Royal Navy association to be remembered during special tribute at naval base's church

A LASTING tribute is to be paid to a naval association which is closing up after almost 25 years.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 3:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st August 2019, 2:53 pm
HMS Surprise passes USS Baltimore during the 1953 Fleet Review

Leaders of the HMS Surprise Association have been forced to call time on the group after numbers dwindled to a handful.

The group was set up in 1994 to honour the former ship’s company of the Bay-class anti-aircraft frigate, which served between 1946 and 1965.

Now, Surprise’s standards will be raised at St Anne’s Church, in the heart of Portsmouth Naval Base, as a lasting memorial to the frigate – which once briefly served as the Royal Yacht.

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The tribute will take place during the service on Sunday, August 18. It’s hoped that Surprise’s ship bell will also be moved to the church as a lasting memorial at a later date.

Geoff Prentice, 84, is the group’s chairman and has attended all of the association’s reunions. He said now was the right time to wind things up.

‘Our numbers have been dwindling for a while now,’ said the former Leading Hand. ‘We want to go out with dignity so people remember us as the Surprise association.

‘We don’t want to just drift away on the next tide.’

John ‘Jaz’ Field, 88, of Waterlooville is a former Fleet Chief Petty Officer and is the association’s secretary.

He said: ‘It is sad to close. As an association we are like a family. But to know that our standards will be hung up at St Anne’s means a lot to us.’

HMS Surprise was commissioned in September 1946 and sailed to Valletta, in Malta, where she remained as part of the Mediterranean fleet.

In 1953 she acted as the Royal Yacht for the Coronation Review while Britannia was being built and welcomed the Queen on board.

Her Majesty has since been informed of the winding up of the association.

Mr Prentice, who served on Surprise when the Queen was a guest and stood behind her during the review, said: ‘It was such a marvellous association.

'Everyone knew that the ship was the best the Royal Navy ever had.’

Surprise was decommissioned in January 1965 and was later sold for scrap.

Her standards will remain in St Anne’s.