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Collections25th August 2021

Warship Wednesday: Ship Launches

This month we take time to celebrate just some of the many women who launched warships from Chatham Dockyard.

Read our snapshot of the family ties, imposing memorabilia and stories of community celebration from an era when ships set sail from Medway.

A naval tradition dating back thousands of years, ceremonial ship launching was a public celebration and an honour for those who are asked to perform it, especially as the process usually included a religious blessing.

While ship launching represented a considerable engineering challenge, the public event attracted a large crowd of well-wishers to Chatham Dockyard’s slips.  The process also involved many traditions intended to invite good luck, such as christening by breaking a sacrificial bottle of champagne over the bow as the ship was named aloud and launched.

Bottleneck from HMS Euryalus launch

Launch Casket for HMS Victorious, 1895

It must have been a very proud occasion when the Sturdee family transferred not one but two vessels to water on the same day in April 1918.  Lady and Miss Sturdee, wife and daughter of the Commander-in-Chief at The Nore (a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames Estuary and River Medway) named R-class submarines HMS1 and HMS2 respectively.

Lady and Miss Sturdee launch details

HMSm R1 c. 1920

Built by the Royal Navy during the First World War, both boats came too late to see any combat and, like most of the other R-class submarines, were sold on for scrap in 1923.

Author of ‘An Admiral’s Wife in the Making, 1860-1903’ and ‘Recollections of an Admiral’s Wife, 1903-1916’, Lady Ida Poore was not only bestowed the privilege of launching a warship but also presenting a commemorative programme, known as a’ launching silk’ to every crew member of HMS Calliope.

Lady Ida Margaret Graves Poore.

Affectionately known as Flag Mother to the sailors who worked with her husband, Lady Poore gave the mounted and framed silk square to the men when she launched the Calypso-class corvette on 17th December 1914.

HMS Calliope

Among the crew was shipwright Harry Baker who went on to fight in the Battle of Jutland aboard Calliope.  His memoirs feature not only combat details but also excerpts from hymns and poems from the coveted silk.

To find out more about Lady and Miss Sturdee, Lady Ida Poore and the many other women who launched ships from Chatham, check out our temporary exhibition ‘Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard’.  Brought to life in the No.1 Smithery gallery and through a supporting digital exhibition, Hidden Heroines explores the valuable roles women played throughout the Dockyard’s 400-year history, right up to present day.

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