On Tuesday 24th January, 2006, 10 years ago, members of the Norwich Branch of the Royal Naval Association and distinguished guests assembled at County Hall in Norwich to witness the unveiling of a display to celebrate ships of the Royal Navy that have borne Norfolk’s name.
Sir Timothy Colman KG, former Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, officially opened the tribute that includes the name board of the most recent ship to carry the name which was decommissioned in April, 2005 and subsequently sold to the Chilean Republic. The ship now sails the seas as the “Admiralante Cochrane” named after a famous Chilean Admiral.
The tribute was created by the Norwich Branch of the Royal Naval Association and is to be known as the Norfolk Wall. Sir Timothy said “This display is a very fitting way to mark the long association between the county of Norfolk and ships of the Royal Navy which have carried the same name. It is obviously nostalgic and the ceremony has brought together a lot of people in the county with naval associations. “ Other members of RNA Branches throughout the Area were invited to the ceremony and many attended. Sir Timothy who had associations with the Branch in its early days is of course of the Mustard family, is a Knight of the Garter whose wife Lady Mary is a relative of HM The Queen. He served as a Lieutenant Commander during the Second World War.
Admiral Sir James Perowne, a former nuclear submarine captain and former Flag Officer, Submarines was during his career captain of HMS Norfolk from 1992 to 1994 taking her to Norfolk, Virginia in the USA in November, 1994 as well as the Falkland Islands, the Caribbean, Cape Town and Haiti. He said, “It is a great honour for the ship’s board to be on such public display in the county and particularly in Norfolk which has such a famous seafaring history. It is a lovely way for her to be remembered and I hope in the future there will be another HMS Norfolk.” Sir James who is retired and lives I believe in Cambridgeshire, was familiar with the Branch in those days and visited our Armed Forces Day stand in the Forum which some will remember. He also took the salute at a parade which formed part of the day. His family farm near Kings Lynn.
Five other ships have also been named after the county, the first of which was launched in 1693. Between them the ships’ naval battle honours include, Velex Malaga 1704, Atlantic 1941, Bismarck 1941, Artic 1941-43, North Africa 1942, North Cape 1943, Norway 1945. The Prince of Wales served on the fifth HMS Norfolk. In letters I exchanged with the Prince of Wales inviting him to the function he wrote, “I have many happy and cherished memories of serving on HMS Norfolk. It was my first appointment after commissioning from Dartmouth and as such, it was a steep learning curve during which I learnt some important lessons”. This handwritten letter which I received from HRH forms part of the display.
I was proud to have instigated this display which I know is treasured by the County and will remain in place for many years to come, I should mention Shipmate Peter Cook , Chairman at the time who helped me with it and also Shipmate Fred Hogben who negotiated with Martin Simpson the last CO of Norfolk and persuaded him to unscrew the last name board showing on the ship and bring it all the way to Norwich tucked under his arm covered I think with a blanket.
Martin became a member of the branch and helped us with our school visits with the children, providing weekly reports of the activities of his next ship to command. Promoted to Commander, he was given Command of HMS Northumberland. At the time he was chasing pirates in the Middle East. Martin has now of course resigned his RN commission and was at last count Head of Sea Training of the UAE Navy in the Persian Gulf. I believe one or two Shipmates may still maintain contact with Martin who may well have moved on.
I think the Norfolk Wall is situated in what is called the Marble Room at county hall, at the time is raised our profile in the county and is indeed a piece of Norfolk history. Why not take time out and give it a visit.