The Mary Rose at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was privileged to host a remarkable Royal Naval Veteran, Ronald Walsh, and to show him the new exhibition.
Ronald (93) joined the Royal Navy as a boy aged 15, and served in 55 ships and naval establishments in his 33 year career. On retirement he then worked as a civilian driver at HMS Collingwood.
Two of his ships were Ton Class Minesweepers, HMS CONNISTON and WISTON, and he is a member of the Ton Class Association. Rear Admiral John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, is also the President of the Ton Class and in these capacities he invited Ron to visit the museum, having learnt that he was the oldest member of the Association.
John Lippiett said “What intrigues me about the Mary Rose is that she is of the same size and tonnage as the Ton Class Minesweepers: 150 feet long and 500 tons. The difference is that Mary Rose had over 500 sailors onboard, whereas tons had around 30. We used to consider that crowded!”.
Ron toured the exhibition with his wife Jean, and close naval friend John Metherell. Another Ton Class Association member, Laurie Johnson, who is a volunteer guide at the museum, helped explain the details of the exhibition. He said “The joy of the Mary Rose is learning something new every day I am there. Today was no exception, and showing Ron around added a real bonus to the day”.
Ron’s wartime experiences came to the fore over coffee after the visit. He was sunk in 1940 in Portland Harbour onboard HMS FOYLEBANK, so he shared that experience with the sailors of the Mary Rose. He said: “I certainly preferred my life at sea with all my experiences rather than the life of a Tudor sailor onboard the Mary Rose”.
He was onboard HMS BULLDOG in 1941 when she captured the Enigma coding machine and documentation from a U boat that was sinking in the Atlantic. He was at the North African landing, and the in HMS GLASGOW on Arctic Convoys and then at DDay.
“What is so extraordinary” said John Lippiett, “is that my father was the naval padre onboard HMS GLASGOW at that time. It’s a small world”.
The Ton Class Association claims its class of ships are the “last of the Wooden Walls”, and welcomes new members via their website www.tca2000.co.uk. It showed strong support in the Mary Rose Appeal for the new museum, and so this visit was highly appropriate. Ron summarised his visit as being “very good indeed and most interesting”.