HMS Sidon Memorial 2005
It was at the first President’s dinner for Dorset Submariners Association in January2003, that our guest speaker, Sir James Perowne, suggested that the Sidon tragedy should be commemorated in some way. At our next meeting a small sub-committee was set up to investigate the possibilities. This finally consisted of Steve Hogg, chairman and main fund raiser, David Heap, past Dorset Submariners Association chairman, Brian Hodder, treasurer and secretary (the ‘engine room’), Robbie Roberts and Gordon Newman, ‘oldies’ rep.
Various sites were discussed and argued in detail and Hugh Verry was kind enough to come over and meet us with our president, Rupert Best. It was not until David and Brian’s wives stressed the overwhelming advantages of the Portland Heights, that we finally reached unanimity almost a year later.
During 2004, most of our initial plans came to fruition. David had obtained the piece of Portland stone, generously donated by the then Hanson quarry, and also obtained planning permission from the local council and agreement with a local stonemason
Various sources of national and local corporate funding were sought and obtained, including Qinteq, Rolls Royce and Portland Port. National Submariners Association agreed to subscribe and a very successful local Submariners Association draw was organised. Generous donations were also received from Sidon crew members, relatives of those who died and local branches of the Royal Naval Association. It had been agreed that, if possible, the Dorset Submariners Association funds should only be kept as a reserve for emergency use. A large number of small private donors have also been acknowledged.
In all our approaches, we were careful to restrict the event to submariners and any others who had been actually involved in the rescue and salvage operations after the disaster. The organisers of the 2005 Weymouth International Veteran’s week very kindly agreed to change the dates, in order to include the 16th June and the rescue service readily gave permission for the helicopter to be involved in the wreath laying.
In the meantime, Brian had been performing sterling work in setting up this website (thanks to the freely given efforts of Jon Rayner) and contacting survivors and relatives of Sidon victims from all over the world. We were all encouraged by the unanimous enthusiasm that Sir James Perowne’s original idea should come to fruition. As numbers grew, we changed plans accordingly! Where we originally thought that a minibus would suffice, two full sized coaches would be required and the management at the Portland Heights were continually being cajoled by Brian into expanding the area for the reception.
n 2005, more detailed planning involved padres, bugler, name badges, barriers, ropes, public address system, wreaths, VIP invitations, National Sailing Academy, banners and service sheets, to name but a few, with many working Dorset Submariners Association members supporting the committee in various ways. As June arrived, final planning and ‘orders for the day’ proceeded smoothly under Brian’s guidance. In the background, our president, Rupert Best, always a very busy man, calmed troubled waters and gave shrewd advice when needed. On the eve of the event, he casually produced a detailed press release!
After supper, the minibus took them down to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, which had been officially opened by the Princess Royal during the previous week.About 150 people met there to renew friendships, put faces to names and enjoy a few drinks, with views across the harbour. It proved to be a most successful preparation for the more serious events to follow on the following morning. All that we now needed was a fine day, which the forecasters could not provide for sea area Portland!
Thursday 16th June 2005 dawned chilly and foggy, with a fresh SW force 6 and, typically for Portland, remained so for the rest of the day. The support team from the Dorset Submariners Association were ‘on parade’ and ready to perform the various tasks allotted to them by Brian. The foyer of the Portland Heights was crowded with people admiring the wreaths and preparing to leave for the dockyard. Hugh Verry, then commanding officer of the Sidon, was taken to the rescue helicopter base by our President and Chairman. He presented the wreath to the pilot and winchman. Thanks to a group from Hampshire, who arrived in a minibus with spare seats and others who used their own cars, we were able to transport some 120 people, including over 70 relatives of those who died, down to the Great Coaling Jetty to watch the wreath laying ceremony.
We were thrilled to watch the winch man lower himself on to the lifeboat, place the wreath into the care of the crew and then return to the helicopter, which then stood off. As the wreath was reverently laid on the site of the accident, the Royal Marine bugler played the Still and we were silent for an extremely moving minute, whilst ships in the port lowered their ensigns to half mast. The helicopter then flew past and dipped in salute. Spontaneous applause relieved the sadness of the occasion and waves to the lifeboat crew, as they sailed past, showed our appreciation. Brief prayers were led by Rev. Paul Gordon, a relation of Petty Officer McLeod, and then we returned to the Portland Heights, after the TV crew and reporters had carried out a few poignant interviews.
Whilst the ceremony had been taking place, the VIPs and 12 Submariners Association standard bearers had been assembling at the Portland Heights in readiness for the unveiling of the stone. With the road closed, St John’s in attendance and ‘all present and correct’, the stage was set for the big occasion.
An introductory welcome by our president, Rupert Best, stressed that the monument was to be a permanent memorial to the men who died and also a tribute to all submariners who had served their country well in war and peace. Canon David Henley, ex-submariner and Team Rector from the Chalke Valley, gallantly battling against a fresh wind, led the memorable service of remembrance and dedication. We sang ‘Eternal Father’, with a tear in our eye, before Admiral Sir James Perowne KBE, National President of the Submariners Association, read a passage from the book of Revelation. The submariners’ prayer was followed by the unveiling of the memorial stone by Rear Admiral Paul Lambert, Rear Admiral Submarines. He handed the White Ensign, used to cover the stone, to Hugh Verry, commanding officer of the Sidon at the time of the accident. He, in turn, handed it to Rupert Best, who will place it in St. Mary’s church, where the Dorset Submariners Association’s old standard rests.
The names on the memorial were then read.
The order form for the DVD containing 90 photographs of the Sidon Memorial is accessible ##HERE## Please save it to your pc, then print out a copy, fill it in and send it together with a cheque to the address stated on the form