Welsh politicians learn about Royal Navy

Welsh politicians took a trip around Cardiff Bay to give them a greater understanding of the work of the Royal Navy – in their land, around the UK and around the globe.

A group of Welsh Assembly members, plus their assistants, and the Senior Service’s regional commander Brig Jock Fraser RM jumped aboard HMS Express – the only Royal Navy vessel based in Wales.

The Navy is in the process of transforming its ‘footprint’ – HMS Cambria, the reservist base which has served Wales in various guises since 1947; a new £11m complex opens at Roath Dock, barely a mile from the centre of Cardiff, next year.

That building, currently being fitted out, replaces the existing 40-year-old Cambria structure at Sully, near Barry, and will act as a home for reservist sailors and Royal Marines, plus cadets in southern Wales.

This has been my first time at sea with the navy – it’s important that I see what keeps Express at sea and keeps the navy at work

Alun Davies

As for Express at nearby Penarth, the small P2000 traditionally gives students of universities in Wales a taster of the life and work of the Royal Navy during the three/four years they spend in centres of higher learning.

The boat, based at Penarth Marina, also helps to train the wider Navy, from giving trainee navigators a chance to earn their spurs, to giving junior sailors like seaman specialist – and proud Welshman – Able Seaman Sean Evans a chance to grow and show their potential with responsibilities above and beyond those normally enjoyed by junior ratings at this stage of their careers.

Express is his second draft after serving aboard frigate HMS Sutherland which has a crew of 200-plus compared with the P2000’s meagre five (plus ten or so students when they are aboard).

“This is a busy job, there are often 18-hour days, but you also get some home time in as well,” said the junior rate from Llanelli.

Lieutenant Commander James Williams, Chief-of-Staff of HMS Express’ parent 1st Patrol Boat Squadron, says the small craft are essential for keeping the Royal Navy in the public eye.

“They can demonstrate the presence of the White Ensign in places frigates and destroyers can not, they can take groups to sea or provide training at virtually no extra cost to the Navy, and it means we don’t need to take up larger ships for training purposes,” he added.

Over the summer, Express was in the Baltic both supporting NATO and Royal Navy exercises and providing students with the experience of a warship on deployment.

For the Welsh Assembly members, the day with Express and her crew was vital so the politicians could earn “a good understand of what our armed forces do by rubbing shoulders with people on the front line,” said Darren Millar AM (Conservative) who represents Clwyd West in north Wales.

“Here in Cardiff, Express is a visible and reassuring presence. But it’s important that we hear what the Navy delivers for the UK as a whole so we can be advocates for it.”

Alun Davies AM (Labour) who represents Blaenau Gwent in southeast Wales wanted to learn more about issues facing sailors and their families on a daily basis.

“I want to supported armed forces personnel and their families and ensure they have the services they need both when they are serving and when they leave.

“This has been my first time at sea with the navy – it’s important that I see what keeps Express at sea and keeps the navy at work.”