Zeebrugge & Bruges

I was sixteen when I made my first visit ‘abroad’ in 1960, I’d been asked to help a teacher  to look after a group of British school children while visiting Germany. We were to stay at Youth Hostels as we made our way up the Rhine by rail and returned via paddle steamer, Bismark

Paddle steamer Bismark

Due to the very long journey from Birkenhead to Ostend, the group leader had booked us in to the Zeebrugge youth hostel, which was a short distance along the coast from Ostend. The one thing I do remember about Ostend was a particular coffee bar, which had a jukebox.
Jukeboxes were not new to us, but we’d never seen a jukebox linked to a TV screen. For one Belgium franc (well before the EEC and the Euro) we were able to play popular songs and watch the singer on the screen. This is the only memory I have about my first visit to a foreign city.


As we entered Zeebruge harbour aboard Celebrity Silhouette recently, I found myself thinking of the Mersey ferry boats, Daffodil & the Iris in WW1, on St George’s Day 1918.

DSC02305rSunrise  Zeebruge Harbour earlier this year, pictures taken from our balcony.


The entrance to the harbour can be seen (beyond the the immediate quay) where the British sank the two derelict vessels.zeebrugge_19180423

The two ferries took part in the commando raid to sink obsolete ships in the main channel at Zeebrugge, to prevent German U-boats leaving port. Although badly damaged, and with many killed and wounded, the two ferryboats managed to return to England, and eventually made their way back to Mersey.508715828Daffodil arriving back in the Mersey after emergency repairs at Chatham300px-HMS_Iris_II_1918_IWM_Q_55564

Above is the Iris on her return – both ships carried the HMS prefix during the raid., and both had a large number of shell holes. In addition the superstructure had been riddled with machine gun fire. The funnel of the Iris was kept as a ‘memorial’ for some time, but I not sure where it is now.
Eight VCs were awarded after the raid, unfortunately two hundred and twenty seven men were killed, and of those I think seventy are buried in the cemetery at Dover. The whole operation called for volunteers and of the 1700 who volunteered eleven were Australian. Of the eleven, seven were decorated for bravery and some of their medals can be seen in Canberra.

Dover marked the centenary of the raid earlier this year. The link is a very short video.

In honour of their contribution to the raid King George V conferred the pre-fix ‘Royal’ on both Mersey ships, and they became the ‘Royal Iris’ & the ‘Royal Daffodil’. The second descendant of the ‘Royal Iris’ came in to service in 1951, and it was in the 1965, on this ‘Royal Iris’, that I danced with a young girl who would later become my wife, forty nine years ago.

My day dreaming suddenly changes as the Sapphire Princess crossed my sight to berth next door to us.DSC02308r


Belgium navy ships berthed across from our berth. I wonder if they think of the raid on St George’s Day (23rd April).


On to happier thoughts as we crossed the canal bridge leading in to Bruges, after the coach ride from Zeebruge. The drive was just over half an hour and once in Bruges I had the feeling of stepping back in time.


Maureen & I were part of a ship’s tour and the guide, who was seventy, was full of anecdotes, information and jokes – a perfect guide.


Very few cars but enough horse a carriages to keep the tourists happy.


With two cruises ships in port the crowds were not as bad as I expected.


Couldn’t resist taking a photo of the inside of this shop, it looked so colourful and inviting, selling Belgium lace and various other linen products.


Belgium chocolate – the love of chocolate for the Belgium people goes back to 1635, well before Belgium as a country came in to existence. Our guide gave us an overview of why real Belgium chocolate is so expensive compared to to other brands of chocolates. Belgium chocolate is made from 100% coco butter, which means it does not contain vegetable oil.  He went in to a lot of detail, but the bits that stuck in my mind was that if I saw chocolate in Belgium at an inexpensive price, it was not traditional Belgium chocolate. Fortunately for me chocolate is a take it or leave it product – I seldom eat chocolate.

DSC02336rWe were in the old part of the town and making our way to the main market square. The central building with the cross on the top was built in 1713 as a place for destitute women – an alms house in English. It is still used today for the elderly of small means.


The wall of one of the God houses – originally built by wealthy merchants for those who could no longer look after themselves.


We passed another during our walk – built in 1330, and still in use.


Narrow streets and follow the guide – our septuagenarian.


took this because I liked the scene.


Canal scene with a tourist boat.


To get to the main market square we had to cross a very small bridge that had people coming towards us as well as those behind all moving forward.


I stopped on the bridge for a photo and people flowed around me like water.


I then managed to get to the other side of the bridge . .


 . . . and then back to my original place – the tourist boats were very popular, but our choice had been for something other than a tourist boat.


When I saw the crowd outside the hotel I thought what a lovely place to sit and have a drink, only when I got closer did I realise it was a long queue for one of the tourist boats.


The whole area could have been a Disney set, but it was all real.


More queues for boats – on such a beautiful day, we couldn’t have asked for better weather.


The main market square, which is the heart of Bruges, is just around the corner.


The market square reminded us of Ypres, which is not surprising as Ypres is also in Belgium.


Our choice over the boat trip – Belgium beer tasting. Must admit they were generous with the pouring – 150 ml in each glass. Of course Maureen couldn’t dink hers because it wasn’t gluten free, so being kind hearted I helped her out . . .

The first glass was 8% alcohol – and the guy in the red shirt (standing) gave us a chat about the beer and how it was made on the premises.

The next one, a different taste,was 6% and the final one, again a different taste, around 4.5% – a very pleasant lunch break. The brewery supplied cheese nibbles between the tasting of each beer to clean the palate.


Just to show how kind I was. . . . a well balanced meal.


After the tasting we had free time for a wander around the market square. The market started in 958 and is still going every Wednesday.
From November each year it becomes an ice skating rink and a Christmas market.DSC02398r

Plenty of cafes and restaurants.


The statue in the square is of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck , the two heroes from 1302 who were involved in the uprising and massacre of the French occupying forces.
In retaliation the French king, Phillip IV, sent an army of 8000 troops, which included 2500 cavalry.
The civic militia was raised in Bruges, and the surrounding towns. When the two armies met the French sent in their heavy cavalry, but they failed to break the armoured and well trained militia.
The battle ended in a French defeat and many of the knights, including the French leader were killed. At the end of the battle the Flemish soldiers collected five hundred pairs of spurs, which is why the battle is called The Battle of the Golden Spurs. The spurs were offered to the church.


Across the square from the restaurants is the Belfort Tower, which is a belfry.

There are 366 steps to climb to the top, via a narrow staircase (with two-way traffic), so you have to be fit and perhaps younger than me to complete the climb. I’m told that the view on a clear day is fantastic. The lower areas are 13th century.
The carillon of 47 bells weigh from 0.9 kg to 4,989 kilos per bell, making a total weight of all the bells of 27,500 kilos. Chimes of Bruges – is about three minutes and also includes views from the top.

We enjoyed our time in Bruges, and only wished we’d been able to stay longer. It is a town where we’d liked to have stayed locally for a few nights, to see more and to experience the area outside of the town. But we had to get back to the ship . . . .

Next stop Copenhagen.

Quit ye like men and they did . . .


From the beginning the ship attracted a certain type of boy.

1860 Mathew Webb captain_matthew_webbwent on to be the first man to swim the English Channel.

1861 Warrington Baden Powell  later in life was the founder of the Sea Scouts.

1868 Admiral Sir  Sackville Carden Carden KCMG RN sir_sackville_carden was asked by Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, to produce a strategy to knock Turkey out of the First World War. His plan was accepted and he was in charge of the initial landings, which were successful. He was replaced when he became ill and his plan was altered, which included landing troops further south than the original plan – this alteration became the Gallipoli failure.

1871 Sir Hamilton Gould Adams hamilton_goold-adams commanded the troops that defeated the Matabele 1893 and was in command of Mafeking through out the siege. As Governor of Queensland he laid the foundation stone for Brisbane town hall in 1917.

In 1889 The Cadet was started – I had the whole magazine in 1960.I can not remember what happened the-cadet-frontback-cover

to the innards. Above is the front & back of the same edition.

herbert-haddockOn a different note Capt. Herbert Haddock (Conway 1875- 77) was the first Captain of the Titanic. He delivered the vessel to the White Star Line, (from the builders) at which time, even though he was one of the Company’s most experienced captains, he was removed and posted to the Olympic as commander, and Captain Smith of the Olympic was given command of the Titanic.

james-moodyJames Moody (1902-03) was the sixth officer on the Titanic and had only been at sea for six years. He stayed with the ship making sure the lifeboats got away until the end, he didn’t survive the sinking. There is memorial to him Woodland Cemetery Scarborough.

capt-_arthur_h-_rostron_r-d-_r-n-r 1885 Sir Arthur Henry Rostron – he was thirteen when he joined Conway and in 1895 he joined Cunard Line. He was Captain of the Carpathia in 1912, and rescued nearly 700 survivors of the Titanic. Later he commanded the Mauritania and was Commodore of the Cunard Line.

philip_bent1912 Lt Colonel Philip Bent VC, DSO gained his 2nd Mates ticket after leaving Conway, but volunteered for the army in 1914 as a private solider, and was posted to the Leicestershire Regiment. His regiment was sent to the Western Front.
Losses were so great that within three year this 23 year old had been promoted from the ranks through various positions to become Lt Colonel of his regiment. His battalion attacked Polygon Wood in Belgium. The attack was unsuccessful and the Germans counter attacked the British lines. The situation became critical, so Colonel Bent collected a platoon that was in reserve and a number of other soldiers and lead them in to a counter attack. He lead from the front shouting ‘Come on Tigers’ – unfortunately he was killed, but the attack was successful. For his bravery he was awarded the VC.

In WW1 Conway cadets were awarded 3 VC,(Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British military, it has only been award to 1358 times since 1856) 42 DSO, (awarded to officers in the army above Captain – it was considered that the individual had just missed out on a VC), 48 DSC (a navy medal), 21 MC, (Military Cross usually given for bravery on land), 2 AFC, 4 DFC (the AFC stands for Air Force Cross and the DFC is Distinguished Flying Cross) unusual awards for cadets of a naval college.

During WW2 the Commander (2nd in charge) of HMS Ajax at the battle of the River Plate was Douglas Everett 1911-13. Rear Admiral Everett, as he was to become, was Chief Staff Officer for the planning of the invasion of Sicily, and later Commander in Chief Hong Kong amongst other senior appointments.


Ian Fraser 1936 – 38 – commanded a midget submarine against the Japanese. During his approach to the Japanese cruiser Takao, he deliberately left the safe channel and entered a minefield to avoid being detected by hydrophones. The target was in very low water and only the midship section was where the water was deep enough for him to place his mines. After forty minutes approaching the cruiser he forced his own craft under the centre of the target. He placed limpet mines and dropped his main charges, which were attached to his midget sub. He had great difficulty in extracting his midget sub from under the cruiser, but eventually he was clear and made his way out to sea through mined waters. he was awarded the VC and the Legion of Merit by the USA. When the mines exploded they blew a hole in the cruiser 20 x 10 mt (66 ft x 33 ft)

Beneath the waves – lionel_crabbBuster Crabb  1922 – 23 – in WW2 he volunteered for mine and bomb disposal and was posted to Gibraltar in 1942. The Italians, using human torpedoes, attacked Gibraltar from Algeciras in neutral Spain. Crabb scouted the harbour at night looking for unexploded under water bombs. For his work and courage he was awarded the George medal, which is the second highest award for a civilian. In 1948 he spent time checking the hulls of ships for mines in Haifa in Israel.In 1956 he disappeared while diving near a Russian warship in Portsmouth harbour. Officially he was reported drowned, but rumors have it that he was working for MI6 Some say he was captured and taken aboard the Russian vessel. A corpse was found later that year, but it was badly decomposed and its head was missing along with its hands  . . . . .

On the literary side for Conway we havejohn_masefield John Masefield (1891-94) the poet laureate, who wrote many poems linked to the sea. Sea Fever being one of his most popular along with  Cargos

This short poem was found after his ashes had ben interned in the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey.


Let no religious rite be done or read
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there’s an end of me.

duffdoug Douglas V Duff  (1914 – 15) – author of over one hundred novels after an exciting ‘Boys Own’ real life. His ship was torpedoed in 1917 (he was sixteen at the time)  and was one of only two survivors. He went back to sea and was torpedoed again when he was eighteen. After the war he joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary and tried to arrest Michael Collins, who told him not to be daft because he was surrounded by body guards and they would shoot him. Later he joined the Palestine Police Force. The photo is of him in the Palestine Police uniform. In WW2 he joined the Dover patrol, set submarine nets in the Suez Canal and sailed a schooner called ‘Eskimo Nell’ through the German blockade in to Tobruk. He later became involved in broadcasting and TV work until his death in 1978.

In more modern times we have

cyril_abrahamCyril Abrahams (1928 -30) author of the Onedin Line.

There are a large number of Conway authors, some writing text books, others biographies and yet others novels.

In the sporting field we had Sir clive_woodwardClive Woodward Coach / Manager of the British rugby team that won the World Cup 2003.

D.G Chapman represented Great Britain in the Amsterdam Olympics 1928

John Bligh – rugby for England – Walter Elliot Rugby for England – E.A Hamilton-Hill Rugby for England

Jay ‘Birdie’ Hooper – represented Bermuda in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Back to the sea for one family –

The Warwick family –

bil_warwickCaptain Bil Warwick 1926 – 28, Master of the Queen Elizabeth & Queen Mary and he was the first Master of Queen Elizabeth II, and later became the fourth Conway to be come Commodore of the Cunard Line.

His brother was also an old Conway 1948 – 49 and went to sea, and his son Eldon John 1955-56 followed the family to sea and ended up in command of his own ship.

Bill’s youngest son


Ron Warwick 1956 -57, after a number of years at sea became chief officer of Queen Elizabeth II when she was requisitioned for the Falkland war. In 1990 he was appointed Captain of the Queen Elizabeth II and later became the first Captain of Queen Mary II and in 2003 became the Commodore of Cunard.

Falkland War

The invasion was reported by the British Antarctic Survey Base commander Steve Martin 1970-73.

Later Brian Lockwood 1972-74 reported that the Argentinians had landed on South Georgia.

When the decision to retake the Falkland Islands had been made the Assistant Chief of Defence, Vice Admiral David Brown 1941 – 45, got to work.

He had the help from other Conway cadets – Deputy Chief of Fleet Support Rear Admiral Edwards 1941 – 44.

Preparing the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Captain Butterworth 1941 – 43

Chief of Staff to the Joint Service Commander of the task force Vice Admiral Peter Woodhead 1954 – 57

Passenger ship ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ Chief Officer R. W. Warwick 1956 -57

Chief Officer of the Norland (which was a North Sea ferry fitted out as a troop ship) R. B. Lough 1961 – 63

Geesport a forward support ship – Captian G de Ferry Foster 1954 – 56

Europic Ferry – carrying troops, helicopters and equipment – Master W. Clarke 1959 -62, Chief officer Norman Bamford 1961 – 63, Second officer Alan Burns 1948 – 50 and one of the Staff Sergeants being ferried to war R.L Peacock 1969 – 71

Baltic Ferry – Master E. Harrison 1954 – 56 Second officer Bill Langton 1967 – 69

RFA Fort George Master DGM Averill 1941 – 43

RFA Sir Tristram master Captain G Green 1949 – 51

There were eight other old Conway’s involved  – I don’t think the Argentinians realised what was about to happen to them now that HMS Conway was involved.   :-o)

What ever your politics in the UK Ian Duncan Smith 1969 – 74 used to be the leader of the Tory party in the UK. Currently an MP in the British Parliament.

capt-hewittCaptain Eric Hewitt 1919 – 21 – he joined the RNR (Royal Navy Reserves) on leaving Conway and completed his sea time for 2nd Mates in the merchant navy. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he was called up for the RNR, and having served over the years in the RNR held the rank of Lt Commander.

He served in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and took part in the invasion of Sicily. He was mentioned in dispatches for protecting a Mediterranean convoy. He was involved with the Normandy landings and when promoted to Captain he was the youngest serving Captain in the RNR.

He was on Earl Mountbatten’s staff in Singapore responsible for the movement of all ships in the Far East. He followed Mountbatten to India to supervise the withdrawal of British forces from India by sea.

In 1948 he accepted the position of Staff Captain at HMS Conway and the following year he was Captain Superintendent. It was Captain Hewitt who interviewed me when I applied to join the Conway.

In 1956 Captain Hewitt was ADC to HM The Queen and later became High Sheriff of Anglesey.

Captain Hewitt was a fine example for hundreds of Conway cadets over the years. He died in 1995 at the age of 91.

The above list of old Conway boys is just a very small sample of the 11,000 cadets that experienced life as a young teenager at HMS Conway between 1859 and 1974.

Conway closed in 1974, so it’ll not be long before we can no longer say ‘You’ll find on the bridge a Conway boy.’

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