Dr Dominic Tweedle, Director-General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy explains why our nautical heritage must be preserved.

Strange isn’t it? If you want a good historical day out, you can see innumerable abbeys, castles, cathedrals, and charming Medieval towns and villages.

The country is littered with stately homes, and there are more museums and galleries than you can shake a stick at. Megaliths, barrows, hillforts, henges, and goodness knows what else lurk behind every hedgerow.
But historic warships? Forget it.

Unless, that is, you live within range of Dundee, Leith, Hartlepool, London, Chatham, or Portsmouth. Of all the thousands of warships that protected our shores, convoyed our wealth, projected our power, and imposed the Pax Britannica, almost nothing survives for the public to see and experience. A meagre total of 13 major ships represent five centuries of British sea-power. Moreover, no grand plan has gone into their choice: it is as if 13 buildings had been chosen randomly to represent all of the country’s built heritage.

How has this bizarre situation come about? Perhaps the lack of anything closely resembling a public policy for the heritage in Britain combined with a kind of snobbish elitism that unerringly values a Titian above a Dreadnought. How many ships does English Heritage care for? None. CADW? None. Historic Scotland? None. I could go on. They all equate heritage with buildings, collections, and archaeological sites.

That anything survives at all is down to the enthusiasm, drive, energy, and, sometimes, sheer dottiness of dedicated individuals who have tried to save something from the wreck. And wreck it has been. We were still blowing up 18th century warships as late as 1947.
These people have taken chances. Without them, only HMS Victory and HMY Britannia would have survived – there was even a plan to break up HMS Victory shortly after the celebration of the centenary of Trafalgar! Then, just when you think that the loss of a great historic warship could not happen again, you discover that it is about to.

HMS Caroline is a light cruiser, a greyhound of the seas. Built in 1914, she served throughout the First and Second World Wars. She is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, and the last major ship to survive from the Grand Fleet. To stand on her bridge, with her tripod mast towering above you, is an unforgettable experience; and it is equally extraordinary to explore her galley, fitted out in 1914, or to sit in the doctor’s surgery, or to walk into her steering flat. She has the only in situ First World War turbines in the world, indeed, 80 percent of HMS Caroline is original. Not only is she the most important warship still unprotected in Britain, she comes close to the top of the list of the world’s ten warships that should be protected at all costs.

So, a cosy retirement for HMS Caroline as a visitor attraction, then? Not so. In the run up to the to the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, the Navy has decided to decommission HMS Caroline as of 31 March 2011 – and turn her into razor blades. HMS Caroline is the last of her kind, all other venerable ships of her significance are long gone.

Built like a tank and in good condition for a ship of her age, all that is needed is a stay of execution long enough to complete arrangements already in hand to find her a safe harbour – whether in Belfast, where she is currently berthed, or elsewhere around the British Isles.

But time is running out, and fast. Certainly, historic ships are expensive to maintain. But we have so few. We must find a way to preserve our nautical heritage for future generations. So, let’s save HMS Caroline from the scrap-heap, for this is our last chance to gaze upon the like of her.

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11 Comments

  1. MARK CORBY
    February 13, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    SIMPLY ASTONISHING THAT THE (ROYAL))NAVY SHOULD BE ABOUT TO SCRAP THE ONLY SURVIVING SHIP FROM JUTLAND! PERHAPS IT WAS THE MEMORY OF THIS SHOCKING DEFEAT THAT HAS MOTIVATED THIS ACT OF UNPARALLELED VANDALISM. WHATEVER THE FAULTS OF THE USA, SHE DOES KNOW HOW TO PRESERVE HER NAVAL HERITAGE. THE UK AUTHORITIES ARE FRANKLY A NATIONAL DISGRACE. RECENTLY THEY COULDN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO BID FOR THE FIGUREHEADS OF USS CHESAPEAKE & HMS SHANNON WHEN THEY WERE OFFERED FOR SALE! NEEDLESS TO SAY THE USA CAME TO THE RESCUE & PURCHASED THEM

    Reply

  2. Laurence Hadley
    February 15, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    Hi,
    I am a ship lover at heart I built the 11 ships of the First Fleet in 1 in 48 scale and are now on display in the Museum of Sydney in Sydney Australia. I agree that ships like the HMS Caroline should be saved for future genarations to see. These ships are getting few and far between now, we just can’t loss them all to scrap that would be a crime. Laurence Hadley. Melbourne Australia.

    Reply

  3. Joseph McCullough
    February 15, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    I hear you. What can we do?

    Reply

  4. Dominic Tweddle
    February 15, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

    Some good news is that the Navy has offered HMS Caroline to the National Museum, provided that we find the costs of looking after her until a permanent solution can be found.

    Reply

  5. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — February 16, 2011 | Read NEWS
    February 16, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    […] Save HMS Caroline: the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland — Military Times (H/T Information Dissemination) […]

    Reply

  6. Edward M. Bridle
    February 17, 2011 @ 5:23 am

    As the grandson of a Jutland veteran, I am fairly aghast that such a fate could even have been considered for HMS Caroline. Surely it could not be hard to find the resources needed to preserve her. A public appeal ought to receive a great response.

    Reply

  7. Stuart Partington
    February 21, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    Shocked to see she may be scrapped, My Great Uncle served on her in the 1st WW. She must be saved.

    Reply

  8. Jim Huffman
    February 27, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    Is there anything we can do from across the pond?

    Reply

  9. Airminded · Don’t sink the Caroline!
    March 7, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    […] #26 at Cliopatria. The link which inspired this post's title is at Military Times and concerns the fate of HMS Caroline, a light cruiser which was commissioned in 1914 and remains in service as a floating (albeit […]

    Reply

  10. Ray Spence
    March 25, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    This ship ix the only link left between us the people that have survied and the great World War. She is part of Belfast and should stay here, why not turn into a museum to the maritime history of Northern Ireland. We have so much history, but no where to display it, HMS Caroline would make an excellent backdrop to a museum. I know it will cost alot, but I am sure the MOD, Belfast City Council, National Navy Museum and the Northern Ireland Assembly can come up with a suggestion. We need to keep Caroline for Belfast.

    Ray Spence

    Reply

  11. Ewan
    April 13, 2016 @ 11:55 am

    Just so you know, as of 2016 she is saved and now a museum in Belfast. I know, because I just got a job on her! O7

    Reply

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