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● First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Carrier Strike Group commander Cdre Simon Ancona and CO of the nation’s fl agship Capt John Clink salute the Queen in HMCS St John’s from HMS Ark Royal

● HMS Sutherland is lit up in Halifax Harbour d monarch on her specially-constructed dais

“We’re off to the Liverpool next. Do you have any idea where she is?”

slightly cautious.

30 warships mustered in the waters of Halifax Harbour and (b) there’s a swirling mist engulfi ng Nova Scotia’s great port.


THE Canadian voice on the radio is It’s a good question because (a) there are

Canada’s East Coast Fleet and visiting foreign vessels – among them her own Ark Royal, plus her ships Liverpool and Sutherland and RF Fort George – if she can see them. And at 8am that’s distinctly unlikely. Ahead of the Ark Royal, tugs help the giant assault ship USS Wasp – twice Ark’s size – into place in the review line. The sea fug simply swallows her.

great natural harbour – and neither is more than 500 yards distant.

There’s no sight of either shore of this

fl agstaff; thanks to the murk you can see the small light in the crown at the top of the staff. Every minute, a sailor rings Ark Royal’s great bell for fi ve seconds. A shipmate bashes a gong on the quarterdeck – warnings that amid the gloom there’s a ship at anchor. Why not sound the horn? I ask. It is, after all, rather louder. “We’d only use the horn as a last resort because

The Union Jack hangs limply on the e

the gateways to the continent before the advent of the airliner. A century ago, the Royal Canadian Navy was born here. One hundred years later it remains the home of Canada’s Atlantic Fleet. And it is here that the navies of the western world – British, Dutch, French, Danish, Brazilian, German and American – have gathered for Canada’s naval centennial.

six hours’ time Her Majesty the Queen will review VISITING sailors from the UK will fi nd much in It’s 8am on Tuesday June 29 2010. In a little over

con tha


“The Navy is out of sight, out of mind,” one vice admiral laments in Halifax’s daily paper, The Chronicle Herald. “And it’s not always appreciated.” Sea blindness, it seems, is not just a British disease… And visiting Jacks and Jennies will fi nd Halifax a mix of Portsmouth and Devonport. You could say they’re ’fax similax...


Halifax that resonates with back home. They will fi nd the front pages of the papers dominated by casualties in Afghanistan – and considerable debate about Canada’s role in that troubled land. They will fi nd veterans protesting that today’s generation know little of past deeds by the Canadian Navy and less still of the efforts of present-day sailors.

Britons have been known to complain about the ‘British summer’. Try a Haligonian summer. One day blistering sunshine and temperatures of 25+ºC. The next torrential, horizontal rain whipping into you like hailstones and temperatures a good ten degrees lower.

Liverpool and Sutherland left their berth at Pier

21 – fi ttingly where Canadians have traditionally welcomed foreigners to their shores – to move to their anchorages the day before the review with a wall of mist and rain moving inexorably up the harbour.

The Liverpudlians sheltered from the torrent under a small awning erected on the fl ight deck. Not the Sutherlanders, whose ship was outboard. They stood in their foulies and were lashed by the elements. “We’re a Guzz ship,” one of the sentries says proudly. “Hard as nails.” Still at least the locals are welcoming. “It’s a big ask for a town of this size to take on board something like 30 warships,” says Lt Cdr Stu Lear, HMS

e n s,

it’s so loud,” explains navigator Lt Cdr Giles Palin. So gong and bell it is. But not for much longer, for the sun burns

through the fog gradually to reveal the wooded shores of Dartmouth to port and the skyscrapered waterfront of Halifax to starboard. The city is Canada’s great eastern port, one of

Like Portsmouth the base is slap bang in the middle of the city. Like Devonport there are numerous grey-stone buildings around the jetties and basins on the waterfront (most serve as restaurants and shops à la Barbican).

Like Portsmouth there’s a small passenger ferry which crosses the harbour almost constantly (the destination is Dartmouth rather than Gosport). Like Devonport the weather’s invariably capricious, often uncompromising.

Liverpool’s logistics offi cer. Haligonians gave a big response to that big ask. They possess a politeness which puts most Britons to shame. They offer a ‘good morning’ as you stroll down the street – and offer to give lost British sailors lifts.

The Canadians also erected a ‘centennial village’, a tented encampment dominated by an enormous beer can (hoorah) – sadly empty (boo) – featuring a funfair (for sailor’s families rather than sailors…), live music, food, cash machines, and internet access. All was gratefully appreciated by the visitors. And as befi ts any great port, Halifax boasts an

eye-watering (or perhaps mouth-watering) number of hostelries: pubs, clubs, nightclubs, restaurants all within a stone’s throw of the shore. The odd one decided the international conglomeration of sailors was not welcome. Most, however, welcomed the infl ux of cash (one, The Frigate, even fl ew a gigantic White Ensign to show its appreciation).

Now X number of sailors from Y nations plus beer equals potential problems. Then add an international footballing competition into the mix. Ah yes, the World Cup. So much anticipation. So much dejection. Canadian journalists watched the clash with Germany aboard Ark Royal and noted that the crew took the “lopsided England loss” (ie heavy defeat) with a typically British stiff upper lip, a sip on a cup of tea, a few blank expressions. Well, that was in the wardroom. Ratings apparently shouted “Bollocks!” and other choice Anglo-Saxon outbursts at the TV screens within earshot of the reporters… Just to rub it in, some German guests

S w w

turned up at a cocktail party aboard Ark Royal the evening of the defeat with badges proclaiming the 4-1 scoreline. Schadenfreude from the Germans? Who’d have thought it... But do not mourn too much, for at least Britain lifted the Mini World Cup trophy – one of numerous sporting events arranged for the visiting sailors, among them the ‘mad Olympics’ (bull lassoing, cow milking, mad golf – not to be confused with crazy golf – whacking people with huge padded sticks, toilet seat racing – loos fi tted with wheels). Such activities (and runs ashore) meant there

was rarely a quiet moment during the British ships’ stay in Halifax. And there was always the review to prepare for.

● HMS Ark Royal berthed next to the illuminated American assault ship USS Wasp on a typically misty night in Halifax

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