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Collingwood sailors mark naval communications history at semaphore tower's open day

27 September 2021
Sailors from HMS Collingwood were on hand when a rare 19th Century relic was opened to the public.

The semaphore tower at Chatley Heath, deep in ancient heathland near Wisley in Surrey, was once a vital link in a signalling chain which linked Portsmouth dockyard with the Admiralty in London.

The line was built in 1816 in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo and allowed messages to be transmitted from the capital to the Fleet in a matter of minutes.

The Landmark Trust, supported by the generosity of over 1,152 donors, began work early last year to sympathetically restore the five-storey structure.

Despite the pandemic, work continued throughout the difficult year and was featured in BBC’s Countryfile in August 2020.  The structure can now be booked through the Trust to rent out for short vacations.

The semaphore machinery has been refurbished, providing a living lesson in technological and engineering history and was demonstrated on the official open day attended by the Guardians, Patrons and lead supporters of the Tower.

Able Seaman Lorcan O’Toole of HMS Prince of Wales, loaned from the Seamanship Training Element at Collingwood, demonstrated how the tower would have worked and the link to modern visual signalling in the Royal Navy.

Collingwood were very proud and honoured to support this historic day.

Lieutenant Commander Santry

Former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones – once a Signal Officer – presented a picture and description of the previous Horse Sand Fort Semaphore Tower from the Solent which now resides outside Mercury Building at HMS Collingwood.

This was originally commissioned there by the Admiral in 2005. Additionally he gave the Battle of Jutland flags “Equal Speed Charlie London” to highlight the importance of visual signalling in support of Royal Navy operations.

The Admiral was supported by Captain Nick Kettlewell, formerly Chief Naval Signal Officer, Ken Sutton, Curator of the Communications Branch Museum, Lieutenant Commander Paul Santry and Able Seaman O’Toole.

Speaking of the event and the ability to assist with this, Lieutenant Commander Santry said “Collingwood were very proud and honoured to support this historic day.”

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