HMS Collingwood remembers eighty years of service

Former commanding officers joined serving personnel in Fareham as HMS Collingwood kicked off its 80th birthday year.

What started out as a temporary wartime base has become a mainstay of the modern Royal Navy and a key employer in south-east Hampshire.

The first trainees passed through the gates of Collingwood – then on the southern outskirts of Fareham – on January 10 1940 (one day after HMS Raleigh in Torpoint), established to meet the demands placed on the Navy by World War 2 – then just four months old.

One thousand new sailors passed through the gates every week, initially for wireless/telegraphy training and later in the war for instruction in radar.

Wartime conditions were rudimentary: barrack blocks were built to accommodate 10,000 sailors for up to ten weeks at a time.

Because the base was built on marshland it was susceptible to flooding, the blocks were mounted on plinths, the heating rarely worked in the wooden barracks (each built for just £600), and on day one there was just a single secretary and solitary typewriter in the entire establishment.

Collingwood was established as a ‘hostilities only’ base – due to be dismantled once peace returned. But at the end of World War 2 the Admiralty decided the base had an important role to play in training sailors for the nascent Cold War.

The establishment was extensively rebuilt in the 1970s and 1980s – especially the hub of the training and administration area – so few of the original 475 buildings on the site still remain.

But the church is one of them – and the obvious setting for a service of thanksgiving for all those who have served at Collingwood and died in the line of duty either on the base (it was bombed during the war including one raid which claimed the lives of 31 ratings) or on the front line.

It was an honour to be invited to the service to celebrate HMS Collingwood’s 80 years

Admiral The Lord Boyce

Previous commanding officers paying their respects at the service led by the Chaplain of the Fleet, the Venerable Martyn Gough, were:

Andrew Trevithick, Charles Crawford, Commodore Andy Jordan, Mike Mansergh, Commodore Rob Vitali with Admiral The Lord Boyce.

They joined the current Commanding Officer Captain Catherine Jordan, the Mayors of Fareham, Mayor of Gosport, and the COs/heads of local military establishments – Sultan (Captain John Voyce), Institute of Naval Medicine (Captain Beth Crowson) and Defence Munitions Gosport (Gary Tuff).

“It was an honour to be invited to the service to celebrate HMS Collingwood’s 80 years. Over this period of time, training across the Navy has been centralised here which means HMS Collingwood is now at the very heart of today’s Royal Navy,” said Admiral The Lord Boyce who served as First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Staff and whose father served at the base in the 1940s.

The commemorative service was the first in a series of events to be held throughout 2020 to celebrate Collingwood’s continuing tradition of equipping sailors with vital sea-faring, warfare and engineering skills.

Today, Collingwood is the RN’s largest training establishment, chiefly teaching warfare and weapon engineering, but it also acts as the alma mater for physical training (based at HMS Temeraire in Portsmouth), RN and Defence diving (Horsea Island in Portsmouth), chemical, biological, radiological, damage control and firefighting training (at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint and HMS Excellent in Portsmouth) and board and search/military training (in Faslane, Raleigh and Excellent).

On top of that, the Newgate Lane base itself is home to numerous ‘lodger’ units such as the RN’s Leadership Academy, the Maritime Warfare Centre and the Band of HM Royal Marines Collingwood.

On a typical day you will find 1,700 military personnel on site – plus 1,100 civilians – with just shy of 33,000 sailors and Royal Marines passing through Collingwood every year having undergone some form of training or course.

HMS Collingwood’s current Commanding Officer, Captain Catherine Jordan said, “It is an honour to be Captain of HMS Collingwood in its eightieth year.

“As we reflect on the vital service this Establishment has given over the years, I’m pleased to be taking it forward into a new future, modernising training and encouraging all our personnel to reach their full potential within today’s Royal Navy.”

Photographs courtesy of Keith Woodland, Crown Copyright.