Belfast Telegraph

HMS Caroline: 92-year-old son of naval gunner relieved historic ship saved

The 92-year-old son of a First World War naval gunner has spoken of his relief that HMS Caroline has been saved from the scrapyard.

Thomas Weddick, whose father, James, was a chief gunner during the 1916 Battle of Jutland said the 100-year-old vessel, which is set to become a floating museum, will provide invaluable insight into the challenges of life at sea.

"It would have been such a shame if Caroline had been scrapped," he said. "The lines of the vessel are so perfect and she was the fastest battleship in the world when built.

"I would like to think it will capture the imagination of people and help explain how difficult it was to be in the navy in those days and how dreadful war is.

"When you see things like the galley of the ship - it is not as big as the kitchens of half the people I know - it just shows how difficult life must have been back then."

HMS Caroline is set to undergo a multimillion-pound preservation project by the the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) over the next three years.

Mr Weddick, a retired customs officer from Liverpool who also served with the Royal Navy between 1940 and 1945, said he had fulfilled a lifetime promise to visit the vessel on which his father served but hoped to return once it was restored.

"My father was a Limerick man who joined the navy at the age of 15-and-a-half in 1899. To see the vessel and the parts of it which remain as my dad would have known them is a very moving experience," he added.

A light cruiser, weighing 3,750 tons and measuring 446 feet, HMS Caroline was part of the screening force that sailed out ahead of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet during the Battle of Jutland to establish the position of the German battleships.

Both sides sustained heavy casualties in what was the most significant clash between battleships during the First World War. Britain and Germany both claimed victory.

James Weddick was mentioned in dispatches for courage shown during the momentous battle.

"My father was a brave man who suffered partial deafness as he corrected a jammed gun during the Battle of Jutland but in his later years he said he loathed war. Nevertheless, he spent 21 years in the navy and was very proud of his role.

"He rose to the top of his profession," added Mr Weddick.

Six years after the war ended HMS Caroline was moved from Portsmouth to Belfast to become a training vessel for local Royal Navy Reserves. Most of the rest of the fleet was decommissioned and broken up.

HMS Caroline performed its function as a drill ship up until 2011, apart from during the Second World War when it was used as an operations headquarters for the efforts to protect the Atlantic convoys from German U-Boats.

There had been fears in Belfast that the NMRN would bring the ship back to Portsmouth, but those were allayed last year when an agreement was struck to keep the vessel in its current home in the Alexandra Dock.

A £1 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund was then secured for urgent repairs before the National Lottery stepped in with a £12 million cash boost.

HMS Caroline is currently awaiting a final decision over whether or not it will secure an additional £14 million for preservation and restoration work.

Once completed, HMS Caroline will be another addition to Belfast's maritime trail and will be docked beside the £90 million Titanic museum and the recently restored Nomadic.

Richard Black, chairman of the Friends of Caroline, has appealed for relatives of other ex-servicemen to make contact.

"The National Museum of the Royal Navy is undertaking a major restoration project to return Caroline to its former glory but we also want to hear about people who were linked to the ship," he said.

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