Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:48 PM
I am contacting you as a representative on behalf of ‘Friends of HMS Caroline’ and ‘Caroline Comrades’ to help save HMS Caroline’s plight and to keep her here for the future generations in Belfast to enjoy.
I’m aware that most of you have heard of HMS Caroline, currently berthed in Alexandra Basin, Belfast Docks. The reason I am contacting you is to raise the awareness of HMS Caroline and to advise you of the possibility of her being lost to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth.
On 28th January, 1914, the Admiralty ordered a series of C Class Light Cruisers to be built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead. HMS Caroline was completed in 9 months; launched 21st September 1914 and commissioned for active service on 17th December 1914, a record still unbeaten for a ship of her size - 3750 tons. She served in WW1 and has Battle Honours for ‘Jutland’ in 1916, the last Great Naval action; she is the sole floating survivor of the battle. Post WW1, she served in British waters and the East Indies until 1922 and then in Northern Ireland during WW2, as the Royal Navy's headquarters in Belfast Harbour.
After WW1 it was decided to extend the RNVR to Northern Ireland. Enthusiastic volunteers formed the Ulster Division RNVR in 1924, and HMS Caroline moved to Belfast to act as the HQ for the newly formed division, latterly renamed the RNR. The RNR division was then decommissioned and moved ashore and recommissioned as HMS Hibernia. Caroline was decommissioned on 31 March, 2011, in a traditional ceremony. Her ensign was laid up in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
At her decommissioning she held the title of the second-oldest ship in Royal Navy service, next to HMS Victory, as well as being the last First World War British Light Cruiser in service. Her revolutionary Parsons steam turbines are the last surviving examples of the kind, introduced after the 30 knot Parsons ‘Turbinia’ cut up the fleet at the Spithead review in 1897.
Since her decommission in 2011 Caroline has been the responsibility of Dr Dominic Tweddle of the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth. Understandably, Dr Tweddle is very keen to move Caroline to Portsmouth and include her in the already impressive collection held there. Thankfully, she has not been moved, due to the poor condition of her hull, as she could not currently be towed or withstand a ships lift. All memorabilia on board has been stripped out and is held in storage in Portsmouth.
Not surprisingly, after nearly 100 years afloat, Caroline is in need of some TLC and urgently requires dry docking for repairs. With only one ship keeper employed to maintain her, she is showing her age and, worryingly, she is now in a very poor state. I should add this is not a reflection of the ongoing maintenance by the ship keeper, but of the limited resources being utilised.
Caroline’s plight in Belfast has become a concern to many of her ex-members and members of the public alike. After a couple of meetings it was decided to form a Management Committee* to represent all those concerned about Caroline. Our primary role is to save HMS Caroline, and to keep her in Belfast for future generations to enjoy, as a part of a Titanic Quarter Maritime Trail.
Several ideas have evolved as to her potential role in Belfast.
· A stand alone Naval Museum – leased from Portsmouth.
· Tourist attraction – further enhancing the maritime experience currently being witnessed in Belfast through the Titanic Experience.
· A Shared Naval Experience – presented as a memorial for both men and women from Northern and Southern Ireland, who lost members of their families during both WW1 and WW2. Currently, there is little evidence of RN Memorials available to the public in Ireland. It should also be remembered that during WW2, VCs were awarded to sailors from Tipperary and Belfast.
· It is also hoped that the current HMS Caroline Drill Space could be utilised as a lecture room or for private functions and exhibitions.
Volunteers - mainly ex-members of Caroline’s Ship’s Company will need to be utilised to assist in the running and maintenance of her.
All the MLAs in Stormont and NI MPs in Parliament have been contacted for their support and to make them aware of the unique resource currently floating in Belfast Harbour. We are currently consolidating their replies of support. A feasibility study has been conducted by DeLoitte, as requested by Arlene Foster for Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment. This report is currently unavailable to the public and no ‘completion date’ is known as yet.
The Irish Government has also been contacted and is keen to help in the promotion of a North/South memorial ‘Shared Naval Experience’ for all men from Ireland who served in WW1.
Naturally, keeping HMS Caroline in Belfast would require substantial funding and grants, which will need to be secured. Until the DETI report is received and the Naval Museum declares its true intentions for the future of Caroline, our hands are tied.
We do not want Caroline saved, only for her to be then moved to Portsmouth.
But we are able to highlight her current situation and drum up support from Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and hopefully Western Scotland. Can you please highlight our cause, we would like to encourage everyone to contact their local MLAs and MPs to voice our concerns and raise the profile of Caroline.