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Bermuda Flag

Bermuda's Royal Naval emblems and NATO ships' crests

Only photographs remain now of a special tradition on the walls until October 16, 2012 at the former Dockyard

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By Keith Archibald Forbes (see About Us) exclusively for Bermuda Online

On 16th October 2012 all crests shown below were demolished. This is the only website that recorded and shows them before their demolition

Now ended forever is this former unique cultural aspect of Bermuda. See http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20121017/NEWS/710179937

Introduction

The origin of ships' crests goes back to the times when many people were illiterate and for this reason a pictorial means of identification developed, to enable those who could not read to recognize the pictorial symbols of royalty, other aristocrats, military commanders and the like and what they owned or controlled.  Coats of arms and other heraldic symbols, still seen in many countries, are cases in point. In the case of Britain's Royal Navy, it has been a tradition for centuries for often warlike, descriptive and always highly individual names and ships' crests to be given to warships, all prefaced by "HMS" for His or Her Majesty's ship.  Since the late 19th century in particular, crests, or coats-of-arms were displayed on the superstructure of all English warships.  In Bermuda and many other places, it was a long-established custom for captains of visiting Royal Navy ships to formally present their "calling cards" to Mayors of the municipalities of visiting ports.  Thus Bermuda's City of Hamilton has a huge collection of Royal Navy ships' crests.  Royal Navy dreadnoughts once tied up here, after long Atlantic patrols. Their crews got rest and relaxation in Bermuda and also had access to duty free stores and provisions.

On a lower level, sailors who were not ships' officers but ratings and above were encouraged by their captains to "volunteer" - or be assigned to painting the ships' crest on smaller buildings of the Royal Navy dockyard where they docked, such as the Royal Navy Dockyard in Bermuda. Ships' captains usually called for artistic volunteers from upper or lower decks to go ashore to paint a striking permanent "souvenir" of the vessel's visit.  It was a popular duty, with extra tots of rum given out to participating British crews for a job well done, when rum was the standard naval alcoholic beverage. The action probably also encouraged many young men to do a useful task instead of defiling a place with the horrible graffiti so common now in so many places of the world.

The tradition was continued when the Royal Navy left the Dockyard proper in the 1950s but HMS Malabar, a small part of it,  became a NATO base. NATO ships as well as those from the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy and US Navy visited. It became a tradition for the crews of warships and submarines of many nations to be invited by their captains or Executive Officers to paint their ships' crests or emblems in the same way they were doing so at two other Royal Navy ports. More than 220 ships did so. One artist was His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, during his 1977 visit. His father, the Duke of Edinburgh, a former Royal Navy officer, took a keen interest in a plan to restore the crests.

The site of these was almost completely hidden beyond the Main Gate and thus overlooked by many visitors who once went to the main touristy part of the Dockyard but not to this seedier-looking part, which also involves quite a walk. In the heat and humidity of the summer it was a challenge but in the late fall, winter and spring, the walk was hugely interesting to visitors interested in British, American, Canadian, European, Australian, New Zealand and other naval histories, customs and traditions, or once members of the navies. 

Here, there were dozens of such paintings of crests emblazoned onto walls and buildings of the South Yard by HM Ships and vessels of other navies and the merchant marine. The crests represented visiting ships from as far back as the last century. The ships' artworks featured above and below were on walls of small buildings and structures, as a long, rambling, wharf side art gallery. It stretched for over a third of a mile, featuring unique British and other NATO members' naval art. It had an extensive main perimeter wall lining the adjacent deep water berths. Each was capable of accommodating a heavy cruiser or destroyer and at one point they were all full.

It was not only in Bermuda that the Naval Crests occurred. It was once a tradition at all Royal Navy dockyards world-wide.  Today, with the disappearance in Bermuda only the Simonstown (South Africa) Dockyards still has them. All those at Malta disappeared long ago. The author understands that an area in Iraq also has quite a number of naval crests.

 

HMS Bermuda

HMS Bermuda. In 1958, on 6th April, HMS Bermuda arrived on its first visit. Built on the Clyde in Scotland in 1939, it saw distinguished service in World War 2. She was built by John Brown & Company, laid down in November 1938 and commissioned on August 21, 1942. Originally, the ship had 12 six-inch guns, anti-aircraft pieces and six torpedo tubes. During the war, she served in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic and Arctic and finally in the Pacific theatre. In later years, the vessel was a part of NATO, but was taken out of service in 1962. She visited Bermuda 3 times: 1958, Jul 1959, and Feb 1962. Some silver objects given to HMS Bermuda by the island are now at the Bermuda Maritime Museum. 

HMS Londonderry ship's crest, Royal Navy Dockyard,  Bermuda

1961-62. HMS Londonderry was based at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Island Island during her first commission and the ships company have very many happy memories of Bermuda and the hospitality that was afforded them whilst there.

Ships Crests at Bermuda Dockyard 01

HMS Lowestoft in Bermuda. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

USS Elmer Montgomery. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 03

HMS Active. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 04

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 05

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Once, many years passed since the crests were worked on. Mr. Nicholas Bolton, then Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, near London, then undertook to research some deteriorated crests, to ensure their restoration. But nothing much happened until October 2008 when KPMG employees in Bermuda, at Crown House, 4 Par la Ville, Hamilton HM 08, phone (441) 295-5063, email info@kpmg.bm (KPMG is a Bermuda partnership and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss cooperative) and Bermuda High School students rolled up their sleeves and got down to the mammoth task of repainting the remaining naval crests - 175 in total - in Dockyard.  Over 200 adults and youngsters participated, with paint brushes, marking pens and loads of enthusiasm. It was a particularly significant and historic event because no single group has ever attempted to repaint all of them in one day. The effort also did much to help make more interesting this particular area of the Dockyard, once the largest industrial site in Bermuda and never on the beaten track of many visitors, not even now, long after the Dockyard closed as a Dockyard and was much later opened up in parts to visitors, but this part had become almost derelict.  KPMG were joined by other commercial firms including Keen Services Ltd which loaned a forklift truck, Dynamic Excavating and Pembroke Paint. Artists Molly Godet and Margaret Potts volunteered a day of their time to help with some of the more intricate paintings.  The project caught the imagination of others too. One lady came jogging by off the cruise ship and said 'I'm an art teacher, can I help?' She was there all day.

Sadly, it was a short-lived reprieve. 

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 06 HMS Richmond

HMS Richmond ship's crest 2004

HMS Richmond. November 2008 larger photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file. Smaller photo by a crewmember 2004

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 07 HMS Ocelot

HMS Ocelot. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests HMS Plymouth

HMS Plymouth. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 09

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 10

HMS Intrepid and Cleopatra. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 11

HMS Nottingham. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 12

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 13

HMS Mohawk. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 14. USS Donald B. Baury

USS Donald B. Beary. November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 15.

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 16

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 17

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 18

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 19

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 20

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 21

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 22

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

Bermuda Dockyard Ships Crests 23

November 2008 photo by the author exclusively for this Bermuda Online file

HMS UrsaHMS OtterHMS Jupiter

HMS Ursa, visited Bermuda in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966. HMS Otter, with its cartoon-like otter, visited Bermuda. HMS Jupiter. HRH Prince Charles of Wales was serving on board when it visited Bermuda in 1972. 

HMS BristolHMS Antelope HMS Ulster

HMS Bristol, visited Bermuda after 1979. HMS Antelope, also visited Bermuda, a frigate lost in the 1982 Falklands War, now has (not shown here) an epitaph painted above its crest: "Lost May 23, 1982 - Found the peace we all seek. HMS Ulster was based in Bermuda at Ireland for several commissions including 1958-60. The ship's crest was painted on the wall there but has disappeared, so is reproduced above.

Espero in Bermuda 1987

Italian Navy's ship Espero visited Bermuda in 1987. That original crest has undergone two Italian Navy 1992 restorations. The "artists" were first Sgt R Pisano and then Sgt Major Flavio Ferocino (in the picture).  

Those not in the photos above, include the crests of:

For all further information about the Dockyard's crests, please contact the Bermuda Government's West End Development Corporation which administers the Dockyard.

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