Edward’s wish for his fifth birthday was to ‘see guns’, so off we all trooped to HMS Belfast to see some of the biggest guns in London. The ship is the last of its kind which was in active service during the second world war, and continued to be used through the 1950’s and 60’s and offers a fascinating insight into life on board a battleship.
HMS Belfast is like a floating town and as head of the fleet, was surrounded by smaller ships which it provided services to. It has everything needed for a six month stretch at sea including a post office, operating theatre and infirmary, carpentry and steel workshops, code breaking equipment, chapel, food stores, NAAFI and galleys big enough to produce 52 pound loaves and 1,400 bread rolls a day. And of course there are more than enough guns to satisfy even the most blood thirsty five year old.
A battleship is not the most obviously child friendly environment and it’s particularly unsuitable for buggies and wheelchairs. They do warn you about the steep, ladder-like stairs in their promotional material and they provide buggy parking on the main deck of the ship, which also has an exhibition giving you a good overview of what the ship’s about. But actually, our children managed the steps pretty well, with three year old Dickon the only one needing a bit of help, and it added to the sense of adventure as you went down ladder after ladder to reach the bowels of the ship.
The different parts of the ship were really fun to explore and it’s set up to look like it is still inhabited, with washing up still in the sink and a number of slightly scary models in the different rooms, which made Dickon rather nervous. I have to say that the model dentist extracting the tooth of a model sailor made me feel rather nervous too! As you can see from the pictures, they have made every effort to make the experience fun for children, with all kinds of things to try on, make, touch, pull and push such as the lego and welders equipment in the ship building exhibition.
The ex-naval staff were really friendly and helpful, telling stories about life on board and explaining what different features of the ship were. We were looking through a grill at a floor that looked like a giant, heavy duty, sieve only to be told that that’s exactly what it was, a giant sieve. The ship’s boilers need huge ventilation shafts to prevent them overheating, but this makes the ship vulnerable to attack from missiles, so the shaft is fitted with a bomb-proof sieve. Without someone to explain it to us, it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.
The ship itself is not in great condition, and it does feel a little tired in places. It’s a constant struggle for The Imperial War Museum, which owns it, to keep this huge structure up and running. They are hoping to get funding to completely restore it to how it was in the 1950’s, which I’m sure would be great as their main branch is a fantastic museum.
The birthday boy had a lovely time, with the huge guns the biggest attraction. He also loved the coding room, which wasn’t the most interesting to look at, but the stories of sending morse code messages to confuse the enemy caught his imagination and he now wants to be a spy when he grows up. Which is what HMS Belfast is all about, fascinating stories of real people told in an engaging and entertaining way.
This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For more lovely travel pictures, click here