FolkestoneJack's Tracks

BOA 70: Open day on HMS Illustrious

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 11, 2013

I took the opportunity to visit HMS Illustrious today as her career comes close to an end. The ship was open to all comers and a long queue next to the Old Royal Naval College demonstrated just how much affection the public have for these Invincible class light aircraft carriers. It didn’t seem to matter that it was going to take a little while to get on board – there was a pleasant buzz as the queue steadily moved forward and before long it was our turn to travel across to the warship on one of the shuttle boats.

The ship's bell

The ship’s bell

It is not the first time that I have been on board – I visited HMS Illustrious as a child on a navy day in Portsmouth, probably in 1983, when she was still a newly commissioned aircraft carrier in the fleet. Sadly, I don’t have any strong memories of that occasion – if I could only go back to my childhood now I would surely marvel at some of the sights I took for granted on air, land and sea!

Although I most strongly identify HMS Illustrious as an aircraft carrier, she has operated as a helicopter and commando carrier since the loss of her harriers in 2010. The same year it was announced that she would be withdrawn from service in 2014 and HMS Ocean would be retained as the fleet’s helicopter carrier.

A view of Greenwich from HMS Illustrious

A view of Greenwich from HMS Illustrious

It seems strange to have visited HMS Illustrious at the start and end of her period in service, though this isn’t really the end of her story – the government has already announced that she will be preserved for the nation and not sent to the scrapyard like her sister ships. It will be interesting to see what form this preservation takes and where she ends up.

It seems to be an encouraging time for the preservation of our naval history with the news this week that the last surviving warship from the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline, is to receive initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There is more the campaign to save HMS Caroline on her facebook page.

The flight deck of HMS Illustrious

The flight deck of HMS Illustrious

Anyway, enough of the future! After our shuttle reached the ship it was straight to the top – up a walkway into the hangar and then up another set of stairs onto the flight deck. The view down the deck towards the ski jump was certainly impressive and it was great to be able to wander around and take this all in, before heading back to the hangar.

On the flight deck there was alot of interest in the polished ship’s bell, which was quite a contrast to the battle damaged bell on display in the hangar from the fourth ship to bear the name Illustrious. The bell had been ripped open during the battle for Malta in 1941 and makes a powerful statement about the terrors of that campaign. Aside from this, there were some fascinating displays about the ship’s history and life on board today.

Finally after an hour or so of wandering we were back in the queue to return to shore. Thank you to the crew on putting on such a great open day and providing such a friendly welcome to us all.

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