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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Last WWII destroyer opens to the public
HMS Cavalier
HMS Cavalier was restored by a crew of ex-sailors
By BBC South East's Transport Correspondent Paul Siegert

Britain's last World War II naval Destroyer HMS Cavalier is back in the water and to be opened to the public for the very first time in more than 10 years.

The ship has undergone an 18 month refurbishment programme thanks to the dedicated work of a crew of old sailors who have helped put right 10 years of neglect.

HMS Cavalier in Saigon in 1958
Battle honour: HMS Cavalier in Saigon in 1958
The vessel was built on the Isle of Wight and entered service in 1944. She was once the fastest ship in the Navy's fleet and received a battle honour for the action she saw in the Arctic during the Second World War.

Shortly after decommission in 1972 Earl Mountbatten of Burma led a campaign to save the historic ship but attempts to preserve the vessel as a tourist attraction failed.

Saved from the scrap-heap

Faced with either being scrapped or sold overseas her ex-crew led a successful campaign to preserve her. Helped with a major grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, HMS Cavalier was towed to Chatham's Historic Dockyard and placed in the famous Number Two Dry Dock, the site from which Nelson's Flagship, HMS Victory was launched from in 1765.

HMS Cavalier is now being preserved as a national memorial to the 153 Royal Navy destroyers and their 30,000 crew lost in action during the Second World War.

The Forward Mess Decks, Petty Officer's Mess, NAAFI and the Bridge Wireless Office are the first internal parts of the ship to be restored and opened to the public. It's hoped that the Ward Room and Operations Room will also be opened shortly.

We hope to open up more of the ship as time and money allows

Ship Keeper Brian Sanders
The Cavalier's Ship Keeper Brian Sanders said: "After Cavalier arrived at Chatham in 1999 we were shocked by how badly she had deteriorated. When this ship was operational there was a crew of over 150 men to look after her each day. It has taken our crew 18 months to reopen the ship to the public below decks.

He added: "Looking after a vessel of this scale is a massive undertaking and will be an ongoing task. We hope to open up more of the ship as time and money allows."

The newly refurbished ship comes complete with two kittens. Although vermin were once a major problem on the ship these three month old cats are purely symbolic as mascots and will be given names by local school children.

On Wednesday volunteers will be putting in place a few last minute touches to HMS Cavalier, before on Thursday, members of the public will be able to go below and experience the conditions onboard a wartime destroyer.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Sophie Raworth talks to
Museum director Richard Holdsworth and Cavalier Assoc. chairman Barry Nell about the opening
See also:

24 Jul 01 | UK
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