WPS Newsletter

WPS Newsletter – 24.05.2024

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Year 5’s Kip on a Ship – HMS Belfast

Our Year 5 residential was an incredible experience, an overnight stay on a real warship that saw active service in WW2 and the Korean war; the HMS Belfast. This storied warship, a Town Class light cruiser, now docked permanently on the Thames, was once a flagship of the British Navy and has many an incredible story to her name. For a year we have lived and breathed the Belfast, learning about her, writing about her and finally spending a night on the might vessel. The children had the chance to sleep in the sailors bunks, eat in their mess and explore from the depths of her boiler room to the height on her radar towers.

The first order of business aboard was to stow our belongings, we passed under the huge six inch cannons and, clutching their bags, the children processed through the narrow corridors – past low ceilings, pipes and valves lining the walls. Once the bags were stashed, it was time to explore! The ship was an extraordinary classroom, breaking into groups we began to unpick the secrets of the Belfast, we found the huge kitchens were the 950 crew were fed three meals a day, saw the sick bay were the Belfast tended wounded in the Korean war, clambered ladders up to the captains bridge from where the ship was commanded and explored the huge electronic warfare suit where the Belfast jammed enemy signals. Then we descended into the bowls of the ammunition store and engine room. This hands-on experience brought history to life, enabling the children to immerse themselves in the ship’s fascinating past.

Despite all the incredible things we did abroad the Belfast, the learning and excitement started long before we stepped onto her deck for the first time. All year the children learnt of her victories and defeats; of how she struck a mine in the first months of the war and had to be almost entirely rebuilt. This seeming set back actually meant that she would re-enter the war as the most
technologically advanced vessel on the water; outfitted with top of the range radar. These upgrades made her the perfect flagship and it was from her flag bridge that admiral x lead the hunt for the Scharnhorst a German battleship whose mission was to sink merchant vessels supplying the United Kingdom with vital food. In class we discussed this fateful battle and came up with our own plans and strategies in maths. This hunt ended with the Belfast herself delivering the final, fatal torpedo strike into the side of the Scharnhorst, ending her threat forever.

After several hours of exploring the depths of the Belfast the children were treated to dinner in the ships mess, food inspired by the real menu aboard the Belfast in WW2. Having been suitably rejuvenated by sausage and mash or Mac’n’Cheese, it was time for Mr Firminger’s favourite pass time: more learning. Experts from the Imperial War Museum staff told us what life aboard was like; from the common sailor who, all the way up to the Admiral (who had his own dentist on board!) Amelie and Emanuelh and the chance to dress in the real uniforms! Can you guess who is dressed as a captain and who is dressed as a rating?

Life on board a naval ship was regimented; you had to dress yourself in your uniform perfectly, follow orders to the instantly and to the letter. There was little room for the sailors to show their individuality, but, as humans often do, they found a way to express themselves in an unlikely place, their coffee mugs! Every sailor was assigned his own mess mug which belonged to him and him alone, so they would scratch away at the enamel to make their own unique designs. The children too were given their own mess mugs so they could create their own designs and have a glimpse into the daily lives of the men who served aboard the HMS Belfast.

After all of this there was still time for more before bed! Our guides took us on a tour of the ship; but this time, there was no one aboard but us. It was eerily quiet as we crept through the huge metal bulkheads and scrambled up and down narrow ladders. Corridors stretched off into the distance and the ship rocked ever so slightly in its moorings. Finally, we emerged onto the highest deck of the ship and found ourselves surrounded by the city of London. Towers of golden light surrounded us, the Gherkin, the shard, tower bridge, all blazed with golden light. It was an incredible sight and an incredible trip.

After all that excitement it was finally time to head down into the mess decks, curl up in the real bunks and get some sleep.