First Royal Navy ship into Guyana in 20 years as HMS Mersey pays historic visit

In the sticky South American heat, Lieutenant Commander Richard Hewitt salutes 24 Commonwealth war dead as the Royal Navy paid its first visit to Guyana in two decades.

The latest stage of the patrol ship’s Caribbean deployment – a mixture of flag flying for the UK and drug-busting duties alongside the US Coast Guard – took her to the Commonwealth country on the north coast of the continent.

It’s been more than 20 years since the White Ensign was last seen in Guyanese waters – and the end of the 1960s since a Royal Navy vessel tried to negotiate the Demerera River to visit the capital Georgetown, which is home to one third of the country’s inhabitants.

Crammed into the short visit was a whirlwind mix of VIP visits and receptions, hosting the prime minister, sharing engineering expertise, honouring the fallen, a spot of sport, helping out a local orphanage and a tour of a rum distillery.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the country’s president David Granger and British High Commissioner James Quinn were among the guests at the official reception which concluded with a ceremonial sunset as night fell on Georgetown.

Lt Cdr Hewitt paid his respects at Timehri Cemetery where two dozen British Service personnel are laid to rest – 18 from World War 1, six from the second global conflict – including a sole Royal Navy sailor, telegraphist J C Farmery who died aboard cruiser HMS Leviathan in 1915.

It’s been an honour and privilege to be the first Royal Navy ship to visit Guyana in 20 years

Lieutenant Commander Richard Hewitt, Commanding Officer HMS Mersey

Engineers called in on the Guyana Defence Force’s flagship Essequibo – previously the Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Orwell – which was berthed just along the jetty from Mersey and offered some practical help sorting out an engine and fixing up some makeshift manometers to help the Guyanese monitor pressure. And aboard Mersey, sailors offered weapons and damage control training.

And as they did earlier in Mersey’s deployment in Mexico, five female members of the ship’s company gave an insight into the role of women in the Royal Navy to their Guyanese counterparts.

“The women from the Guyana Defence Force were very interested in our presentation,” said Medical Assistant Laura Clark, “especially when it came to regulations surrounding maternity leave serving in the Forces – it proved to be a topic of great discussion.”

While some sailors were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Demerara Rum distillery, ten of their shipmates – a quarter of the ship’s company – volunteered to give their time to smarten up the buildings of the Joshua House orphanage.

“The children were very enthusiastic and although I was expecting to help out and paint, they very much wanted to do it themselves,” said Engineering Technician Chris Anderson.

Torrential rain forced the cancellation of a cricket match between Mersey and her hosts – replaced by a game of ‘softball cricket’ on a tarmac pitch. The Mersey XI were also slightly hampered by the fact that half their team were US Coast Guard sailors (they conduct board and search missions on drug-busting patrols) and had to be introduced to the basics of cricket before taking to the field. Unsurprisingly, the local side ran out winners 121 runs to Mersey’s 40.

The visit closed with Mersey’s officers and senior ratings invited to the High Commissioner’s residence for a reception, where the ship’s Leading Chef Neil Lindsay got stuck in in the kitchen to help produce canapés for more than 200 guests.

“I thoroughly enjoyed working with the High Commissioner’s cook and assisting at the reception,” Neil said. “It was a great opportunity to see how different cooks work to produce food at these types of events.”

Mersey has now departed the Demerara River to resume her counter-narcotic patrols ahead of her next port of call, Anguilla.

“It’s been an honour and privilege to be the first Royal Navy ship to visit Guyana in 20 years,” said Lt Cdr Hewitt.

“It was a very busy, but also very enjoyable visit with my ship’s company made to feel very welcome. I’m very thankful to the Guyana Defence Force and the people of Georgetown for their fantastic welcome and hospitality during the visit.”