HMS Ark Royal in Gibraltar – British Forces Open Day – Remembrance Day 2008

Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, Poppy Day.

I’ve lost track of the correct name for the correct day. At school I remember wearing a poppy on the 11th of November and having a special service. And everything stopped at 11am for the two minutes’ silence. When my parents had a business they stopped too. In fact when the clock in the market square chimed 11am, the whole town stopped.

It was either Remembrance Day or Poppy Day though. When my parents talked about Armistice Day it sounded so old-fashioned. Now the emphasis is not on 11th November at all, but on the second Sunday of the month. Too confusing for me, I do wish people would stick to dates instead of making it the nearest convenient weekend.

So Gibraltar’s commemoration ceremony was on Sunday. But I didn’t go. (Partner went to watch last year’s, the post is here). Apparently there was something today too.

I did go to the British Forces Open Day however, held on Saturday at the Naval Dockyard, with the star attraction being a visit on board the Ark Royal which was open to the public. (Links at the bottom for more info about the ship).

I’d already had a sneak preview of HMS Ark Royal on Friday night when we walked the dog.

Saw the Typhoons flying past too but no idea what they were up to.

I should have realised it was going to be busy on Saturday when I headed off to the supermarket, which is in the opposite direction to the dockyard, and there were far too many people walking towards me.

By the time I arrived at the dockyard – there was a huge queue to go on board the Ark Royal. I asked about the boat rides round the harbour but there didn’t seem to be any happening at the time.

Anyway it was a nice day so I joined the queue for the Ark Royal and stood around in the sunshine.

The guy behind me told me that the cost of visiting an open day in the UK was £15. (The Gib one was free). He hadn’t gone, needless to say.

To relieve the excitement of queuing we watched an abseiling display. Apparently Gibraltar, Cyprus, and Faslane are the only accredited naval bases where you can abseil 60m, or some such riveting info.

The queue moved quickly and we climbed up the steep gangplank to board the Ark Royal and immediately entered the aircraft hanger.

There were lots of interesting displays about the work of the RN, and in particular the Ark Royal. Just as well really, because, visiting the Ark Royal meant walking the length of the aircraft hanger and no more.

At the end of the hanger we wound our miserable way down the steps. I stopped to ask a young officer where the famous ship’s bell was. Seems it was on the quarterdeck, although normally it was in the hanger.

That’s really helpful isn’t it? Did they think someone was going to nick off with it?

Having spent a pleasant hour queuing to see jack shit nada, I went off to go on a patrol boat round the harbour. I was looking forward to this. In fact it was the only reason I was wearing mildly warm clothes when the sun was baking hot, because as we all know it is cooler on the water.

There was quite a queue and a sign saying “Boat rides closed.” But no, a boat came in and people started boarding.

At the same time, the loudspeaker announced the dog display was due to start in five minutes.

Well, I have to say to the armed forces, what excellent timing.

The trip round the Ark Royal amounted to wandering down the aircraft hanger and looking at a PR display and then I have to choose between the boat trip and dogs.

Oh well, the dogs won. There were three dogs, two GSDs, and a spaniel. I immediately fell in love with Archie, who looked the spitting image of our GSD Prince. Archie was only two and a half however, and Prince was at least four when we rescued him. Not only did Archie look like Prince, he barked like Prince and managed to attack the ‘villain’ just like Prince. Awwww, what a darling he was. Archie is the last dog of the three pix below.

More dog pix to come on a separate post tomorrow.

So, it was a good afternoon out to be fair – well, Archie made an OK afternoon into a good one. All the displays were interesting, and I obviously missed loads of stuff, like the helicopter display, but I hadn’t planned on making it an all-day event. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to spend five hours faffing around down there, waiting for the next event.

Billed as 11-4.30pm, but it is really 11-4pm – the extra half an hour is for everyone to clear off. Too many years in Spain and Gib has made me think I can turn up at the end of the day and still get to enjoy stuff. Apparently not. (Although I wouldn’t have called turning up at 1-2pm the end of the day – but not enough time obviously).

So if I did it again – and a tip to anyone wanting to visit these sort of events – go early, pick off what you want to do, and don’t waste time wandering round initially. You can do that later, if you really want to.

Oh and it was good to go inside the tower building too, it’s a really lovely building and such an anachronism in this century. Another piece of Gib history that doesn’t fit these days, but hasn’t yet been turned into expensive pretentious flats.

Thanks to everyone who organised it and put in their time and effort. It was a good afternoon, despite my criticisms.

I guess my expectations were too high. Having spent my childhood years being dragged round one boring ship’s engine room after another boring ship’s engine room by my ex-RN father (diesel engineer), I was sadly disappointed not to see an engine room on this occasion. I suppose today’s security restrictions and the sheer numbers of people prevent the public being allowed to do any more than literally stepping on and off the ship.

Sign of the times. Shame though.

HMS Ark Royal RN page here
The silver bell here
Current news about HMS Ark Royal’s operations here

Also edited to change and correct ‘planes to Typhoons – thanks Gibraltar Blogger for pointing that out, I was half asleep when I originally wrote Tornados.

7 comments on “HMS Ark Royal in Gibraltar – British Forces Open Day – Remembrance Day 2008

  1. Interesting tour. Some boats are interesting and others are not. During a Fleet Week ship tour several years ago, we boarded a Russian naval ship and a Mexican naval ship. It was like night and day. The Mexican ship was polished and the sailors were smartly dressed. The Russian sailors wore tennis shoes with holes in them and the ship had apparently not been cleaned recently. The Ark Royal is impressive. Thank you for the tour.Watched Armistice Day celebrations in London on the Beeb, featuring the three remaining British WWI veterans. An era will soon be closing.Why do I always feel like I am accompanying you on your exciting excursions? Your photos and stories put one right there in the ‘passenger seat’. Thanks for the trip(s).∆≈


  2. sorry I am late commenting.I have had a very quick read, but have to go out, so will save it all for later and more informed comment.Well, as informed as my comments ever get!It looks like a grand day, though, and I am so envious of the weather.I will save this as unread on Bloglines and come back later.Boring stuff calls like the post office ………….don’t ask.Roland Rat


  3. wonder why they removed the famous bell?This was a very interesting post, lots of good photos and interesting to read your review of the day.Brought a bit of sunshine too, into my life!


  4. I didn’t go either, but it sounds like recent events I’ve been to.The MOD used to do these things really well, but in recent years they’ve lost it.I think part of the problem is critical mass, in the past there was refinement year upon year, and people who knew what had gone before. Nowadays it seems like everyone is a first attempt.I do feel sorry for some of the MOD people as many of them don’t understand the local public DO still have that years of experience. Hence, while we are very glad they try and organise things we do have memories in our head of more impressive and awe inducing things.Never mind the Falklands campaign, I remember simply naval exercises when the frigates and destroyers were routinely berthed 2 or 3 ABREAST!And, despite the many impressive sights there used to be annually on airday, the most impressive one I’ve seen in Gib was when I was randomly waiting to cross the runway one day – a mock lowlevel attackrun involving 7 tornados. (3 passing one direction, 4 simultaneously the other).N.B. they are actually Eurofighter Typhoons that are here atm, not tornados.


  5. Thanks for your comment Gib Blogger, I really do appreciate additional insight from people who have lived here far longer than me. It is actually nice to get a response and to hear yours (and other people’s) perspective. NB I’ve corrected the planes. I was half asleep last night, but thanks.


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