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HMS Caroline flooded by 10,000 visitors keen to enjoy historic ship

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 16/09/2016

Ex-Wren Maureen Lightbody with Helen Halliday, granddaughter of James Weddick, who was chief gunner on HMS Caroline during the Battle of Jutland
Ex-Wren Maureen Lightbody with Helen Halliday, granddaughter of James Weddick, who was chief gunner on HMS Caroline during the Battle of Jutland

The only surviving warship from the largest naval battle of the First World War has already seen more than 10,000 visitors come aboard since it opened as a museum in Belfast.

HMS Caroline is the last survivor from 1916's Battle of Jutland.

After the Great War Caroline came to Belfast to be the headquarters of the Ulster Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

By the time of the Second World War it was a supply ship, and Maureen Lightbody (91), who recently revisited it, remembers Caroline as a working vessel during those years.

When the Bangor woman finished school at 18 she became a Wren by joining the Women's Royal Naval Service.

She was stationed in Bangor during the Second World War, but the first thing she did was get her uniform from HMS Caroline.

"It was really exciting at 18 to be on the ship," she said.

They gave her everything, down to her toothbrush and a "beautiful winter coat".

For the next two years as a Wren Maureen got all her supplies from HMS Caroline.

After the war the ship went back to the Ulster Division of the Royal Navy until 2009.

HMS Caroline opened in June this year as a museum after a £15m restoration funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for the Economy.

The floating museum has earned a five-star quality rating from Tourism NI, making it one of only eight attractions with such a rating.

Maureen said she was delighted that HMS Caroline had been restored and hoped tourists and other visitors would appreciate its history.

"We should be proud that it's still in Belfast," she said.

"I'm glad they didn't move it to somewhere else.

"They did a great job - they kept it as it was in the First World War."

Captain John Rees, the director of the restoration programme, said the warship was historically important - and not just because it is the last survivor of the massive engagement between the British and German fleets off the coast of Denmark.

"She represents a rare memorial to the thousands of Irish people who gave their lives to the naval war effort," he said.

"The quality of the restoration work, the construction of replica components and excitement engendered by the visit, which allows unprecedented access to parts of the ship including the engine rooms, torpedo decks, guns and accommodation areas, is like no other in the world."

Led by general manager Jamie Wilson, HMS Caroline is now preparing for a winter programme of final repairs to the hull.

"In late October Caroline will go into dry dock for a period of some weeks so hull repairs can be completed," he explained.

"This will mark the start of refurbishment work to Alexandra Dock, in which Caroline is moored.

"Work will also start on the refurbishment of the Pump House, which serves both Alexandra Dock and neighbouring Thompson Dock.

"Our permanent ticket office will be housed in the Pump House, and when the ship returns from dry docking it will be moored facing out to sea and closer to the mouth of the dock.

"Once the ship is back in position in early 2017, we will be promoting it very heavily as we approach completion of all three stages."

Belfast Telegraph

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