HMS Victory Homecoming
You may be wondering why it’s gone quiet since my last update. In case you’ve not heard – I arrived back at HMS Victory last Friday, since when I’ve put my feet up! They, (my feet), insisted that after I’d made them walk 5,495 miles it was their right to have a weekend off. I couldn’t argue with that, nor the Support Team.
My final whirlwind week was not one of coastal landmarks but one of visiting Royal Navy establishments. Wherever I went we were made to feel most welcome and I left with generous donations to the Victory Walk pot. I also seemed to do a huge amount of eating, which began with bacon ‘butties’ and the Captain presenting a cheque at HMS Sultan’s Chaplaincy, where I was also joined by munching sailors. During mouthfuls I tried to give them an insight as to what was entailed in such a long trek. They showed their appreciation by dropping additional cash into a bucket at lunch time.
Later that morning I met some former Wrens at the Wren Rose Memorial Garden: a quiet spot situated close to a moat area. Initiated by members of the local Association of Wrens branches, the garden was created to remember Wrens who died in service at Gosport or elsewhere. I left with clean hands, but soon found myself covered in a thin layer of soot when I was reunited with an old friend: HMS Sultan’s Super Sentinel Steam Waggon. My last encounter with that lorry was about 27 years ago when I’d been booked in for a ‘surprise day out’, not knowing that I’d end up stoking and driving this old beauty around Gosport. It was good to meet ‘Fred’ my instructor again, but this time I was taken on an impromptu ride with other naval women – both serving and retired. I’m not sure who laughed most – the passengers or the stoker and driver!
I arrived at HMS Collingwood the following morning where I was able to see at first-hand how investment from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity has enhanced the lives of Naval personnel and their families. Visiting Woodentots Nursery I was impressed by this marvellous building and its facilities which had received a large investment from RNRMC. All the children seemed so happy - I’m not sure who waved their flags hardest, me or them!
Another enthusiastic bunch were the Physical Training Instructors who have benefitted from a gymnasium upgrade, thanks to the charity. They were also keen to learn about the highs and lows of the Victory Walk but decided they wouldn’t join me for the next leg to HMS Excellent in Portsmouth that afternoon! Before leaving HMS Collingwood, more eating followed when we were hosted to a fork buffet lunch. It was a lovely surprise to receive two incredibly generous donations: one from the Warrant Officers’ and Senior Rates Mess and another from the remainder of the establishment.
I left feeling revitalised as I began my last proper day of walking from Fareham, around the creek and on towards Portchester. It was a warm but breezy afternoon as I looked across Portchester Lake and down to Portsmouth Harbour, with its familiar skyline of high-rise buildings, Naval Base cranes and Spinnaker Tower. I found it hard to concentrate and appreciate that the Victory Walk was nearing completion. To keep my mind occupied I looked for stray golf balls on the nearby golf course; I found one last ball which has now joined my Victory Walk golf ball collection – it was a good omen.
Walking across the causeway into HMS Excellent, I reflected on how its fortunes had changed even during my Service career. I can remember the berth used for HM Royal Yacht Britannia and where the Royal Canadian Navy’s totem pole once stood near the main gate. ‘Whaley’ as it’s affectionately known, was also home to Portsmouth’s Field Gun Crew. This year marks the twentieth anniversary since the demise of that tough competition, and today the Navy Command’s Headquarters stands on the old field gun track.
It was into this HQ building that I walked to a very warm welcome the following day. Having been introduced to everyone by the Naval Secretary there was more eating to be done, as members of the Association of Wrens and Trustees from both my charities had put together a superb cake sale. There followed some very serious cake eating by a lot of Naval personnel which raised over £500 for the Victory Walk pot. If they can’t pass their Royal Naval Fitness Test when the time comes, I hope they won’t blame me!
That evening it was time for my two naval charities (WRNS BT and RNRMC) to thank various people and organisations for their support throughout the Victory Walk. I did this on their behalf by giving an illustrated presentation about the entire Walk. It was a good moment for me to reflect on some of the highlights, setbacks and challenges I’d encountered. At the end of the talk I was touched to receive an engraved glass gift donated by the Chairman of both charities in recognition of my Victory Walk efforts to raise money on their behalf.
Early on Friday morning I left HMS Excellent on foot while my Support Team drove ahead in the Victory Van. We both headed to Morrison’s for our last breakfast of the Walk. I hadn’t anticipated being clapped into the store, nor being given two hampers – one food and the other a ‘pamper hamper’. Three sailors, who were to act as bucket and flag shakers also tucked-in with me before we set off on the final mile of my walk.
Entering HMS Nelson I was greeted by HM Royal Marines Band, Portsmouth, together with Naval hierarchy from the Naval Base. Later the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth joined this supporting group. The band led me through HMS Nelson, before heading down towards the HMS Victory Arena where enthusiastic well-wishers and the Second Sea Lord welcomed me home. I was invited to step back aboard HMS Victory – it was my chance to stand on Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship and thank him for his inspiration.
More surprises and eating followed when I found myself staring at a fantastic cake made by Royal Navy chefs. Beautifully decorated with both the Victory Walk and charity logos, my eye was drawn to a figurine on one corner of the cake: I realised I was looking at myself. The attention to detail was superb, with my brown boots, blue socks, white tee-shirt, blue baseball cap and red rucksack all beautifully portrayed. I was flattered to find my legs had been crafted to look thin, even though they are like those of a carthorse!
Having walked 5,495 miles over the past 22 months, I think I can be excused for concluding the week by tucking into that cake in the Royal Maritime Club with friends and well-wishers. I couldn’t have found a more appropriate place to end the Victory Walk because the Club was set up in 1850 as a home for sailors ‘between ships’.
Currently that is how I feel, as I really am ‘between ships’ – the Victory Van and house yet to be found and bought.
As donations continue to arrive it has been decided that another Victory Log entry will follow and the Victory Walk account will stay open for further donations until the end of the year.
See Photo Album Numbers 87
- RM Band Escort to HMS Victory
- Approaching HMS Victory
- HMS Victory Homecoming