King hit by shrapnel as navy explosives demo went wrong – Nostalgia

George VI visiting Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks during the Second World War.
George VI visiting Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks during the Second World War.
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On October 31 last year, I published a photograph of trainee mechanics and electricians based at Gordon Motors in Cosham. It later became Hendy Lennox. The original photograph was sent in by Mike Simpson.

In turn that photograph was sent to Australia where it was seen by Diana Gordon, a cousin of Robert James who is a regular contributor of pictures to these page.

More Gordon Motors boys. 1/ George Fewings, 2/Doug Crain, 3/ Roy Marshall, 4/ Mike Simpson, 5/ Chuck Gordon.

More Gordon Motors boys. 1/ George Fewings, 2/Doug Crain, 3/ Roy Marshall, 4/ Mike Simpson, 5/ Chuck Gordon.

Diana says that on the far right is the man who became her husband “Chuck’ Charlie Gordon. Several other names were supplied which can be read from 1 to 5.

• Such was the importance of keeping up morale during the war, that George VI paid several visits to the city and several naval establishments. He visited the Royal Naval Barracks, Portsea, at least three times and on one occasion the Queen thought he had been harmed.

In December 1941, after inspecting a large parade of Dutch and Norwegian sailors and a group of ensigns from the US Navy, the King watched a spectacular display of fire-fighting and street warfare.

During another visit, in December 1942, a mock-up of a night action ended with the blowing up of an enemy ship. A finale fitting for a King...

The Round Tower, Old Portsmouth, taken from Point.

The Round Tower, Old Portsmouth, taken from Point.

The torpedo party were determined there would be no mistake and placed an extra large charge under the model. The result? Pieces of the model flew all over the room with one large fragment hitting the King in the chest. When the lights went on everyone was dumbstruck as the King bent down to pick up the missile. With the commodore and officers waiting to be rebuked the King smiled and amid laughter said he would keep the piece as a souvenir of the attempt on his life. The Queen, who had been inspecting some Wrens near by, rushed in much alarmed by the explosion.

• The Duchess of Kent also visited the barracks. In 1940 she inspected members of  of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. In the picture the Duchess is taking the salute on a march-past by Wrens based at the barracks.

• The third picture today shows the Round Tower, just about the oldest building in Old Portsmouth.

It was begun in the 15th century to guard the harbour entrance. It has watched over the comings and goings for nearly 600 years. On the seaward side are the posts which protected the building not only from the tide but from any passing vessel that might lose its way and collide with the tower.

The Duchess of Kent taking the salute from Wrens during a 1940 visit to Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks.

The Duchess of Kent taking the salute from Wrens during a 1940 visit to Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks.

On the left Tower House is in ruins. It was the home of marine artist WL Wyllie who painted many scenes from the windows. It is in a sad state as it had remained empty during the war when it was used as a searchlight station. I’ve been told the light was in the bow window.