Showing posts with label River Thames. Show all posts
Showing posts with label River Thames. Show all posts

Monday, 7 July 2014

HMS Belfast a War Ship

 I have looked at Life on Board HMS Belfast in a previous post, here.
Food, laundry, spare-time, sleep and shopping.

But HMS Belfast is a war ship,
commissioned in 1939,
at the beginning of the second World War.

My kids have studied the second world war,
in both primary and secondary school.
Would this ship connect to the history they had learnt at school?
What would our kids make of war?
What did war at sea look like?

There are guns.
These guns, if fired, would hit Scratchwood motorway services,
the southernmost services on the M1, 14 miles away.

Deep below deck,
shells are stored, ready to be sent to the gun turrets.

 Each 6" shell weighs as much as two small children.
We could demonstrate that weight, sometimes it's useful having twins.

Steering the ship was done from a safe position, below deck,
but you still had to wear your anti-flash gloves and hoods
to protect you in the event of fire.

War is strategic, it involves planning,
team work where every man had a specific job.

We worked together to locate aircraft parts,
studying the map, plotting journeys and moving ships and helicopters into position.


We did it!

 It was important to take orders rather than 'selfies'.

If you didn't follow orders, and you misbehaved,
you could end up in the punishment cells
being shouted at and having to unwind rope.
Having been caught drunk on duty,
this guy is too busy throwing up into a bucket to unwind any more rope.
The top misdemeanours were being drunk, absent without leave and fighting. 

For some reason the punishment cells appealed,
we fought to try out the wooden pillow.

 Now moored on the Thames by the City of London
HMS Belfast doesn't look so big.
It is though.
It's two football pitches long and nine decks high,
they can all be explored, many are below the waterline.
All those different greys.
That's called dazzle paint, designed to confuse the enemy when it is spotted at sea.
It does a pretty good camouflage job in the City too.

As for war,
secondary school history has given them some context for the life of HMS Belfast,
the Second World War and later conflicts.
I learnt a lot from the older two.

For our primary school children, HMS Belfast was appreciated more for being a ship,
what it did and how it worked.

It is perhaps difficult to comprehend the realities of war for the crew on HMS Belfast,
at sea, in action.
I'll leave you with words from archive footage, heard in the Gun Turret Experience,
spoken by former crew who had fired those guns.
Food for thought.
"...we wanted to get the ships, not the crew..."
At that point, I gulped.

HMS Belfast is open everyday.
Occasionally there are still veterans on board to meet and hear their stories.
Details on their website, here.
I recommend the children's audio tour. It was the one we used for our family,
aged eleven to adult.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Brunel Museum

Babysitter booked, we headed here for a night out.
"A museum for a night out?"
I had it all planned, a perfect night out, appealing to civil engineer and museologist alike.
The perfect blend.

And it was...

We were welcomed with signs.

Road signs...

Heritage signs....

And refreshment signs...

With a Lavender Bees Knees in hand, we were invited into the underground chamber,
into the shaft that Brunel built in Rotherhithe to access the
"oldest tunnel in the oldest underground in the world, under the Thames."
That tunnel, since 2010, is now part of the London Overground,
and we could hear trains passing through underneath our feet.

Access into the tunnel was tricky.
Before you stooped through the 4ft high door,
you had to climb over a wall with small rungs set into it.
But our guide was on hand with top health and safety advice,
"Stoop low but believe! Left hand, right foot, spin, one, two, three, down."

Then descend into the chamber, "half the size of Shakespeare's Globe."

On the walls you can see reminders of times gone by.

Those grooves in the wall were where the stairs once were.
"See those two people in silhouette halfway down, that's where we are now."

Photographic evidence that the door really was small.

The story of the Thames tunnel includes...
This southern pedestrian entrance to the tunnel was built using the world's first caisson.
The tunnel was designed to take cargo under a very busy Thames,
accommodating around 3,000 ships every day,
but they ran out of money to build the shafts needed for the horse-and-carts.

...fundraising and marketing.
With only the pedestrian access finished,
they opened the tunnel as a visitor attraction to fundraise for the next stage of the build.

For the public in 1843, the idea of walking through a tunnel under the Thames was,
"science fiction, like walking on the moon."
Only those who had the nerve to pass under the Thames did so,
and bought souvenirs to prove that they had actually
been there and done that! 

 ... and years of manual labour.
Men in Brunel's Cutting Shield, each excavating in their own area by hand,
inching under the River Thames with short-handled spades.

This was all Marc's idea you know, he was the brains behind it,
his son Isambard was the resident engineer.

Back to our night out...

The Brunel Museum have created a beautiful roof-top garden on top of the shaft.

Which is open every Saturday evening during the summer.

For cocktails made using herbs from the garden

 With live music.

 And a fire to sit beside and have the finer points of engineering explained to you.
"They built that caisson above ground and by digging away underneath,
they gradually sank it."
I have to admit, I am impressed.

Pioneering engineering, museum, cocktails, garden, live music, history, food, marshmallows, stories of drowning, banquets, world's firsts and souvenir hunting.
What's not to love?
A great night out,
here in Rotherhithe, South East London.

The Brunel Museum is open every day
and has regular special events and late night openings.

As this dual-layer peep show shows,
the Brunel Museum tells the story of father and son, Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel,
who saw a busy River Thames...
...and set out to cross it by tunnelling underneath.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Life on board HMS Belfast

Who'd have thought that when we walked down the gangway
and stepped onto the quarterdeck of HMS Belfast,
it would have connected so much to family life at home.
Obviously, we don't have that view from our front door.

But we do have a kitchen...

...with a fridge, not quite as well stocked as this.
Mind you, we're not catering for up to nine hundred and fifty
and not able to pop to the shops, being away at for months at a time.

Fish. It must be Friday.

A question I never found out the answer to, was whether they caught their own.
18,000 meals were prepared each week.

Not sure what this dish is.
Food that looks like this doesn't seem to need a 'Do Not Touch' sign.
It's kind of lost its appeal,
suddenly I don't feel hungry any more.

Bread is such a staple.
For those of you who like statistics, each day six bakers produced...
...fifty-two loaves, 1,440 rolls,
plus pies, pastries and cakes.
They didn't just bake for their crew,
but also baked to cater for men on board smaller ships that sailed in the fleet.

The galley on board HMS Belfast is great as you get to wander right through it
and meet the crew,
without feeling at all guilty about not offering to lend a hand.

Whatever they ate, there's still the same old perennial argument
about who does the washing up.

With all that food on stored board,
it attracted mice and rats.
Meet Frankenstein, the ship's cat.
Now which is worse...
...the rat in the sack of potatoes
...or a cat climbing all over the food.

Washing up done, time to think about the laundry.
Before the 1950s the crew had to wash their own clothes in a bucket.
I bet they were pleased to get washing machines installed?

But you had to be careful!
You were warned.

This appeals.
Neatly folded, 'sorted into piles', clothes.

No scrabbling around for clean uniform on a Monday morning...

...and trying to work out whose black socks are whose.

 Then there's the ironing.
This isn't done on a Sunday night in front of the TV!

You've had your dinner, cleared away, washed up.
Washing and ironing sorted.
Now time for a little relaxation.

A snooze and letter writing.
Looks private.

 Dominoes and shoe polishing.

Games, magazines and newspapers.
There weren't many places to go on board HMS Belfast.
Where you hung out, you also slept.
So mind your head on that hammock above!

There were so many men, in order to accommodate them all,
many hammocks were hung amongst the ship machinery.
A quiet night's sleep?

Frankenstein was comfy though.
This is one of the most creative uses of taxidermy that I've ever seen.

Washed and dressed, it was important you were ready for action.
Yes, this really is a museum mannequin!

One last connection with urban life in the 21st century.

Home from home,
Kit Kats, Bountys, Cadbury's chocolate, Brylcreem, Bovril and Ovaltine. 

And of course,
Fishermans Friends.
Were they though? They're not my friend.

So if you came on board expecting war, battles, guns, explosions, planning, strategies, operations, missions
and the like,
hold fire, we'll get there.
There is so much to see on HMS Belfast. There are nine decks.

HMS Belfast is open all week, it's free for kids and sitting on deck provides one of the best picnic views in London.
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