HMS Belfast – the Town-class light cruiser, originally launched in 1938 is open to visitors once more. The vessel saw convoy duty, survived the Battle of North Cape and took part in the destruction of the Scharnhorst during WW2. The Belfast has long been moored on the Thames, between Tower and London Bridge, and operated by the Imperial War Museum. If you have never been, then I recommend you go. If you been before, then go again.
The Belfast offers up a window into the world of what it must have been like to serve on a warship – including where the men slept, ate and fought. Despite the size of the cruiser, one can experience the cramped and claustrophobic spaces in parts of the ship – and imagine how fit the men must have been just to clamber up and down the steps between decks.
I am a local to the area and I can remember my father taking me to the Belfast, decades ago. All I can recall is that I wanted to go again. The ship still has the power to inform and inspire – to resonate, like a piece of art. Doubtless many parents have taken their children to the Belfast over the years, prompting an interest, or career even, in the Royal Navy and History.
The ship has added new attractions, to be found on its lower decks, most prominent of which is a room filled with computers, where one can simulate steering the Belfast. Children – and adults – may have to be enticed out with sweets and grog to compel them to leave. Even my French friend, who accompanied me on the visit, was temporarily enamoured with the Royal Navy.
I similarly fell in love with the Belfast again – and not just because I consumed several Black Tot rum cocktails after my tour (which can be found at the bar on the bank of the Thames). Now that we are coming out of lockdown, I would urge you to visit, or re-visit, the characterful cruiser. You can teach an old sea dog new tricks.
Tickets can be booked here.
Images: Hannah Llewelyn-Jones