Here’s a nice outdoor location for CHIRP, the confidential reporting system for ships and seafarers – the Port of Southampton. The good-lookin’ chap doing his bit for CHIRP is Captain Don Cockrill MBE, Secretary General at United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association. We had a good day out with him, Lieutenant-Commander David Carter, and John Rose – the former ship’s master and harbourmaster who got CHIRP going a few years back. This bulletin was again expertly presented by Martin Muncaster, whose clarity of diction and presentation don’t half show up some of the on-, and indeed off-screen presenters broadcast panjandrums think are such a laugh nowadays. Presentation is a real skill, as Martin shows – and indulging in quirky accents and weird delivery can just put audiences off, so that the whole aim – clear and compelling delivery of information – is lost. Wake up, panjandrums!
The ‘Abandon Ship!’ exhibition opened aboard Wellington with an excellent party – and an unbeatable moment: when our presenter Sue Saville joined the party she was greeted by another guest, the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, grand-daughter of the great Antarctic explorer, with the words “The last time I saw you was on South Georgia!” Explanation: Sue was reporting for the BBC from this ultra-remote island in the Southern Ocean, and Alexandra Shackleton was there because of her grandfather’s epic 800 mile voyage there with a small crew in an open boat. This 1916 odyssey enabled Shackleton to summon help from the island to rescue his crew, just surviving on the ice after the expedition ship Endurance sunk, crushed by that same ice. But to get that help, the team still had to cross mountains and glaciers… a feat never since repeated…
… because we owe them such a debt. Winston Churchill famously said that the only thought that scared him during WWII was that we might lose the Battle of the Atlantic – our lifeline for all the supplies we needed to fight Nazi Germany. Literally everything had to come across an ocean infested with German submarines – which were highly successful in sinking our shipping. Not least because their crews were brave and skillful, however much the cause for which they were fighting stunk! Some 12,000 merchant seamen (remembered at the Merchant Navy memorial – picture – at London EC3N 4DH) drawn from all nations of the Commonwealth and Empire, died that we might live – so our film for the Wellington exhibition is a hymn of thanks to them and all who sailed with them. Truly, “for our tomorrow they gave their today.”
….is the title of an outstanding work by Professor Harry Bennett (picture) of Plymouth University, on British merchant seamen of the Second World War. This is one of the best histories of the war at sea we’ve ever read, telling in great – and fascinating – detail the full story of the merchant seamen who manned the ships that kept Britain’s trade routes open, keeping us alive to fight Nazism. It was the key text for our film for the HQS Wellington exhibition ‘Abandon Ship!’, titled ‘Surviving the Savage Sea’, which opens the exhibition on board the ship on the Thames by the Temple tube station in London. It’s a most appropriate place for the exhibition, as Wellington is the last surviving ship from the epic Battle of the Atlantic – in which Nazi Germany tried to strangle us by blocking transatlantic trade.
We were lucky enough to win the services of Sue Saville, ITN presenter and correspondent, to present our ‘Abandon Ship!’ film for HQS Wellington. We needed to convey as much as we could of the real experience of men cast out on the open sea after being torpedoed, mined or sunk by gunfire. We particularly wanted to show the kind of boat sailors would end up in if they survived an attack. Which is why Sue is reporting to camera from a vintage whaler owned by 14th Richmond Sea Scouts, who kindly allowed us to use their whaler Viking near their base on the Thames. On the day, 14th Richmond’s Trevor Hall made sure we got all the shots we needed (and didn’t fall in..!) And that lifejacket may not be a fashion hit, but it is the real thing!
The second ‘Abandon Ship!’ story the Wellington team are focussing on is that of the cargo ship Richmond Castle. She was sunk by a U-boat in the Atlantic in 1942. 3 lifeboats got away. One had in it a young seaman called Angus Murray, from Stornoway. The boat’s sails had been lost, but Angus stitched two blankets together so that he could sail the boat – and he did, without navigational aids, for 3 to 400 miles, till all in the boat were picked up by the RN corvette HMS Snowflake. Other survivors who appear in our film are convinced they would have lost their lives without Angus’ cool skill and courage. If you’re in London, please come aboard Wellington (next to Temple tube on the Thames) to see the exhibition. Open Sundays and Mondays from May 21st , and free!
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
Subscribe to email updates