2019 marks a very special anniversary for a very special ship at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.
HMS Cavalier, the national Destroyer Memorial, based at the Dockyard turns 75 years old in April 2019 – and she doesn’t look bad for her age, bearing in mind ships of this type were only built to have a lifespan of around 18 months.
HMS Cavalier was built on the Isle of Wight in 1943 and launched on 7th April 1944. As a Second World War Destroyer, HMS Cavalier exceeded the exception of the usual life span of a ship and survived the war with an active service until 1972. Her fascinating and interesting stories include her time from serving in WWII and in various commissions in the Far East. Today she is preserved at The Historic Dockyard Chatham as the national destroyer memorial – remembering 143 ships of this type lost during the Second World War, costing over 11,000 lives.
Joining the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Cavalier took part in several operations off Norway. She earned a battle honour for her action in reforming the convoy from the Kola Inlet in Russia which had suffered attacks from enemy aircraft and U-boats. She later was despatched to the Far East, providing naval gunfire support during the Battle of Surabaya and later sent to Bombay to help supress the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. With many other actions in her life, and being 27 years old at the time, it was a great achievement that Cavalier was then classed as “The Fastest Ship in the Fleet” for winning a celebrated race in 1971 against HMS Rapid.
After her decommissioning, Cavalier didn’t find a permanent home for some time. She was laid up in Portsmouth and then purchased by the Cavalier Trust. Moving to Southampton she opened as a museum and memorial ship in 1982 and after not much success she moved to Brighton a year later. She then moved again in 1987 to be part of plans for a museum which sadly came to nothing. The Cavalier Trust reformed and together with members of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, they fought in Parliament to get Cavalier back, rather than the next trip on the agenda which was to a Malaysian theme park! In 1998, Cavalier was bought by the trust and arrived in May of that year. She currently resides in the same dry-dock that HMS Victory was built in.
The preservation of HMS Cavalier began straight away with a long-term programme in place for her preservation. A small team of volunteers made a start on cleaning and painting her – bringing her into a fit state for our visitors.
This year, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust is also celebrating 20 years of our amazing Ship Volunteers who are crucial to HMS Cavalier’s preservation story. It took ten years to restore and repaint most of the ship and it is a continuous process today. The ship volunteer’s expertise meant almost any job could be undertaken – from repairing the ships entertainment system and radio (which is still used today by the volunteers for their own radio channel), to the ships lighting and much, much more.
Today, the ship volunteers still have a highly prominent role in helping the preservation of HMS Cavalier. With around 40 volunteers, they work on all the Dockyard’s historic ships undertaking a number of crucial roles which include painting, maintenance and even creating and repairing bespoke pieces of equipment for Cavalier, plus much more. Without the volunteers, the preservation of the historical ships would have been an impossible task and it is thanks to their hard work and dedication that HMS Cavalier is available to the public today.
Alongside HMS Cavalier, is a monument dedicated to all the men who died in the Royal Navy and Allied Commonwealth destroyers during WWII. The monument was unveiled in 2007 by His Royal Highness Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh and HMS Cavalier was dedicated as the National Destroyer Memorial.
“HMS Cavalier’s history is one of great relevance to WWII and many other missions at sea. Being the last surviving destroyer, many visitors and veterans of her or similar ships, visit to reminisce and learn her history, and of those ships that also suffered the same. The Trust see great importance in continuing her preservation to keep this story alive and we are delighted that we have done so for 20 years now.” – Richard Holdsworth, Director of Heritage, Public Engagement and Learning at the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
Together with The Historic Dockyard Chatham’s other galleries and attractions including a working Ropery, 2 other historic warships and 10 museum galleries, the preservation of such ships keep their stories alive. They stand as a memory to many and tell a key part of our history.