Chairman’s Column

July 2021

Below is the Chairman’s Column from the latest edition of our quarterly free newsletter, Topmasts.

This edition includes the oft-forgotten naval vessel class, the big-gun monitor, frequently armed with the ‘cast off’ weapons from much grander units; the only remaining Canadian example of a workhorse of Second World War convoy escorts, the corvette; the story of the only UK-built Leda class frigate still afloat, HMS Unicorn (1817); the last, rather unusual, operational voyage of HMS Dampier in 1967; and an eventful last commission of HMS Centaur.

There is also news of the Society and listings of the few events, conferences and lectures taking place this summer, although there is a good selection of new exhibitions.

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The society’s AGM was held successfully on Saturday 12 June. For the second year in succession it was held online via Zoom, which has now become second nature to so many of us; the contrast to the 2020 AGM, when we were all new to these strange ways of doing things, was very marked. The full report on the AGM will be sent out with the November issue of The Mariner’s Mirror, as has traditionally been the case, but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight undoubtedly the most important item of business transacted at the meeting, namely the passing nem. con of the society’s new Articles of Association, our governing document. This had received the approval of the Charity Commission barely 48 hours before the AGM, but following the successful vote it has been lodged with both the commission and Companies House, meaning that all of our affairs are now governed by the new Articles. This being so, we have made the text of the Articles available in the members’ area of our website. It has always struck me as strange that the rules of the society have not been permanently accessible; after all, how can members reasonably be expected to propose or vote on amendments, or indeed to identify errors and omissions, if they cannot easily access the document in question? Having said that, I hope that members will refrain from going through the text with a fine-tooth comb in an attempt to find flaws – it was enough of a task to get the new Articles drafted and approved without having immediately to contemplate amendments!

By coincidence, a few days before the AGM I was studying some of the society’s archives in the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum. Among other things, I came across a much earlier set of rules of the society (possibly from the 1950s) and thought I would compare these to our newly adopted Articles of Association. The length is very different – 26 paragraphs spread over four and a half pages or so – but some things have remained the same, notably two of the three guiding objects of the society which were adopted in 1910 and are still at the heart of everything we try to do. (The third original object, the ‘publication of a nautical encyclopedia or dictionary’, has resurfaced from time to time but finally sank below the waves earlier this century, its purpose largely usurped by the dreaded Wikipedia.) There are other ‘hardy perennials’ too, still the subject of angst-ridden debate at some of our meetings, such as the thorny old question of how long members whose subscriptions are in arrears should continue to receive copies of The Mariner’s Mirror. Other elements, though, have changed dramatically. Some members may look back with misty-eyed nostalgia to an annual subscription of one guinea, or may prefer an AGM date in late April rather than mid-June. Interestingly, too, the new Articles bring back certain provisions of the old which unaccountably slipped into abeyance over the years, notably the stipulation that members of Council and Vice-Presidents should take a ‘year out’ at the end of their terms before being eligible for election once more. The old rules also had almost entirely gender-neutral language throughout, a far-sighted policy that has made a long overdue return in the new iteration of the Articles!

I very much hope that the 2021 AGM will be the last meeting that we conduct entirely online. Our current plan, variants permitting, is that Topmasts no. 39 3 the Council meetings in September and December will be conducted in person, and we certainly hope that this will be the case at the 2022 AGM. Having said that, the benefits of using Zoom have become apparent during the pandemic; as I mentioned in my February column, it is much easier for members in other countries, and in areas of the UK that are further from London and Portsmouth, to participate, and we are looking at ways of continuing a ‘mixed economy’ as and when ‘physical’ meetings resume. Moreover, I suspect that many of us have virtually ‘attended’ lectures and talks online which we would probably have been unable to get to if they had been held in a physical location in the traditional way. In my view this is one of the few positives to come out of the pandemic, and we hope that the society can soon offer a new benefit to members in the shape of Zoom talks on a wide variety of maritime topics, given by some of the eminent figures within our ranks. Further information will be announced in due course.

David Davies

Chairman, SNR

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