Meets: Riverside Centre, The Quay, Newport. PO30 2QR on the fourth Thursday of the month, except for June & August, at 2.30 pm.
The Branch’s presentation on 23 November last was David Williams’ ‘Rivalry on the Atlantic’ . Dave introduced the race for the fastest North Atlantic crossing, aka The Blue Riband, early in the twentieth century with the rivalry between four German liners through to 1969, the end of the reign of the last ‘genuine’ holder, the United States. He covered the change from reciprocating main engines to steam turbines and the change from coal-fired to oil burning boilers of the ships. One of the revelations was that the Queen Elizabeth was denied running in competition with the Queen Mary. He introduced some rare archive film on DVD which focussed on the Duel of the Titans, the 1930s rivalry between French Line’s Normandie and Cunard’s Queen Mary although he pointed out that Cunard didn’t officially recognise any such race but took place nevertheless. The meeting drew the highest number of members since the Branch was reconstituted two years ago. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with a truly inspirational speaker, was had by all.
There will be no December meeting and the next gathering will be in January with the 2024 Annual Photographic competition.
For our meeting on 26 October our Treasurer, Ken Lowe, gave his epic presentation on ‘The Manchester Ship Canal’ illustrated will his own images, some black & white back in the 1960s, to his more recent colour ones. His talk traced the journey on various ships he had sailed on from the Eastham Lock all the way to the Docks at Manchester. We were treated to a full narrative from Ken with some ‘then & Now’ shots of the various quays on the way. Companies that once operated the Canal such as Harrisons, Blue Star, United States Lines and of course Manchester Liners were highlighted. Members of the Branch had been surprised how busy this waterway once was and of its paramount importance to imports arriving at Manchester Docks. We were shown how cargo ships’ masts and funnels[ in some case] were shortened in order to negotiate the low bridges. Also some archive shots of the Runcorn Transporter Bridge that used to cross the Canal prior to being replaced by the Runcorn Railway Bridge. A very comprehensive expose of this once industrious Canal, sadly now being allowed to descend into neglect. Ken’s interesting talk coincided with his recent book ‘The Manchester Ship Canal’ published by Coastal Shipping.
On the afternoon of 28 September last our Chairman, Nick Hawkins, gave his presentation on ‘HMS Vanguard’.
He traced the 20th century purpose behind the building of such capital ships and the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which effectively limited the tonnage and fire power of such vessels. He picked up from there the reason why the Rodney and Nelson were of the odd design they were. The KGV- class were covered and various US battleships, and the eclipsing of the battleship as the major asset during the WW2 where the aircraft carrier and carrier borne engagements took place. Eventually the building of the Vanguard and the political reasons why it was built to give employment to Clydebank during the Labour Government. It was a miracle that she was built at all, but a fine-looking warship and the last of the line. She was used for King George VI’s Royal Tour and was present as a guardship at Cowes Week. The presentation ended with a Pathe ‘Look at Life’ about the Vanguard’s lay-up withdrawal from service and scrapping in Scotland in 1960, a rather sad end to the presentation. Nick then fielded a varied plethora of questions on the subject.
On 12 August last, 16 members of the Branch and their guests got some valuable ‘sea time’ in when they embarked on the s.s. Shieldhall for an afternoon cruise on The Solent. They witnessed the departure of the container ship NYK Constellation and were fortunate to see the Regal Princess, MSC Virtuosa, Iona and Sky Princess in port. Members were free to explore the ship with free-flow visits to the Engine Room, Bridge and Steering Gear, complete with guides and descriptions. The weather was fair with a mild westerly breeze but the Shieldhall showed her good sea-keeping qualities and the group enjoyed the vibration-free atmosphere. The ship was manned by volunteers who were most helpful and gave of their knowledge. On the return leg to Southampton, it passed the Sky Princess and Regal Princess who blew their ‘Love Boat’ ditty siren and the Shieldhall sounded its steam whistle in return. All in all, a most enjoyable day out for the Branch and our thanks to Treasurer Ken Lowe who organised this unforgettable experience. And also thanks to the Solent Steam Packet Ltd for their hospitality and generosity.
The Island’s Branch speaker was Barry Peck who came over from Southampton to give his presentation on ‘Cable Ships since 1970’. Members were treated to the histories of the Cable Ships no longer seen in Southampton, with familiar names like CS Alert, Mercury, Monarch and Iris. Barry had served on the latter for five years which had earned the soubriquet ‘Crisis’. Barry punctuated his narrative with interesting personal and working anecdotes. Notwithstanding internet and satellite communications what is not known is that the vast majority of communications is still relayed by cable. Since his last visit in 2022 he has been working on a history of the Strick Line which we all look forward to its publication. Thank for an excellent presentation Barry.
On 23 March the Branch were treated to an unusual and rather local presentation. Mr Ken Wheeler, a small publisher and member of East Cowes Heritage showed his DVD ‘East Cowes Blitz and the Blyscawica’. Ken had compiled images from the Blitz on East Cowes during May 1942 together with oral histories and passages from diaries logged on the night of the Blitz. There were excerpts from a few of the crew members of the Polish destroyer Blyscawica which was alongside in the shipyard at the time and mounted anti-aircraft fire to the German bombers. With a violin accompaniment on the video by local musician Barry Sowerby it turned out to be an extremely educational and moving production. The members were most impressed by the photographic content and high quality of Ken’s personal production and felt it was a fitting tribute to the lives lost and the defenders of the town on that night.
On 23 February there was a good Branch attendance for a subject very close to the members’ hearts. ‘Shipyards of the River Medina’ was a most well-researched presentation given by retired Royal Navy officer, Captain Peter Jackson. Starting at the mouth of the River Medina he described the various shipyards and boatyards that had once graced the River, working his way Southwards to Newport, the Head of Navigation. Many such as J. Samuel White and Sam Saunders [of Saunders-Roe] were known to the members but little known yards such as Hansens, Groves & Gutteridge, Sunbeam Yard, Marvins Yard and Cheverton’s has passed into living memory. Others covered were R&W Clark and Souters. He eventually concluded at Newport’s Odessa Shipyard. Characters such as Uffa Fox, Ian Lallow, Betty Carstairs, Fred Goatley and Cole of Cole’s yard were touched on. A very professional presentation which set the bar high and occupied the entire afternoon. Capt. Jackson revealed that he had started his seagoing career as a deck boy on British Transport Commission’s Slieve Bloom back in 1964.
Thursday 26 January 2023 marked a welcome return of the Annual Branch Photographic Competition, judged by Mr Ian Pratt,LRPS.
A varied entry of some 32 images were shown to the Branch, but the Judges decision was final.
In third place was the Treasurer Ken Lowe with the liner Silver Whisper. Runner up in second place with a photo of the T.S. Royalist was Ellison Withe, earning him the Eric Brett Cup. The clear winner was [again] Ken Lowe with his image of the Gas tanker Alsterdyk, winning him the Phil Fricker Shield. The evening concluded with Ian giving a quiz on odd photos taken around the Island.
Our past Chairman, Chris Bancroft reported that had sold some surplus slides owned by the Branch, bringing in a princely sum of £250, towards Branch funds. A great deal negotiated by Chris.
A highly original presentation entitled ‘The Royal Naval Caspian Sea Campaign 1918-1920’ was 24 Novembers branch presentation given by Chairman, Nick Hawkins. An unknown campaign, researched by Nick, revealed a hush-hush conflict sanctioned by Winston Churchill in a land-locked sea. The defeated enemy, the Ottoman Empire would not allow the fleet of 40-ft Coastal Motor Boats being transported to enter the Black Sea so an arduous overland route was chosen instead. In the Caspian the RN was supporting the White Russians against the Bolsheviks, but complications arose, who was friend or foe and who switched sides? All was revealed about this skirmish; nevertheless, the Thornycroft-built CMB s distinguished themselves. Nick then fielded a plethora of questions reflecting the afternoon’s interest.
On 27 October at the Branch’s first mid-afternoon meeting, Secretary Richard de Kerbrech and David Williams, gave their joint presentation ‘Made in Belfast-Shipbuilding & Engineering Images from the past’. This focussed mainly on Edwardian images taken at the yard of Harland & Wolff with most of the photographs captured by Robert Welch. The boilers, reciprocating engines and exhaust turbines of H&W’s trio Olympic, Titanic and Britannic were featured. Images of ships’ launches, shipwrights and riveters at work were also shown. A rare slice of Edwardian shipbuilding was revealed to the Branch.
During the Pandemic the presentation was expanded and extrapolated into a manuscript ‘Harland & Wolff and Workman, Clark- A Golden Era of Shipbuilding in Old Images’ and published by The History Press in 2021.
A milestone was reached in September when John Cheverton produced the 700th Edition of the IoW Branch Newsletter. It was originally established back in the mid-1950s [or before] when the late Ray Sprake produced it. John took over the reigns many, many years ago and has regularly published it ever since. Thank you, John.
The 22 September meeting’s speaker was the past-Chairman and former Secretary , David Williams. His thoroughly-researched and highly original presentation ‘Ship Camouflage: Science, Art & Psychology’ was a first for the Branch with a wide selection of images of the topic, Dave explaining the Science behind it. The Branch was treated to an original selection of passenger and warships in different forms of camouflage, which included former Island resident Norman Wilkinson’s ‘Dazzle’ paint style.
Dave’s book ‘ DAZZLE, DISRUPTION & CONCEALMENT: THE SCIENCE, PSYCHOLOGY & ART OF SHIP CAMOUFLAGE’ published in early October by The History Press is available to those members wishing to seek a further in-depth study of this topic.
On 21 July some members of the Branch and guests visited the Sky Museum at Southampton. This may seem a strange outing for those interested in ships but the emphasis was on the water-borne aircraft. The Branch was guided around and shown the Sea Vixen and Sea Vampire of the Fleet Air Arm. The Supermarine S6A float plane was of interest as it was the competitor in the Solent-based Schneider Trophy sea plane race and the genesis of the development of the Spitfire. One of only three sea-borne jet fighters was preserved there, the Cowes-built Saunders-Roe A1 whose contract for the Air Ministry was terminated in 1947. The major attraction was the Sandringham Flying boat ‘Southern Cross’ that had been owned by the actress Maureen O’ Hara’s husband. Members were allowed to climb aboard for the full experience. One of the Branch members had actually flown as a passenger in this plane 40 years previously and he went to occupy the very seat he had flown in. Following the visit the members repaired to the local Wetherspoons adjacent to the former White Star Line offices, for refreshment.
Our guest speaker for our 23 June meeting was Simon Atwell who prefers to cruise on much smaller passenger vessels.
His talk was in two parts. He presented an illustrated guide to his journey through the Panama Canal he undertook in 2017, which was during daytime. He showed the trip from the Atlantic side [Cristobal & Colin] to Balboa on the Pacific side, through the major locks assisted by the ‘mules’. He also showed the direction of cut of the newly excavated Canal and how of great importance this waterway is. His second part was about the small cruise ships of Noble Caledonian on whose vessels he had had numerous thematic voyages on. He highlighted some oddities and risks involved in tendering in Gemini craft and landing at remote places in Polynesia and Pacific ports but added that other more larger cruise ships could not navigate to. A new look for the Branch at what the smaller passenger ship had to offer, both benefits and drawbacks.
The May 26 meeting started on a sombre note as the branch observed a minute’s silence for Colin Wilkinson, the past Treasurer and formerly a regular attendee, who had died the day before.
Southampton Branch member and Master Mariner, Barry Peck, crossed The Solent to deliver a most interesting presentation on The Strick Line. Barry did not want to deliver a catalogue of ships with their data but the ‘Big Picture’ of the history of the company. This dealt with the Company’s humble origins, ports of destination in the [Persian] Gulf, cargoes carried and different design of their ships and propulsion systems through the ages. He also covered the standard operational procedure of negotiating the Manchester Ship Canal.
The mention of various characters and crews that made the company function up until its sell out to P&O in 1972. It was nice to have a personal aspect on this well-known company from a professional who joined the company as a cadet in 1959 and finished with then as Chief Officer in 1972.
On 12 May, twelve members and their guests visited the Isle of Wight Steam Railway at Haven Street. They were given an authoritative and comprehensive history of the Railway from its early beginnings as the Wight Locomotive Society back in 1971 by their host Roger Silsbury, himself a former Southampton port Pilot. The group were shown the locomotive and carriage restoration workshops where some early rolling stock were rebuilt. An atmospheric walk though the Train Story where restored stock were preserved was followed by a train ride along the full extent of the line in a Third-Class carriage pulled by a 1952 locomotive built at Crewe. Thanks to Nick for organising a most enjoyable visit.
April’s meeting was well attended to hear Past Chairman, Chris Bancroft’s ‘Photographic Tribute to Colin Drayson’. Colin had been due to give the talk but sadly died last December. Chris showed some 200 of Colin’s photos taken during 2010, 2015 and 2020 which transcended the complete spectrum of ships. At the conclusion, there were some images of Colin during another of his favourite pastimes, enjoying a good ale with friends. It reminded us of what a great stalwart and shipping expert the WSS had lost. Extra time allowed Dave Williame to show a short slide show of the Japanese Yamato-class battleships and their fate. Also a short, rare PR film of the JS White’s shipyard, thought to have been filmed in the late 1950s.