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8 May St Paul's
8 May St Paul's
10 May Tower of London
10 May Tower of London
Illustrious open to the public
Illustrious open to the public
Illustrious open to the public
9 May Flypast over Tower Bridge Image copyright Phil Whalley

Illustrious embraces London

Published: 13 May 2013

On Wednesday 8 May, HMS Illustrious has attended the first event commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary – a memorial service held at St. Pauls Cathedral. Members of the Ship’s Company were in attendance in a packed out service, and were joined by HMS Edinburgh, HMS Blyth, veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic, plus hundreds of other civilians that joined the event. 

The afternoon event, which lasted just over an hour, included guest speaker the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB, DSC RN, who spoke of the Battle of the Atlantic concluding with a minute’s silence to remember those who served their country. The Service concluded with a march past St Pauls Cathedral down to Mansion House with all 3 Ships’ Company, plus a Royal Marines Band leading the parade and giving
salute to the Lord Mayor and the First Sea Lord. The evening event held at Mansion House gave members of the Ship’s Company’s a chance to talk to veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic, to hear of their stories first hand.

On Thursday 9 May Illustrious hosted a charity reception, raising £180k for RN&RM Charity and Seafarers UK. There was also a flypast. Story and video here.

On Friday 10 May around 250 sailors provided an additional spectacle to the traditional pomp and ceremony of the Constables Dues at the Tower of London. Three Royal Navy ships remain in London in support of the wider Battle of Atlantic 70th Anniversary commemorative events in the capital, and Her Majesty’s Ships Illustrious, Edinburgh and Blyth mustered around 250 members of their Ship’s Company’s to parade at what is a long-standing custom when the Navy visits alongside. The Royal Marines Band Plymouth was on hand for additional colour and musical fanfare and proved a big hit with the many hundreds of guests and visitors to the Castle for the Ceremony of the Dues.This event can be traced back to the 14th century and is related to the Crown’s authority over the City of London. During the Middle Ages, successive Kings believed it was their right to extract tolls from vessels on the Thames. On the King’s behalf, the Constable of the Tower of London was empowered to demand these tolls as a perquisite of his office. Past offerings have included barrels of rum, or oysters, mussels and cockles; this year, the Tower’s Constable, General Lord Richard Dannatt, was presented with three barrels of wine, one from each vessel. The ancient ritual began when Captain Martin Connell of HMS Illustrious led the sailors to the Tower’s West Gate, where they were challenged for entry to the Tower by the Yeoman Gaoler armed with his infamous axe.

The captain and his shore party – which included the commanding officer of HMS Edinburgh, Commander Nick Borbonne, and the commanding officer of HMS Blyth, Lt Cdr Nick Davey – then marched through the Tower of London to Tower Green, accompanied by Yeoman Warders (commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’) in red and gold State Dress and a Corps of Drums, to deliver the barrels of wine (representing the ‘Dues’) to the Tower’s Constable, Lord General Richard Dannatt.

Captain Martin Connell, commanding officer of HMS Illustrious, said: “This is the first time in a long while that we’ve had three Royal Navy vessels come this far up the Thames to London and marching around the Tower of London today with the Constable was great. “It is always a great privilege to take part in the Ceremony of the Dues and I’m delighted that today my Ship’s Company was joined by those of Edinburgh and Blyth.
“We are here to help commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic 70th anniversary. We are all very proud of our heritage, both Royal Navy and Merchant Navy and it has been really heartening these last few days in London to see both sets of veterans playing such an active part in the events.”

On Saturday 11th May and Sunday 12th May Royal Navy Amphibious Helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious threw her doors open to the public.

Despite the variable weather, over seven thousand visitors boarded the 22,500 ton ship at Greenwich where she was berthed in support of the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations in London.

The visitors queued patiently in the grounds of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich where they were entertained by members of the ship’s company and personnel from HMS President in London. The visitors were transferred to “Lusty” by boat to her mooring in the Thames.

When onboard, there was a lot to see including Sea King Mk7, Merlin and Lynx Mk 8 aircraft ranged on deck.

Overall, the members of the public seemed content that what they saw was worth the wait. Commander John Voyce of HMS Illustrious said: “Despite the variable weather on both days and some long queues, everyone we spoke to seemed to be delighted with the reception they received and with what they saw. We have a very close affiliation with the City and it was a real pleasure to be able to open our ship to so many Londoners who definitely showed some of the Blitz spirit as they queued through some pretty sharp showers.”

On the evening of the 11th, the ship hosted a charity reception for the RN Heritage Flight. See separate story here.

Images and video of the Swordfish here fly past here.

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