The ‘Welshness’ of HMS Carnarvon

The armoured cruiser HMS Carnarvon, launched at the Beardmore yard on the Clyde in 1903, was one of the first warships to be given a name from the ‘Celtic fringe’ as a way of deliberating enhancing the ‘Britishness’ and inclusiveness of the Royal Navy. In Britannia’s Dragon, I recount how, just before war broke out in 1914, she had a ship’s goat which was ceremonially paraded every Sunday, and how significant numbers of her crew spoke Welsh to each other as a matter of course. The National Maritime Museum also holds an interesting source from earlier in her career, a published account of her first commission from 1905 to 1907, which was spent principally in the Mediterranean. This includes an account of the events of 20 May 1906, when Admiral Lord Charles Beresford came aboard and presented the ship with a sliver shield, gong and bell. These were gifts from the county of Caernarfon, which had raised the necessary funds. Beresford then gave a talk on the history of the county (although he was singularly unqualified to do so, being the son of an Irish marquess and MP for Woolwich), before concluding:

he would say to the people of the county of Carnarvon, on behalf of the officers and ship’s company, that HM ship Carnarvon would uphold the glorious traditions of the British Navy, whether in peace or war, or any other duty she might be employed on, and he exhorted the ship’s company to remember their motto, ‘Y ddraigg goch a dary gychwym’ [sic] (The Red Dragon leads the way.)…The following is a description of the shield: at the head is the Prince of Wales’s feathers, with the motto Ich Dien, underneath is the (one time) Prince of Carnarvon’s flag, with the inscription, ‘Eryri, Eryr, Eryrod’ (The Eagle of the Eagles of the Eagles’ land). In the centre is a replica of the ship; at the bottom is shown Carnarvon Castle, the whole being surrounded with leeks, and on either side the Dragon.

HMS Carnarvon took part in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914 (a fact which is surely worthy of commemoration in her home county at the time of the centenary). She then served on the relatively quiet North American and West Indies station for the remainder of the war, being broken up in 1921. The name has never been used again, however, the Bay-class frigate Carnarvon Bay served from 1945 to 1961, although only six months of that time was spent in actual commission at sea.

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