CHAPTER VII

POST WAR YEARS

As early as June 1947 a meeting was held to consider the reconstruction of the RN Barracks.  On 12th May, 1948, a Book of Remembrance, containing the names of 13,837 Devonport men killed in World War II, was unveiled by the Commander-in-Chief in the Drill Shed.  Three times as many Devonport men were killed in World War II than in World War I.

Also in 1948 ‘Navy Days’ were introduced to replace the Navy Week and were held over the Whitsun and August Bank holidays.  On lot July the Warrant Officers’ Mess was abolished and the Warrant Officers joined the Wardroom. By the end of the year most of the ‘Hostilities Only’ men had been disbanded - some 144,610!

During 1950 reconstruction proceeded apace.  Part of the Wardroom Annex was converted to house the Pay Office and the old offices were pulled down to make way for the development of what now is the Cunningham-Fraser site as a new Senior Rates Mess.

On 18th March, 1953, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited the Barracks to present a new Queen’s colour to the Plymouth Command.  This replaced the old colour presented in 1937 and it is kept in the Wardroom Dining Room.  On May 14th the blocks in the Barracks were renamed as follows:

Old Designation

New Designation

Commodore’s Office Block

Frobisher Block

New Victualling Block

Armada Block

A

Hawkins Block

B

Boscawen Block

C

Raleigh Block

D

Grenville Block

E

Exmouth Block

H

Anson Block

Parade Huts

Rodney Huts

Wardroom Annex

Howard Block

Gunnery School Huts

Benbow Huts

On September 5th the first DRAKE FAIR, in aid of the first of June appeal, was launched to celebrate the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Although it fell short of expectations, it was decided to hold a DRAKE FAIR annually.

In July 1955 Navy Days attendances achieved a post-war record and once again the Field Gunners captured all three cups. The major event in RN Barracks that year was the opening of Cunningham-Fraser Block.  Both Admirals of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope and Lord Fraser of North Cape, were able to attend the opening ceremony, which was also witnessed by 1,000 guests.   The building was designed with the aid of the consulting architect E Berry Webber and was built by Dudley Coles Ltd, of Plymouth.  At the time it was the largest building in Plymouth.  It took 2½ years to build and it cost £750,000.

Early in 1956 radical changes took place in the structure of the Navy. Amongst them was the abolition of the old Port Divisions and thus of West Country manned ships.  Ratings were given the opportunity to elect a change of ‘welfare authority’; but out of a total of 21,500 Devonport ratings only 1550 exercised their option.

In April 1956 there was an outcry in the press about the repainting of the ‘knobs’ on the Barrack railings with gold-leaf, in the pre-war fashion. The defence for the expenditure was, that owing to the much greater lasting properties of gold-leaf, it was more cost-effective than green paint.

Mr Digby the Civil Lord gave this explanation to the House of Commons. This was proven when in 1964 the green paint had to be renewed, but the gold only needed a wash down with water!

On 3rd  May, 1956, the Gunnery School held a Centenary Dinner in the Wardroom. This was fitting because on August 9th that year the School was re-commissioned at the Wembury firing range as HMS CAMBRIDGE. The last executive commander of the CAMBRIDGE hulk in 1907 was a guest-of-honour at the dinner.  He was 81 year old Admiral Sir Bertram Thesiger.

Some modernisation was carried out in the Wardroom that summer. Central heating and running water were installed in the cabins, and coal scuttles and hot and cold water jugs disappeared.

The Plymouth Field Gun crew won all three cups in June 1958. At the civic reception on the Hoe a 4-feet ‘Oggie’ was paraded in the rain.

On December 31st, 1958, the RN Signal School at St Budeaux closed down and re-opened as the RN Signal Training Centre.  On the same closure note - in 1959 HMS DEFIANCE closed and certain of its facilities were rehoused in RN Barracks under the title of TAS Training Centre, and the Hydrographic School moved from Chatham into the vacated Signal School in St Budeaux.  Later the Hydrographic School was moved into Barracks in September 1964.

On July 5th, 1961, a change in the task of the Naval Barracks was announced in the House of Lords by the First Lord.  This was that most of the training should be transferred to the main schools, and that the Barracks should become accommodation centres and accounting bases.  This change was formally recognised on 1st  November, 1961, by the dropping of the title Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport, and the adoption of the ship’s name HMS DRAKE for all purposes; bus conductors were officially instructed to call out ‘DRAKE’ instead of ‘Jago’s Mansions’ or the ‘Barrix’.  However, the word ‘Barracks’ dies hard in both Naval and Civilian circles.

The Honorary Freedom of the City of Plymouth was conferred on the Plymouth Command of the Royal Navy on September 26th, 1963.  The ceremony which was to have been held on the Hoe was rained off, but the march through the streets by nearly 1,000 sailors took place as planned. 

1966 saw the start to the planning of the redevelopment which is now in full swing and which by the end of this decade will see all the original accommodation demolished and replaced after 80 years of existence.

On Sunday July 4th, 1967, Sir Francis Chichester arrived at Plymouth in Gypsy Moth VI after achieving the first single-handed circumnavigation at the age of 65.  After a rest, Sir Francis sailed up the Channel to the Royal Naval College Greenwich, where HM the Queen knighted him, using the sword of Sir Francis Drake, now in the custody of the Wardroom Mess.  A week later, HRH Prince Philip was guest-of-honour in the Wardroom Mess for the Armada Dinner.  Model ships from the Armada-rama were hung from the Wardroom ceiling and this has now become traditional.

The ceremonial ‘demolition’ of Hawkins Block was carried out by the detonation of a small thunderflash by Commodore P E I Bailey on 29th September, 1967.  An ancient mariner, supposedly lost in the block for 50 years, appeared through the smoke ready to mobilise for the Great War.

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