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ROYAL NAVY ESTABLISHMENTS

ROYAL NAVAL GUNNERY SCHOOL

"HMS CAMBRIDGE"

Updated:  04 February 2011 

The training of naval ratings in the use of naval guns was carried out aboard HMS "Cambridge", a second rate vessel built in 1815.  She was commissioned as 'the gunnery ship at Plymouth' on August 9th 1856.  It is understood that in the following year she was moved to a position at the mouth of Saint John's Lake, off Torpoint, immediately opposite the sheerlegs in the Royal Dockyard's South Yard  [1].  

She was replaced in 1866 or 1869 by the larger "Windsor Castle", which was renamed HMS "Cambridge".  At some point HMS "Foudroyant" became a tender to "Cambridge" and was apparently joined to the main vessel by a wooden bridge in the same manner as its replacement, HMS "Calcutta", in 1894  [1].

These vessels took about 500 men and 300 lads at a time.  The original "Cambridge" was scrapped in 1869. 

The former HMS "Foudroyant" was sold out of service in 1894 and was used a a show ship until she foundered off Blackpool  [1].

HMS Cambridge (right) with its tender (left)

HMS "Cambridge" (right) and its tender, HMS "Calcutta" (left)
Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson's "Cyberheritage" Website.

A shooting range for training in the use of small arms was built ashore at Trevol on the Cornish side of the Hamoaze.  "Cambridge" even sported a covered sea-water swimming pool in the middle of the river.

On Tuesday October 29th the former HMS "Calcutta", was towed away.  [1]

At 9.45am on Wednesday October 30th 1907 the "Cambridge" (formerly HMS "Windsor Castle") left her moorings and was towed to No. 5 (Prince of Wales) Basin of the Royal Dockyard to enable the transfer of stores, furniture and plant ashore to new quarters the Naval Barracks.  [1]

On Monday November 4th 1907 the "Cambridge" and "Calcutta" were paid off and the cruiser "Theseus" and tenders "Cuckoo", "Snap" and "Badger" all became tenders to HMS "Vivid" for the sole use of the gunnery school.  The "Cambridge" was broken up at Falmouth.   On that same date two years later, in 1909, it became officially known as HM Gunnery School, Devonport. 

This lasted until 1940 when a gunnery range for the use of the army and navy was opened at the old Wembury Point Holiday Camp, to the south-east of Plymouth.  It was then known simply as the Cambridge Gunnery School.

On Friday April 27th 1956 the Admiralty agreed that the School should have an independent command and the new HMS "Cambridge" was commissioned as a shore establishment at Wembury, South Devon, on August 9th 1956, a century after the original commission.  Using a bottle of cider, the base was named by Lady Pizey, the wife of the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Mark Pizey.  The commanding officer at that time was Captain R C P Wainwright.

A special Centenary Dinner had been held at the Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport, on the evening of Wednesday May 2nd 1956 in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Mr Edwin Broad.  [2]

By May 1999 the decision had been taken to cease live firing at HMS "Cambridge" and the final shots were fired on March 14th 2001 when Admiral Sir Alan West ceremoniously fired a 20mm close-range weapon.  HMS "Cambridge" was decommissioned on March 30th 2001 and training was split between HMS "Raleigh" at Torpoint, HMS "Dryad" at Portsmouth and HMS "Collingwood" at Fareham.  However, the "Watchman" radar system that was at the base continued in service as it is essential to the operation of the Flag Officer's Sea Training exercises.

Interestingly, the White Ensign was lowered that day by the same two men who had raised the flag at the commissioning ceremony in 1956, David Large and Roland Murley.  The salute was taken by the Flag Officer, Training and Recruiting, Rear Admiral John Chadwick.

In the old Chapel of St Barbara at HMS "Cambridge" was the Great War memorial removed from HMS "Drake" when the Gunnery School transferred to Wembury.  It contained the following names and details  [3]:

SURNAME FORENAMES RATING H.M. SHIP DATE
TOWILLIS Drewer John PO GM Amphion 6 August 1914
BADDER James Edward PO GM Monmouth 1 November 1914
MORRIS Henry Thomas PO GM Monmouth 1 November 1914
ROOKE Alfred PO GM Monmouth 1 November 1914
BEW John Vincent CPO GM Dardanelles
Anson Battalion
RN Division
6 May 1915
LANG Wiiliam Ernest CPO GM Triumph 25 May 1915
DISTON Bedford Charles CPO GM Indefatigable 31 May 1916
SHORT Smallridge James CPO GM Indefatigable 31 May 1916
PERRING James Samuel PO GM Indefatigable 31 May 1916
MARTIN Frederick Charles CPO GM Defence 31 May 1916
BENTLY Alfred PO GM Defence 31 May 1916
SANDBACK Joseph CPO GM Dardanelles
Howe Battalion
RN Division
(No date)
EDWARDS Henry William CPO GM Dardanelles
Nelson Battalion
RN Division
13 July 1915
HARVEY J. Thomas CPO GM Dardanelles (No date)
NORRISH Alfred CPO GM Laurentic 25 January 1917
HIGHAM E. Ernest PO GM Pegasus 20 September 1914

Sources:

[1]  "Devonport Gunnery School: The Cambridge Moved from St John's Lake", Western Daily Mercury, Plymouth, October 31st 1907.

[2]  "Cambridge's Centenary Dinner 'Unique': Name restored to Gunnery School", Western Morning News, Plymouth, May 3rd 1956.

[3]  Endacott, Andy, "Wooden Walls to Stone Frigate: Pictorial Story of HMS Cambridge", D L Endacott, Saltash, Cornwall, 1999, ISBN 0 9511527 4 2.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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