Sailors, Soldiers and Engineers

While a week may be a long time in politics, it flies by in the life of a Master.

Friday 15th July. I travelled to Portsmouth to join the Portsmouth Flotilla for its inaugural annual Awards. For the first time in many years, for a brief period this summer, most of the Flotilla’s ships are in Portsmouth at the same time and so a series of events have been organised to: celebrate individuals’ contribution to the life of their units; provide an opportunity for people to show their families what they do; and to socialise with partners and families together, which they are so rarely able to do. Ironically the Marketors’ affiliated ship, HMS ST ALBANS, the 16th and last of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates to be built, was still returning from active service in the Gulf.

The Awards ceremony took place on HMS VICTORY in the presence of the Admiral and the Armed Forces Minister, Penny Mordaunt MP. Miss Mordaunt is the MP for Portsmouth North, the daughter of a paratrooper and a Naval reservist herself. Each unit of the flotilla had proposed a single member of its crew for an award presented by the Commander, Commodore Peter Sparkes. In the case of HMS ST ALBANS the winner was one of the chefs.

Afterwards we had dinner in the wonderful and historic surroundings of the Wardroom, HMS NELSON. Its ceiling represents the upturned hull of HMS VICTORY. This may be the last such occasion as I learnt that the Defence Estate has sold HMS NELSON to the University of Portsmouth.  I sat next to the chef from HMS ST ALBANS who told me that he had been flown home early to receive his award. As further irony Miss Mordaunt learnt during the evening that she had been reshuffled off to the Dept. for Pensions.

Tuesday 19th July. Another Awards ceremony, this time with the Worshipful Company of Engineers. This was held at another prestigious venue, the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincolns Inn Field. I was most impressed with the way The Engineers Trust has approached this. They have a clear strategy and a strong vision. Their fund currently stands at over £1.5 million – a real achievement in 33 years of existence, though helped by a single legacy of half a million. Their awards support and encourage excellence amongst engineers who are already professionally registered or in the period of formation leading to registration.

Their long term target is to increase the fund to £3 million by 2030 and to £100 million by 2100. They have formed affiliations with several other engineering bodies and one of their Awards for engineering innovation is sponsored by nearly 40 major companies and other institutions. They contribute £20,000 annually over ten years to the £50,000 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, the premier prize for UK innovation in engineering. When I was CEO of NXT plc, our Surface Sound flat panel speaker technology was short listed for this Award.  Last year their Trust distributed approximately £67,000 to their charitable causes but this year that will reach £90,000, impressive progress.

Again the ceremony was followed by a reception in the Hunterian Museum and a dinner in the stunning oak-panelled Edward Lumley Dining Hall.

Wednesday 20th July. I attended the 151 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps Annual Engagement Event at another iconic venue, the London Scottish Regimental Headquarters, a Grade II listed building. The most extraordinary and impressive feature of the building is the double galleried painted Hall. 151 Regiment is the only London Logistics regiment and has been affiliated to the Marketors since 1997. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Taylor had organised this event in central London so that the mayors of all the boroughs where his regiment has installations and the Deputy Lieutenants of the counties could all be represented.

We were entertained by a Pipe and Drum band from the London Scottish Regiment clad in the regimental tartan, Elcho Tartan of Hodden Grey in colour. Lt Col Lord Elcho clothed the regiment in Hodden Grey, the homespun cloth known throughout Scotland. This avoided all inter-clan feeling on the subject of tartan and, as Lord Elcho said “A soldier is a man hunter. As a deer stalker chooses the least visible of colours, so ought a soldier to be clad.” All the musicians were Gherkas.

Thursday  21st July. Back to yet another iconic building, Mansion House, the fifth iconic structure I had visited in seven days. This time it was to hear the Lord Mayor’s Defence and Security Lecture delivered by Admiral Sir Philip Jones, KCB ADC,  the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff. These lectures were inaugurated in Sir David Wootton’s year as Lord Mayor, when the first lecture was given by Jonathan Evans, then Director General of the Security Service (MI5) and addressed national security to the Olympics and beyond. In 2013 General Sir David Richards, as Chief of the Defence Staff, spoke on Defence of Nation and Trade after the Age of Plenty. He was followed in 2014 by the then Home Secretary, a certain Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors. Andrew Parker, the current head of the Security Service delivered the 2015 Lecture.

It was fitting that with a Lord Mayor who is interested in all things maritime we should have a speaker this year who could consider the role and place of the Royal Navy in the context of its enduring relationship with the City of London. Sir Philip began by drawing our attention to his South Atlantic Medal. He had served in the Falklands campaign and 33 years ago he was disappointed not to take part in a commemoration ceremony that culminated at Mansion House on the orders of a superior officer. So he felt he had come full circle.

He gave an upbeat assessment of a Navy that was set to expand and increase its power and influence. The two new Aircraft Carriers HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and HMS PRINCE OF WALES were now complete structures in Rosyth and will start sea trials early next year. At 65,000 tonnes they are the largest and most powerful ships ever constructed for the Royal Navy. They will be followed by the new type 26 frigates that will increase the Navy’s capability in its three core roles – warfighting, maritime security and international engagement – on the world stage.

However Sir Philip also told us of the Royal Navy’s active participation in maritime police work, suppressing piracy, catching drug smugglers and people traffickers, and rescuing migrants. He spoke confidently of the excellent relationships we have with allied navies and our reach to the Gulf, the Mediterranean, the Baltic as well as the Atlantic.

The Livery’s involvement with the military is ancient and indeed used to be symbiotic. The kings and queens of England used to rely on the Livery Companies to finance the raising of regiments and the building of warships. While that of course is no longer the case – the projected cost of the Queen Elizabeth class programme is £6.2 billion – the relationships are still strong and much valued on both sides.

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