HMS Victory Dinner 2023 – report

Sep 1, 2023

Major Christian Nicholson, former Chair of UKAF ACO, penned a report on the HMS Victory dinner that took place back in April 2023.  We have been very fortunate to be able to do it all again in 2024 – for details, see the following link …  HMS Victory dinner 2024 details

On the 25 April 2023, some intrepid members of UKAF ACO, and some invited guests, made the journey to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.  The social member, Linda Judd had secured entry, a private tour and dinner aboard perhaps Britain’s most famous warship.

We all met at the gate and plodded our way to the gangway for the mandated safety brief before embarking the  fabulous vessel.  Due to ongoing works to maintain the ship (boat? Apologies to my Royal Navy brethren for the use of incorrect terms throughout this article), she was almost fully covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin.  None of it detracted from the grandeur as soon as we walked aboard, however.

Once aboard we were met by our fantastic guide and host, Spyder.  We were given a superb tour of the upper decks where we discovered the fascinating histories of terms and items we all know and use today.  Thankfully none of our party gave cause for the ‘cat to be let out of the bag’ (removing the punishing “cat o’nine tails” from its bag)!

We toured the very low ceilings of all the gun decks, marvelling at the rate and power that was brought to bear by the gun teams during battle. The differing weights of the guns, from the 12 pounders on the forecastle deck to the 32 pounders and the monstrous 68 pounder carronades, provided some of the biggest firepower of its day.

A crew of around 820 (where they squeezed them in, beggar’s belief) maintained and manned stations to ensure she was one of the fiercest vessels of her time. Serving for almost 40 years she underwent a number of major refits, particularly following her famous action at Trafalgar in 1805. Half a dozen years earlier she was almost converted to a hospital ship but the ‘great refit’ of 1800-1803 saw her return to ‘the line’ and be selected by Lord Nelson as his flagship.

With the amazing smells of dinner wafting through the decks we made our way to the Senior Rates’ Mess where some libation was taken. A sumptuous 3 course meal was then served in some of the grandest setting I have ever had the pleasure of.

The conversation, wine and fayre all flowed brilliantly, and we treated like Kings and Queens at the table. With my position on the table next to the gavel the only manner to gather attention to thank our excellent hosts was to almost induce a heart attack in poor Nick Holland who was sat next to me (Sorry, Nick!).

For some us with more of the ship to visit we were offered to finish the tour, post dinner. Some of our party preferred to stay and enjoy the excellent prices of the Mess while the remainder made our way all the way to the depths of the ship. This included the incredibly vast space at the very bottom of the ship, taking in the magazine, the carpenter’s shop (one of the tallest men onboard (over 6’) in the smallest spaces) and to view some of the original parts of the 1758 built ship!

During the tour we saw the fateful place where Lord Nelson fell at Trafalgar and the spot where he died of his wounds surrounded by his officers and after being informed of his great victory. His body was preserved in a barrel and returned to England where he was buried with full military honours. Coincidentally, I visited Windsor Castle a few weeks later and saw first hand the bullet that killed Lord Nelson, sat in the gold locket case that was given to Queen Victoria by the family of the ship’s surgeon, William Beatty.

The ship is still an official, commissioned ship in His Majesty’s Royal Navy and the flagship of the Royal Navy’s Home Command. And for a ship of nearly 300 years’ old, she’s doing amazingly well!

My sincere thanks to the crew and staff who gave us a spectacular evening and a special thank you to Linda for getting us onboard in the first place. BZ (as they apparently say on boats).

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