HMS Caroline – restoration to 1916 appearance?

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    Paul B

      Plans for the conservation and display of HMS Caroline at Belfast apparently propose that the large drill hall erected for her use by the RNR will be retained. This is an ugly and incongruous structure in a ship that is most notable for being the only survivor from the Battle of Jutland. It would be far more appropriate to restore the ship to her 1916 appearance, particularly as she is the only surviving major British warship from WW1. This would surely make her more attractive to the general public and thus enhance the sustainability of the project. I urge the National Museum of the Royal Navy to think again about their plans for the ship.

      Frank Scott

        The Centenary edition of Mariner’s Mirror, Vol 97:1 (pp 344-365), contains a most relevant article by our current editor, Martin Bellamy, entitled ‘Financing preservation of historic ships: Should UK taxpayer pay? An overview of past, present & future policy.’
        Particular attention should be paid to his comments on ‘The question of authenticity’ (pp 360-63). He notes that restoration to ‘original condition’ tends to result in ‘a superficially authentic period feel but is largely an exercise in dubious fakery’. He goes one to highlight the fact that such work on historic buildings is much more closely regulated than it is for ships, and that ‘Visitors expect to visit ruined castles and use their imagination to fill in the blanks and, if anything, this adds to the feeling of authenticity’. In the case of HMS Caroline, the obvious problems in restoring her to 1916 condition are that she is missing all her armament, the boilers have been removed, and she now has the drill shed aft. Removing the drill shed would be to disregrd her long history as a static training ship for naval reserves in Belfast.
        Personally, as a naval aviator, I think that it would be fun to have her in her final First World War condition, with a flying-off platform atop ‘A’ gun, complete with a replica Sopwith Pup/Camel.
        Interestingly, south of the border, in the Republic of Ireland, there was controvery concerning the ‘restoration’ of Erskine Childers’ former yacht Asgard to her 1914 ‘gun-runner’ condition, an act which effectively ignores her much more recent six year career as a sail training vessel for Irish Youth (1969-74).
        The National Museum of the Royal Navy, along with their partners, Northern Ireland’s Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, will have to face these and many other issues as it decides how to present the vessel. How well they manage to walk that tightrope remains to be seen.

        Rob L

          Personally i’m ecstatic at the thought of being able to go on board HMS Caroline in whatever condition, but I agree it would be a shame to not remove the drill hall, and hope at the very least the bridge will be restored to WW1 condition as well as armament placed on her – without armament, even replicas, I wouldn’t have thought she’d be much of a draw for the public. Whilst of course the drill hall is part of her history, it’s also worth remembering that what makes her special, and worthy of preservation, is that she is a First World War Cruiser and the role she played during the war, and not because she was a floating drill hall. Likewise with, say, my personal ‘favourite ship’ HMS Trincomalee, she was restored and presented as an 1817 frigate, not as a training vessel which she spent more time as and enabled her to be preserved in the first place

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