H.M.S. President- French Connection?

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    Philip Weir

    Fast approaching its centenary, the Liverpool-built former London R.N.R. drill ship H.M.S. President is one of the last three First World War warships of any great size left in Britain, and is currently awaiting its fate at Chatham having been moved from its long-term berth at Blackfriars in order to make way for work relating to the new Thames Tideway Tunnel.  Recently, however, I have received an enquiry about the ship’s role during the Second World War. It is believed that alongside the ship’s R.N.R. duties, and use as administrative office space, it also served as a gunnery training ship for those manning the guns added to merchant ships in wartime for self defence against attack by aircraft U-boats and surface raiders.

    The question I have been asked, though, is did any of this involve the Free French? Did gunners for Free French merchant ships train aboard, alongside their British brethren? Was any use made by the Free French Naval Forces (F.N.F.L.) of the ship’s facilities, either administratively, or socially? There has been some talk of use by S.O.E. too (though this may well be a result of confusion regarding personnel “assigned to H.M.S. President for special duties”, which was, in effect an assignment to the Admiralty). Intriguingly, until the ship was towed to Chatham, there was also a memorial aboard to the late Gaston Sanz, a Free French submariner aboard the Rubis who settled in London after the war and attended the annual reunions of the London branch of the Submariners Association. What was the story here? Was this related to HMS President in any way, beyond the ship being a meeting place for the association after the war?

    If anybody knows, or has any evidence relating to this, I would very much like to hear from you.

    Many thanks in advance,

    Phil Weir


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    Andrew H

    Hi Phil

    I’ve a sketchy note that I wrote with no attribution from some 20yrs ago, which I’m not sure is of more hindrance than help:-
    Sept/Oct 1940, 870 French Merchant Seaman at Crystal Palace, 60+ Volunteered under MoS, Admin HMS President, sent to ships.
    Undesirables and those of bad character sent to Arrowe Park Camp (Liverpool), offences inc Rape, Arson, Gross Indecent conduct
    and Larceny


    Andy Hill

    Philip Weir

    Hi Andy,

    Many thanks for this. It’s good to have at least some clue out there as to a connection. Obviously an attribution would have been even better, but after twenty years we can’t expect miracles. A great little find, thanks again.


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