It’s the end of an era for Portsmouth naval association

Members of the Shipwrights & Artisan Asssociation at its final lunch
Members of the Shipwrights & Artisan Asssociation at its final lunch

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ITS members have played a key role in maintaining the navy’s battleships of old and even the Queen’s Royal Yacht Britannia.

But today will see the final meeting of the Royal Naval Shipwrights & Artisans Association last remaining branch in Portsmouth.

The escalating fall off of attendance of members has been sad.

Peter Wyles, association secretary

The group, which has been meeting on the first Tuesday of every month since 1954, has dwindled in size, prompting the decision to shut for good.

Peter Wyles, 87, is secretary of the organisation and said he has been left with plenty of lasting memories.

He added: ‘It’s going to be a very sad moment for us.

‘The escalating fall-off of attendance of members has been sad.

‘It’s like the D-Day veterans – there becomes a time when it’s not practical to keep going because they can no longer drive to meetings.’

The Portsmouth branch opened in 1954 and is the last of its kind, following the closure of two other wings at Devonport, Plymouth, and the former Chatham naval base in Kent.

They met inside the Warrant Officers and Senior Rates and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers’ Mess in HMS Excellent, on Whale Island every month.

In its heyday, it had hundreds of members from across the globe, all either former shipwrights or artificers in the Royal Navy.

Mr Wyles – who trained as ‘boy artificer’ apprentice in 1944 – added: ‘I remember when we used to pack out the Guildhall during our annual lunch in the mid-nineties – we had well over 250 people there. Now we struggle to get 40 members.’

Despite the group’s formal closure, the last remaining members will continue to meet every Tuesday, for lunch at The Royal Maritime Club in Queen Street, Portsea.

‘We’re not disappearing off the scene totally,’ said Mr Wyles.

The rank of shipwrights and artificers no longer exists in the Royal Navy,.

The final Marine Engineering Artificer Qualifying Course took place in 2010, with the rank now falling under the banner of engineering technicians (ET) – ME for marine engineers and WE for weapons engineers.

Shipwrights were craftsmen within the navy and played a key role in building navy warships.