Friday 24 February 2017 had long been etched in the Wessex Branch calendar because it heralded a return to the auspicious location that is the historic Wardroom of HMS Nelson in Portsmouth for our formal dinner.
In the current economic climate, numerous branch dinners have had to be cancelled so Wessex were delighted to have 92 attending including CEO Sara Drake and Susie Boyce, representing the APM Board.
Being so adjacent to the dockyard a naval theme was needed so what could we conjure up in liaison with our good friends from BAE Systems Maritime Services? Ah yes, the small matter that is the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) carriers, the first of which, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to arrive into her home port of Portsmouth during 2017.
So, we had the venue, by very kind permission, and we had the topic, so now all we needed was a speaker, or two. We opted for 2, naturally.
Either side of a very edible dinner we were very well educated; firstly, by John Newell, MBE, who joined BAE Systems in October 2014 as Head of QEC Aircraft Carrier Support after a career in the Royal Navy spanning 38 years. John’s role is to design the support solution for the ships in time for their arrival in Portsmouth from a BAE Systems perspective and then support them through life. John spoke about 10 generations of the Navy, bringing with him a piece of HMS Victory, a naval ranks employment history dating back to the 1920’s and a model kit of HMS Queen Elizabeth which one of the tables decided to open and build (APM Wessex branch volunteers Daniel Jane and Stan Symons hang your heads in shame).
Changing from history to the future John advised the guests that the parents of the last set of crew likely to join HMS Queen Elizabeth during her 50-year life expectancy, have not likely yet been born, yet alone the crew members themselves!
Our second speaker was Captain Iain Greenlees. OBE, who joined the Royal Navy in 1976 and served repeated tours in the Falklands. On promotion after several other roles/postings, he became Captain of the base at Portsmouth in 2005 and later took on leadership of Naval Base Infrastructure & Transformation Teams, shaping the joint MOD and Industrial development of the Naval Base for the QEC and the Future Navy 2020. Retiring from the Royal Navy in December 2015, he joined the Civil Service in the New Year and returned to the base to complete the aircraft carrier development programme.
Iain spoke about the need/challenges to bring a dockyard with historical evidence dating back to the 1600’s up to 21st Century standards without compromising the history. This included the extension of the dockside and building/installation of the necessary structures to allow people and equipment on board. The harbour itself had to be dredged, during which time numerous WW2 munitions were located, the latest of which was at 3.20am on the Wednesday before the dinner and required immediate evacuation of locally affected residents and businesses! Stakeholder engagement at its best. Ian provided some excellent visual slides that made what he was saying very easy to understand.
Susie Boyce thanked the speakers and Sara Drake then spoke briefly around Chartered and Apprentices before inviting everyone to adjourn for further networking in the Mess. Time-lapse images of the dockyard development were enjoyed along with a virtual representation of the carrier and its ‘wings’ awaited us.
Luckily no-one had to be flogged for breaching Mess etiquette during the evening so we are all still in with a chance of seeing HMS Queen Elizabeth when she arrives into Portsmouth later this year.
Wessex branch events co-ordinator.