First World War ship HMS M33 launched as new attraction at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

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WITH a prayer, a plaque and plenty of confetti, this battle-hardened gunship was opened to visitors.

The Monitor-class HMS M33 was unveiled at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard yesterday following a £2.5m restoration, largely paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It was part of a day of commemorations at the dockyard which included historical re-enactments, abstract dance and a procession of model ships made from wicker.

Project director Matthew Sheldon said he was delighted the public would now be able to explore the First World War-era ship for themselves.

Mr Sheldon said: ‘I think she looks fantastic. We want that impression of a real working ship to come across.

‘I think she is a wonderful contrast to Victory, to Mary Rose, to Warrior and to our own national museum.

‘She is that piece of the First World War history that nobody has been able to see before so I really hope people will come and enjoy seeing her.’

The ship first saw action in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign of 1915-1916 which aimed to seize Constantinople and knock the Ottoman Empire – modern Turkey – out of the war.

She later served in northern Russia fighting the Bolsheviks – for which she was given her distinctive ‘dazzle’ paint scheme.

At the opening, sailors lined M33’s deck and held flags representing nations involved in the Great War, as an explosion of blue confetti cascaded over the ship.

Wreaths were laid at the base of a new commemorative plaque and Reverend ‘Ned’ Kelly led a service in memory of the more than 100,000 men of all sides who died at Gallipoli, which started 100 years ago.

Lottery Fund chairman Sir Peter Luff delivered a tribute to the ship’s crew and the men who fought in the conflict, which included his dad.

‘You could say I owe my life to this ship,’ he said. ‘She is a crucial part of my heritage, my family story, as she is of all those whose fathers and grandfathers fought 100 years ago.’

Director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Professor Dominic Tweddle, also spoke fondly about the ship, saying: ‘Flirting with danger, but never hit, she lost not a single man. She was indeed a lucky ship.

‘Beautifully restored by a dedicated team she reminds of the sacrifice and bravery of those on all sides.’

Activities took place all day to mark the launch. Actors from group Cop on the Needle took people back in time to give an idea of 100 years ago, and children acted out how life was in a classroom in 1915.

Among the onlookers was Sandy Dixon, of Southsea, who said: ‘I think what they’ve done with the ship is brilliant.

‘It’s a wonderful restoration project and it’s wonderful for Portsmouth to have something like this that shows the history of Gallipoli.’

Parts of the ship’s interior have been restored to how they would have looked in 1915, while the large engine room has been turned into a multimedia theatre.

Visitors can explore the ship on a standard ticket at the Historic Dockyard.

Family travel down to city in Royal Marine’s memory

HER grandad spent three-and-a-half years serving on board HMS M33.

Now, 100 years later, Lesley Wills came back to remember him and pay respect to the role he played on board.

Richard Chapple was part of the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI) and he spent years on board the ship during the First World War.

Lesley, 53, travelled from Glastonbury in Somerset with her family to witness the moment the ship was finally restored and opened to the public.

She said: ‘It’s astonishing what they have done to the ship. The restoration and conservation is amazing.

‘We have got three generations of the family down here. It’s very poignant.

‘We have a diary that he kept from 1915 to 1918 – the whole time he was on board.

‘It must have been pretty awful. The conditions were dreadful. The food was dreadful.

‘The mere fact that my nieces can bring their grandchildren to see what their ancestor did and the conditions that he lived in is amazing. It’s very emotional.’

M.33 is massively important for Portsmouth, say politicians

VISITING politicians hailed the restored HMS M33 as a valuable addition to Portsmouth.

Tracey Crouch, culture, media and sport parliamentary under-secretary, said: ‘I think this is a huge opportunity to celebrate the fact that lottery money has been used to commemorate such an amazing ship and one which was incredibly important during the First World War.’

Andrew Murrison, MP for South West Wiltshire, said: ‘This is massively important for Portsmouth. This complements the offer at the Historic Dockyard enormously.’

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See a clip from the film that shows visitors the story of M33

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