HMS Cavalier Afloat Again At Chatham Historic Dockyard

By Zoe Adjonyoh | 18 April 2005
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Picture shows the large, grey dominating World War II destroyer HMS Cavalier as she is today. The Ship is harboured at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent under a lovely blue sky with the Union Jack at full mast blowing in the wind.

HMS Cavalier, as she is today, moored at Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent. Picture courtesy Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Since early 2000 work has been in progress to restore HMS Cavalier, the Royal Navy's last operational World War II destroyer, to her former glory. At last she is back afloat following preservation in dry-dock over the winter-

HMS Cavalier was one of hundreds of Royal Navy destroyers and other escort vessels, which fought to keep the sea-lanes open and protect Britain's supply lines during WWII.

The vessel has been preserved as a memorial to the 153 destroyers of the Royal, Dominion and Allied Navies and some 30,000 lives lost during the Second World War.

Chris Jones is Head of Ship keeping at Chatham Historic Dockyard, where HMS Cavalier is now kept. He told the 24 Hour Museum that the ship has been on a long journey to get to this stage.

After her de-commission in 1972, she was first opened to the public in Brighton Marina. She was then towed up to Newcastle where her stay was "less than successful" Chris said.

Shows a photograph of a man working below HMS Cavalier in dry dock.

HMS Cavalier in dry dock. Picture courtesy Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

For fear of her being left to rot, a campaign was initiated by the Friends of HMS Cavalier to save the ship. "There was a great deal of work and effort to get the ship down to Chatham," Chris explained, "first to purchase it, then to tow it down from Newcastle and install all the necessary electrical and health and safety equipment to make it fit for the public.

"At the same time, the then Chief Executive of Chatham Dockyard was very keen to develop an area of the Dockyard as a battleship display, which HMS Cavalier would be the centrepiece of," he continued.

"As time as gone on and the restoration work increased, so the areas open to the public have too."

Of course, the natural consequence of the hard work that some 30 volunteers regularly undergo each week is that as each part of the restoration process is completed, it attracts more and more visitors, which in turn creates an extra workload.

Shows a photograph of a man working with a large piece of machinery in a museum workshop.

A vast team of volunteers keeps HMS Cavalier looking spick and span. Picture courtesy Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

With 80,000-100,000 visitors a year traipsing through the ship wearing out the paintwork, the deck has to be continually re-painted. "It's a real juggling act to keep the ship's restoration in progress and open to the public at the same time" added Chris.

Through the most recent part of the restoration process the ship has been in dry-dock, while access to difficult areas in the ship's bowels has been worked on. This has also meant many parts of the ship have been closed to the public for safety reasons.

Since her original docking at Chatham in May 1999, £1.5 million has been spent on her restoration, with funding from a variety of sources. A generous £1million has come from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and a further £500,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Chatham Historic Dockyard and the Cavalier Trust have also made generous contributions.

The majority of the volunteers undertaking the work are ex-servicemen or were formerly employed within the dockyard. Some even served on HMS Cavalier or her sister ships.

Chris explained: "Some of the youngest are in their 60s while some of the more enthusiastic are on the wrong side of 70! They are so keen they even worked in the snow on Boxing Day!"

Michael Kier, 74, is one such volunteer. Having served 32 years in the Royal Navy he is also director of the HMS Cavalier Trust and chairman of the Friends of HMS Cavalier Trust. A lifetime's dedication to the navy spurs him on.

Shows a photograph of a man carrying a washing up bowl full of cups and plates in a museum workshop.

But, of course they couldn't get anything done without a nice cup of tea...! Picture courtesy Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Supervised by two full-time ship keepers a dedicated team of 12 regularly attend working sessions on board, rising to 30 at various points in the week.

Cleaning and painting are the main tasks, while more detailed aspects of restoration in cabins such as matching original colour palettes and installing the correct fixtures, fittings and furniture for the period also have to be done. "A lot of work has to be done to get the detail right." said Chris.

Originally completed in 1944, HMS Cavalier began her career escorting Arctic convoys and participated in operations off the coast of Norway. During 1945 she escorted RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, carrying troops across the Atlantic. At the end of the war in Europe, HMS Cavalier joined the Pacific Fleet and had a distinguished career in the Far East.

The aim of the restoration is to get as many of the internal compartments as possible restored to their 1972 condition when the vessel took its last voyage before being de-commissioned.

Shows a photograph of a man working on a small piece of machinery in a museum workshop.

Picture courtesy Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

This means visitors to the ship have a different highlight depending on their age, as Chris pointed out: "The older generation prefer the original 1940s sections of the ship at the forward end, they see the ship as a 1940s destroyer. Younger visitors enjoy the more modern aspects of the ship, such as the sea cat missile launchers, closer to the 1970s original detail at the after end of the ship."

The Forward Seaman's Mess, the Ship's Office, the Captain's Day Cabin and Operation's Room are just a few of the highlights of the finished restoration process and there are guided tours to take visitors through the mixed history of the vessel.

Soon there will be audio tours available on board directing you on a route through the ship's history and playing personal reminiscences of former servicemen who worked on board.

There's something for young and old on board HMS Cavalier and visitors to the oldest Naval Dockyard in the world can see the vessel on permanent display, occupying the same space where Horatio Nelson's flagship HMS Victory was built.

The restoration of HMS Cavalier continues to be a fitting tribute to those who served in destroyers in WW2, and the 30,000 who lost their lives on these boats.

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Zoe Adjonyoh is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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