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Sunday, February 09, 2014

HMS Belfast, London

Originally a Royal Navy light cruiser the HMS Belfast is now permanently moored on the Thames as a military museum. Currently operated by the Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast was opened to the public in 1971. HMS Belfast has seen a lot of action in her days and the mock-ups inside the ship give us a fair idea of how life would have been on-board at sea. The displays are informative and some interactive as well. The complimentary audio guide is a must as with it you can go at your own pace listening to the history of HMS Belfast and her crew.


 

 
HMS Belfast has nine decks and in my opinion you need a good couple of hours to take in everything without rushing around. Apart from the engine rooms and other military stuff, the ship also provides an insight into the day to day life aboard such a ship. The mock-ups of the bakery, the butcher, the dentist - all provide an understanding of the different aspects of life on a ship. Getting about the ship can be a bit confusing, but there are well placed markers to guide you. One key feature that I wish to mention and which made the whole experience fantastic was the excellent use of the sense of smell and hearing. You know you are nearing the kitchen even before you reach it because of the smell. Same goes with the other rooms like the hospital ward and dentist. Very nicely done.






HMS Belfast's ratings lived, ate and slept in communal areas known as messes. Every one had a hammock to sleep in and the hammocks were slung just 21inches apart on bars above.




There were designated crew members to handle all kinds of tasks on board the ship. There were bakers who used to supply bread for the ships entire crew. Then there were sail makers who were skilled at making and repairing rope and canvas equipment.


 
 
Like most ships, HMS Belfast also operated a catering system known as the Broadside Messing. A group of 8-12 men, who constituted one mess, would appoint their own cook to collect the meal from the galley and serve it. After the meal the cook would wash and return the containers.


HMS Belfast also had a small but well stocked canteen that sold a wide range of products ranging from chocolates like Bounty and Bournville to Ovaltine and Brylcreem. Aside from the canteen, the ship also had a room called the Provision Issue Room from where the daily food and rum ration was distributed. The ships store room and refrigerated areas had enough space to hold rations for the entire crew for up to three months.




The ship also had its own Dental Office with a dentist who performed surgery. It was essential because when the ship was at sea for long durations, there needed to be a dentist to conduct regular dental check-ups for the sailors. There was also a hospital ward/sick bay on board.



Generally church services for those on the ship were held on the Quarterdeck, but this chapel was available for private prayer. The chapel is said to be still used occasionally by some members of HMS Belfast Association who served on the ship during her active service commissions.


Overall, HMS Belfast is an attraction that I would recommend if you enjoy naval history. The ship has been preserved well and appears pretty much as it would have on the last day of its commission. The various rooms each depicting a feature of life at sea are very informative and take you back in time. If you want to get a feel of life aboard a battleship, then this attraction is for you.


HMS Belfast
The Queen's Walk
London
SE1 2JH
Phone: 020 7940 6300

Admission Prices
Adults £15.50, Child(under 16) Free, Concessions(Senior, Student, Disabled) £12.40. IWM Friends Free.

Open daily
Summer 10am - 6pm; Last admission 5pm
Winter 10am - 5pm; Last admission 4pm
Closed 24, 25 and 26 December
At times due to adverse weather the upper decks are closed.

Tips:
- Take the audio guide at the entrance. It is highly informative.
- Allow 2-3 hours to explore everything at an easy pace.
- Wear comfortable shoes. There are lots of steep ladders between the decks.
- Travel light. Some of the passages are narrow and bulky backpacks may not be convenient.
- Some parts of the ship are not accessible to wheelchair users. Kindly check before travelling.

For more information visit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast

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