Belfast she had arrived in London, saved at great expense from the breakers yard by a consortium (led by an Admiral) of enthusiasts. They berthed her in the River Thames near Tower Bridge and she was to become a museum. We were living in London then so as soon as she was open to visitors I was there with my family but quite shocked to find I had TO QUEUE to board her! In the old days in Japan, along with my fellow shipmates, we could not wait to get OFF HER and go ashore after weeks at sea and here I was voluntarily queuing to go up the old gangplank and to add insult to injury having to PAY? However I could not resist out of habit throwing a quick salute as I stepped onto the quarter deck!( In the Royal Navy it is a punishable offence NOT to salute the White Ensign as you stepped on board a Warship!) It was early days for the museum and I was shocked at the state she was in. Months of neglect had left her decks grimy and paintwork and brass work tarnished after she had been decommissioned. Her wooden quarter deck used to be scrubbed until it was snow white, now it was almost black! (I had fond memories of scrubbing it barefoot with sea water myself!) Nevertheless I enjoyed showing my family around, pointing out the hooks where I had slung my hammock, my locker space, my gun emplacement and the look out station on the Bridge where I had nearly froze to death. One of my jobs was to search with binoculars for enemy aircraft sitting there in a Siberian North Korean winter on a four hour watch! (However nothing to what the American and British Infantry were going through in the frozen killing fields of Korea!) At least we could get below in the warmth of the mess deck, eat and sleep well after our watch. Following a recent visit with my family, I am happy to report the Belfast is now spick and span, a lot of hard work has made this ship a “must see” if you are ever in or near London. With food and drink available on board you can easily spend a whole day there. Just one disappointment was my old Bofor gun had been replaced with another armament. I remember being called to action stations, a lone hostile aircraft had been picked up on our Radar. I stood on the exposed Bofor gun deck with only my steel helmet, anti flash gear and Duffel coat to protect me peering at the sky and shaking a bit with fear. (I had hoped at the time that the older gun crew would think I was just cold!) I could not help but wonder if I was about to be blasted into the next world by some Russian built MIG Jet fighter plane! Onboard there is a lot to see. Models dressed in ships uniform bring the ship to life as you tour round the ships mess decks. The Galley and Bakery which fed around a thousand crew, the gun decks, Battle operation room, wireless room, Radar sets, and much more. Steel gangways take you down several decks, see the engine room with its huge Diesels, and visit the steering compartment, surprisingly hidden down in the depths of the ship. There’s just a wheel and a compass and the helmsman takes his steering orders by speakers from the lofty bridge. As a favour from the Helmsman I once took over the wheel with disastrous results and the ships officer of the watch on duty on the ships Bridge bellowing down the speaker “What the Hell is going on down there!” I was quickly relieved! On this second visit thinking my brother-in law was behind me I was pointing out where I used to sling my hammock only to find a stranger standing there who was amazed to meet an actual ex crew member! As I told him there are not many of us left now! He said it made his day and he had come down especially from Birmingham. He was a real enthusiast so I showed him where the ammunition hoists were and showed him the six inch shells, thousands of which we had bombarded coastal targets in North Korea with. My last recollection of my ship was when I turned around for one last look from the jetty and a shaft of sunshine had lit up her fancy war paint. her heavy brass bell sparkling and the White Ensign proudly fluttering from her quarter deck.

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