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Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 13:36 UK
Historic Ganges mast needs funds
By Linda Walker
BBC Suffolk

HMS Ganges mast, 2009
Broken spars and missing ratlings on the HMS Ganges mast

Campaigners are warning that the iconic HMS Ganges mast in Suffolk is in danger of 'being left to die'.

The full-size ship's mast is planted in the ground at the former naval training college near Shotley.

It's estimated at least £400,000 would need to be spent repairing the mast and making it safe.

Babergh District Council said it's putting pressure on the landowners Galliard Homes to fulfil their commitment to foot the bill.

In 1779, the vessel HMS Ganges came into service on the south coast of England.

In 1905, the ship was no more but the name lived on as a shore training establishment at Shotley, near Ipswich.

Around 150,000 recruits passed through the gates of HMS Ganges, which became known for its high standards and tough training regimes for boy entrants to the Royal Navy.

HMS Ganges training base
The naval buildings at HMS Ganges included a sports pavilion and a dental department

Noakes the Button Boy

When film-maker Herbert Wilcox was producing his 1957 film Yangtse Incident, many Ganges personnel were involved as extras in scenes shot on the River Orwell.

The Blue Peter presenter John Noakes took on the brave task of climbing the Ganges mast.

"Having spent all my childhood climbing trees in Sun Woods with my best friend Eric, I thought 'that sounds good fun'," said John.

"I arrived at the gates and we were taken down to the mast where I met a lot of very smart looking trainees and their boss explained that they had a place for me so that I could shin up to the button right at the top!

"I was like the other trainees and I have to say my shirt was so stiff and tight that it felt like it had been made out of one of the sails on Shackleton's Arctic trip.

John Noakes with Shep
Television presenter John Noakes (with Shep) was filmed climbing the mast, alongside regular trainees, in 1968

"After a bit of practise I remember thinking that I couldn't possibly stop to get my breath as the lads below me would have trampled me into the rigging.

"Finally somehow I made it to the top and stood on an iron bar and the lad who was my opposite number said 'when the music stops you just shin up the final bit of mast and stand on the button, oh and put the aerial between legs so you don't fall off'.

"After what seemed an eternity I'd only managed to get up about four foot with some 10 foot still to go, so I slid back down to the iron bar and held on like mad whilst the other lad shinned up in my place."

Recent History

On 28 October 1976 the white ensign flag was lowered for the last time at HMS Ganges, ending a proud naval presence in Shotley.

The site is currently owned by developers Galliard Homes.

In June 2009 a special plaque was unveiled in Shotley to honour those who served at HMS Ganges.

HMS Ganges mast parade
Boy entrants to the Royal Navy had to climb the mast in time to music

Due to the poor condition of the site, the HMS Ganges Association were unable to gather near the mast and their plaque had to be installed on the foreshore.

The Association, along with the Ipswich Maritime Trust (IMT), work to promote better awareness of the mast.

Des Pawson MBE, one of the directors of Ipswich Maritime Trust, said:

"Well, it's absolutely tragic. It's an icon of maritime history and when you think of the thousands of boy seamen who have been through Ganges, they must be turning in their graves to see the thing in the state it's in."

Geoff Hartgrove of the IMT believes that the full extent of the structural work involved in restoring the mast could be great.

"I've done rigging on square-rigged ships and this is a very similar rig to the HMS Victory in Portsmouth.

"It's a huge undertaking. To take that mast down and replace it or repair it, it's 142 ft high and it weighs 24 tons.

"At the moment we've had a piece fall off the side which must weigh at least 2.5 tons. It's fallen down and it's a major job to put it right.

"The lower part of the mast is a steel tube and that's in the ground in concrete with a depth of about 20 feet.

Geoff Hartgrove and Des Pawson
Geoff Hartgrove and Des Pawson aim to "to educate the people of Suffolk in all matters maritime"

"What we don't know is what condition that's in under the ground and that's a big stumbling block because it would be very expensive to take that out and replace it.

"If you replaced it with steel spars and a steel mast it would last a lot longer and be a lot lighter.

"You must be looking at at least £400,000 starting. You would need at least two cranes to get it down.

"You might have to go quite a long way to find a firm who are able to do this kind of work."

Political battleships

Galliard Homes have declined all opportunities to discuss the concerns about the HMS Ganges site with BBC Suffolk.

Many people believe Babergh District Council should be putting more pressure on the developers to begin work on the mast.

"We do understand and respect the views of those who support the mast," said Mike Hammond, Deputy Chief Executive at Babergh.

HMS Ganges site, 2009
The mast in 2009 - Ipswich Maritime Trust are of the opinion that maintenance checks haven't been carried out for years

"The mast does generate strong emotions for people who have personal and family connections to the site and from Babergh's point of view our aim is no different to those people and we want to make sure that the future of that mast is secured.

"We've raised concerns with the site owner and urged for the mast to be repaired.

"We've given the site owner six months to complete the work from the date of taking the mast down to the date of reinstalling it.

"We are making it quite clear to the site owner what their responsibilities are and what we expect of them."



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