musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: RMS St Helena

Connections: Woodbine Willie

Many years ago there was a programme on local TV called “Connections” and it dealt with how things connect to form a link between one action and a result. It was fascinating watching it and I have often tried to link things like that in my own life. Yesterday I found a perfect example. The connection between a ship and an Anglican priest and poet.

It starts off like this:

In March 1986 I went to see the QE2 in Durban for the first time.

I did not see her again until 1991. At that time there was a small ship called Avalon in Durban harbour. Formerly the RMS St Helena, she was now seeking a new career doing cruises to the Indian Ocean Islands.

We managed to wangle a short trip across Durban Harbour on board her as she vacated the berth where QE2 would be the next day.  

Both QE2 and the former St Helena were Falklands veterans. In 1992 I sailed on the Canberra, also a Falklands veteran, and when we arrived in Cape Town the new RMS St Helena was alongside and I photographed her from the Canberra.

I mentally set a goal to see whether it was possible to get a trip on board the St Helena, and I wrote away for a brochure. As luck would have it there was a voyage to Tristan da Cunha coming up in 1993 and I was fortunate enough to book a cruise on this mini mailship

Many years passed, and the RMS St Helena ploughed her lonely furrow between Cape Town and St Helena while they constructed an airport on the island. Once it was completed the announcement was made of the St Helena’s last voyage in June 2016. Of interest to me was her visit to the Pool of London, where she would berth alongside HMS Belfast. I decided to head down to London and watch her arrive and say my goodbye to her.

Upon arrival in London I went to see the RMS arrive on the 7th of June, and it was quite an emotional moment for me. 

On the 8th I revisited Kensal Green Cemetery, and afterwards headed into London once again to see the ship. I first visited St Pauls Cathedral, before heading towards the Thames. In the maze of streets I somehow ended up in Lombard Street, and saw one of the many churches in London, it was now the home of the London Spirituality Centre, or, as it was formerly known: St Edmund, King and Martyr.

During my visit the person manning the front desk showed me a number of wall memorials in the church, and she was very proud of a memorial to somebody called “Woodbine Willie”.

 

I had to admit that I had never heard of him before, but the nickname stuck in my mind because Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy was way too much for me to remember at once. Apparently he was the Rector of this particular church at one time. He got his nickname for his habit of handing out cigarettes to troops (Woodbines being a favoured brand).

I continued my walk down to the Thames to say my goodbyes to the RMS and the next day I returned to Tewkesbury to post my blog and recover from my short but exhausting London jaunt. 

Yesterday, I visited Worcester Cathedral, and after seeing the cathedral walked through Worcester, and while I was walking I discovered a number of small bronze statues in the area. I did not pay too much attention to them, just read the names and took the pic. At the one statue I did a double take because the one statue was of Woodbine Willie! 

I was even more amazed to discover that there is a memorial to him in Worcester Cathedral, 

as well as an engraved pane on the Window of the Millennium.

“Woodbine Willie takes the light of Christ to the Troops”

On the 13th of March I returned to Worcester to close the chapter a bit more, walking to St John’s Cemetery where I photographed his grave.

As strange as it seems, this sequence really revolves around how things connected to each other, from the QE2 in 1986 to a forgotten and reluctant war hero in 2017. The key to it is really the RMS St Helena, without seeing Avalon the chances are I would not have recognised the name on the statue. Had I taken a different route in London I would not have seen the church, had I not stopped to look at a statute I would not have read that it was Woodbine Willie. Come to think of it, it is all really the fault of the QE2.

 

There is a stained glass window dedicated to him in St Paul’s Church in Worcester, that will be the last step of this journey. 

Connections, they are all around us if we know how to tie them together.

© DRW 2017. Created 21/02/2017, updated 13/03/2017 

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:23

Going to see the RMS

When  it was announced that the RMS St Helena would be calling in London and berthing alongside HMS Belfast my first thought was: “Who do I know in London who could get me some pics?” and my second was: “I need a break, why don’t I go to London and get the pics myself!” So I sat down and did a feasibility study. I live about 2,5 hours by rail to London but cannot travel there directly, and have to do it via Cheltenham. The other problem was accommodation; it is not cheap to stay in a hotel there, they are pricey and do not really cater for singles. Yet, I managed to organise it all, got the leave and on the morning of the 7th of June I was on my way to see my ship. Arrival time had been given at 16H45, but that could change, considering how far she had come from. 

Paddington Station is quite an experience, I had never been there before so it was all new to me. It was also the station that the Great Western Railway established as the end point for their trains into London. 

It was also where a famous Bear from Peru arrived one fine day…. 

Paddington Bear

Paddington Bear

I had a rough and ready schedule that I had made, and it included Kensal Green and St Mary’s Cemetery, The Imperial War Museum,  The Victoria and Albert Museum, Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial and possibly Bunhill Fields Cemetery. The only fixed part of my schedule was the RMS arrival. That was cast in stone.  

After finding my hotel and dropping off my luggage I hit the tube, I had at least 5 hours to kill before  I had to be at Tower Bridge and decided that Bunhill Fields was *on the way”, and I bailed out at Moorgate Station and proceeded to get lost…. 

Winding forward to roughly 13H30. It was getting cloudier and things were looking decidedly poor weatherwise. I was now at Tower Bridge and had confirmation that the bridge would be opened at 16H45 for the ship so she was not too far away, probably still at Tilbury.

I had some time to kill and headed off to the Imperial War Museum where I got caught in the rain. I killed time there and then headed back to the bridge and grabbed a quick bite to eat. The rain had reduced itself to a drizzle and there was a chance it would even clear. Time was approaching and I still had not decided where to wait the ship out. The problem was, once the bridge was raised I was stranded on that bank of the Thames.

I ended up on the Tower of London side and stayed there, chatting to a fellow ship buff who had come to see her. Bridge raising time arrived and passed, but the ship buff confirmed she was on her way and had cleared the Thames Barrier. And then…..

That first glimpse of the RMS after so many years was a very emotional moment. I had sailed on her in 1993,  and since then I had changed jobs, moved house many times, gone through all manner of odd things and she had carried on ploughing her furrow to the Island of St Helena. I had seen her when she was almost brand new, it was now 25 year later and she was on her last voyages. 

She was escorted by two tugs, the ZP Bear and SD Seal, which may have come from Tilbury.  As she started to come closer the sirens started and the bridge we were standing on started to open to allow her through. I will be honest I did not notice too much of what was happening behind me at this point.

And then she was starting to pass under the raised roadway and I had to change position

I headed back across to the other side of the bridge which is not as easy as it sounds as there are railings (and traffic) quite far back along the bridge. By the time I got to the other side she was already through.

I threaded my way down to street level and towards the area opposite HMS Belfast, but you can only see the ship up to a point before it gets hidden by the river cruise boat piers; I really had to get past those to get a better look. But alas quite a few people had the same idea as I had.

A lot of people standing here were all past passengers on board her, the one person had been on her 6 times! 

HMS Belfast is more than a match for her sizewise and interestingly enough both of these ships were built in Britain!  

It was time for me to return to my hotel. As much as I wanted to stay I still had to check in, and I was tired and hungry and we were into peak hour on the tube.  I said my goodbyes, but knew I would be back on the next day. There was still one image I wanted.

The next day.

I returned to the Thames after my mammoth Kensall Green excursion, and via St Paul’s Cathedral and a rain storm.  I wanted a pic  from bow on of these two ships.

 

And then it was time to say my goodbyes to her. It was sad to see her knowing that she is in her last days. She is unique and can never be replaced. She will however live on in the memories of those who sailed on her and the people of St Helena.  This small ship literally kept an island alive, she is being replaced like so many others by a jet aircraft and things will never be the same again.

I am glad I sailed on her, I am sad I never sailed on her twice, or 6 times. But oddly enough she was the ship that appeared in my dreams the most.

Fair weather for your voyage home RMS St Helena, and for the final voyage that you will make. You will be missed.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 09/06/2016

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:21

RMS Update

It is now the 6th of June, and tomorrow morning I am heading off to London to see the RMS St Helena when she berths alongside HMS Belfast. (To view the images of the arrival visit the blogpost about it)

 

There have however been some interesting developments around about the new airport at St Helena and the following update has been made to the St Helena Line Website  Hopefully this will not affect her arrival in London tomorrow. 

The  RMS St. Helena was to have finished with engines serving the South Atlantic island on 15 July upon arrival at Cape Town but has now scheduled three more return voyages into September 2016. The newly completely airport has not been certified due to wind sheer problems. One problem is reputed to be winds and another is the short runway. As a result the service of the RMS has been extended as an interim measure and for a limited period until air services begin. This service will be for passengers and freight. The schedule may be viewed at: http://rms-st-helena.com/schedules-fares/ and bookings will be accepted from Monday 6 June 2016. 

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 06/06/2016.

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:21

Farewell to the RMS

*Update: 08/06/2016*

I have said my goodbyes to the RMS St Helena. 

 

*Update: 06/06/2016*

The  RMS St. Helena was to have finished with engines serving the South Atlantic island on 15 July upon arrival at Cape Town but has now scheduled three more return voyages into September 2016. The newly completely airport has not been certified due to wind sheer problems. One problem is reputed to be winds and another is the short runway. As a result the service of the RMS has been extended as an interim measure and for a limited period until air services begin. This service will be for passengers and freight. The schedule may be viewed at: http://rms-st-helena.com/schedules-fares/ and bookings will be accepted from Monday 6 June 2016. 

—————————————————— 

Round about this time of year I normally post about the RMS Titanic, this post is not about her; it is about another RMS, one of the last still afloat and soon to sail into history and memory.

My story really starts with the former Northland Prince, which is what the original RMS St Helena was called. I really took a shine to her because she was unique; a real ship with a regular route that was doing sea travel the way it it should have been. Unfortunately she was out of my reach, because by the time I cottoned onto the possibility of sailing on her she had limited time left.

The former RMS St Helena

The former RMS St Helena

A replacement had been ordered for her and after an almost disasterous build the new RMS St Helena was launched. Her builders, AP Appledore, were barely able to complete the ship, and she would suffer from engine trouble almost immediately.

The old St Helena was briefly rebranded as St Helena Island, and once the new RMS came into service rebranded yet again as “Avalon”, She was not a success.  

It was as Avalon that I first got my chance to sail on this little beauty in March 1991, from one end of the Ocean Terminal in Durban to another berth across from Ocean Terminal.  We watched QE2 arrive and sail from her decks,  But I knew then that this ship was unwanted, she was the wrong size, she was old and tired, and she never went very far after that, being laid up in Durban until finally sold for further trading as Indianoceanique. She was broken up not to long afterwards.

But what of the new RMS?

She entered service in 1990, trading along the same route, from the UK down to South Africa via St Helena and Ascension Island, she did occasional voyages to Tristan da Cunha, and was designed as a combi cargo/passenger ship. Her schedule was a demanding one, probably amongst the longest non cruise voyages that you could get. She was also very fully booked, and quite expensive to travel on in South African Rands. 

I got my first glimpse of her from the decks of the Canberra in Cape Town in 1992, and I was determined to try to get a voyage on her.

At that time she was operated by Curnow Shipping as had the previous vessel. I wrote them a nice letter requesting some info on her as I was doing some research, and I received a reply stating that she was doing her maiden call to Tristan Da Cunha in 1993, and there were limited spaces available in her “budget accommodation” The story of my subsequent cruise is on allatsea. It was one of the best voyages that I ever had, and it was on a real ship, not some floating gin palace.

 

It is now 2016, and the RMS is 26 years old, and now on her last voyages. She stopped calling in the UK a number of years ago, and is now managed by Andrew Weir Shipping. In fact she now is now more or less based in Cape Town from where she ploughs her lonely furrow to St Helena and Ascencion. Like the much missed Union-Castle Line, she too will be put out of business by the long distance jet aircraft as a new airport opens on St Helena in May 2016.

Where to from here?

She is scheduled to “return home” to the UK, arriving in London in early June, and will berth alongside HMS Belfast for a few days before making her last southbound voyage. Her future is not secure, and while there are those who are calling for her to be preserved as a floating hotel realistically that will not happen, and unless a buyer can be found she will end up on a beach somewhere being cut up.

She is a unique icon amongst ships, she is a real ship.

I was fortunate enough to see her in London when she arrived and said my goodbyes to her. I have dreamt about her many times, and even though I was never able to sail on her again, I always kept an eye out for her because she was such as special ship.

There will never be another RMS St Helena.   

 She is the last of her line.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 14/06/2016. Updated 09/06/2016

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:26
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