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MOD apprentices reunite in Royal Navy Base Devonport

23 February 2016
Former naval craftsmen gathered at Plymouth’s Devonport Naval Base for their first reunion

The Royal Naval Heritage Centre the hosted the Shipwright Apprentice re-union. 

The former apprentices hope to keep in touch and some have offered to join the team of volunteers who help run the heritage centre and its collections.

The centre-piece of the meeting by about 20 veterans was a renovated rowing boat they worked on to prove their skills as apprentices.

What we were taught was not only ideal for the Navy, but set you up for anything outside the yard, there was nothing else to compare.

Bill Visick

John Wiliams, heritage centre volunteer, organised the reunion:  “We are delighted with the response, about 20 attended and had a great time.’’

He explained the event happened after an old boat was renovated: “During the cleaning up an old 10-foot rowing boat by Devonport Naval Heritage Centre volunteers, we realized that it was built by shipwright apprentices in 1965 at the Old Ropery Training Centre.

“We then searched our photographic archives and found many official photos of apprentices building these boats as part of their training during the fifties and sixties.

“The images were collated, put on discs and shown to the former shipwrights on a continuous display as they gathered to reminisce.’’

He said the benefits of the reunion including connecting and involving visitors, bringing alive the stories and records of our heritage and enhancing heritage displays with the personal photos and records the veterans brought with them.

Former shipwright Keith Bees, 71, worked for the MOD from 1960 to 2003 (as apprentice from 1960 to 1968). 

He said: “This reunion’s been great to see so many friends from the past and also the artefacts we worked on.

“We had some really good times together - as well as many difficult times of course.  But it’s your mates at work that carry you through.

“I am very proud of having worked on the Royal Yacht, where they naturally had very high standards of workmanship.’’

Colin Varcoe, worked in the drawing office having been an apprentice from 1962. 

He said: “We had the best training available because of the scope and variety.  We worked in metal and wood and boat building.

“I was also three years in the machine-shops, the block house, the mast house and the boat house and on ships in refit and in the drawing office.  It was the best you could get. 

“I felt privileged to be there.

“It’s brought it all back to see the wooden rowing boat we worked on a apprentices learning the ropes. I will be keeping in touch now with my old mates from the dockyard.’’

Ex-apprentice and current  author Bill Visick, 68, said: “This is a fantastic occasion to get together again in the dockyard.

“Most of the people who’ve come back are old friends and we all have good memories which we are sharing. 

“What we were taught was not only ideal for the Navy, but set you up for anything outside the yard, there was nothing else to compare.’’

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