NOSTALGIA: When Admiral James took over Hardy’s cabin in HMS Victory

Admiral William James in his office, Hardys cabin on board HMS Victory 1942
Admiral William James in his office, Hardys cabin on board HMS Victory 1942

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You often read in my columns of Admiral Sir William James, Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth from 1939 to 1942 – longer than most C-in-C’s were and are in that command.

Admiral James, pictured below, is something of a hero of mine. He had a most fantastic life and his rise through the ranks in his 50 years of service was meteoric.

BOBROY car spares in a former tobacconist. Anyone know anything about the business?    Picture: John Rich

BOBROY car spares in a former tobacconist. Anyone know anything about the business? Picture: John Rich

His went from serving under sail, to captain of the battle-cruiser HMS Hood.

He was also deputy director of naval intelligence in the top secret Room 40 at the Admiralty during the First World War.

In 1939 he became Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth.

His command stretched from Newhaven in the east to Portland in the west.

How many budding musicians started their musical career at Bennetts in New Road, Landport?               Picture: John Rich

How many budding musicians started their musical career at Bennetts in New Road, Landport? Picture: John Rich

It was while living within the dockyard that Admiralty House took a call from Luftwaffe.

On April 17, 1941 a bomb fell from the skies during a heavy attack exploding in the ballroom wrecking the house.

Admiral James described the scene: ‘A dividing wall saved my wife, staff and myself. Water rushed into the passage and the lights went out. Whitewash of a hundred years turned into a dust storm.’

What to do? He had to find a new headquarters and moved his office on board HMS Victory, which proved an excellent choice.

It is a very different scene at The Hard since the demolition of the interchange and the building of the new bus station                                    Picture: John Rich

It is a very different scene at The Hard since the demolition of the interchange and the building of the new bus station Picture: John Rich

Hardy’s cabin beneath the poop deck made a good office and Nelson’s day cabin was used as a sitting-room for his wife.

There was also room to entertain 20 guests in the dining-cabin.

The continual stream of distinguished visitors from reigning sovereigns, dominion prime ministers and cabinet ministers were thrilled when entertained on board Victory.

In late 1942 Admiral James had to leave his beloved Victory and hand over command to Admiral Sir Charles Little.

Sir James was made a Freeman of the City of Portsmouth. It was during his bestowal dinner speech that he named Portsmouth ‘The city of gallant hearts.’

n I wonder how many budding guitarists, on hearing Hank Marvin of the Shadows play Apache decided that the guitar was for them?

No doubt many made their way to New Road and visited Bennett’s Musical Instruments Ltd, below, to spend their hard-earned cash.

No doubt many had their dreams thwarted when they realised the instrument was not as easy as Hank made it out to be.

n It is amazing that John Rich took a photograph of what could only be described as somewhat boring at the time, but today seems quite fascinating, below.

Here we see the premises of BOBROY car spares. Perhaps it was a partnership run by two men named Robert and Roy or maybe a single man named Robert Roy and traded as BOBROY.

Was this you and where was the business, in a former tobacconist, located?

n Amazing what a bit of rebuilding can do.

Below, we see the former bus interchange at the Hard, Portsea.

Since the demolition and rebuilding of the new bus station which opened this year the view through today’s viewfinder would be completely different. There is not even a snack bar anymore.