On Wednesday 29 May 2024, the Wellington Trust commemorated the launch in Devonport of the WELLINGTON, now based on the River Thames at Temple Stairs, Victoria Embankment, London, with a short commemorative ceremony onboard.

The event was attended by several honoured guests: Brigadier Jim Bliss, Defence Adviser and Head of New Zealand Defence London;  Commander Roly Woods RN from Northwood; Petty Officer Richard Garcia from the London Nautical School with five cadets, and Mrs Cindy Sheehan, a descendant of a Battle of Atlantic (BOA) torpedo attack survivor.

WELLINGTON was built in Devonport as a 1200-ton Grimsby Class Sloop in 1934 for service in the South Pacific.  She was launched by the Honourable Lady Dorothy Fullerton, wife of Admiral Sir Eric Fullerton, Commander in Chief Plymouth Command, on Wednesday 29 May 1934.  Built for Service in New Zealand and the South Pacific, the outbreak of war then changed life for WELLINGTON when she was recalled to the UK for Atlantic convoy duties.

WELLINGTON is a heritage vessel of national and international historical significance as she is the last surviving Royal Navy vessel from the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-45).  She has been a well-known riverscape icon on the Thames since her arrival there in December 1948.

Her role in the Battle of the Atlantic directly contributed to WELLINGTON’s presence in London today.  Her wartime service was the seed that grew into the strong affinity and relationship WELLINGTON has enjoyed with the Merchant Navy since she was decommissioned in 1947 and purchased by the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.

Trustee Professor Tweddle Founder and former Director General at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (the NMRN) opened proceedings and gave a brief overview of WELLINGTON’s history:

“Very few of us these days are around or in ships, no will not perhaps appreciate their importance.  They are important.  They are our lifeline to the world.

It is our job, everyone associated with ships and works with ships, to remind people of their importance.  That is our challenge.

On the eve of the war, the recall went out to return to the United Kingdom.  Every ship was needed and WELLINGTON came back.  She spent the war escorting convoys, 103 of them. Based variously Devonport, Liverpool, Londonderry, Freetown. 

She had a hectic career and an interesting career keeping on lifeline open for Britain during the war. Without the constant attention of ships like WELLINGTON, we would have been strangled and the war could have been lost.  So she represents an important part of our history.

She is the one ship that represents that work, and there is no other sitting in the wings to take her place.  It is really important that we preserve her.  The Master Mariners, to their credit, played their role because at the end of the war,  having seen 250,000 miles, Wellington was surplus to requirements and was stuck on a mud berth at Pembroke. The Master Mariners rescued her, refitted her and brought her here to use as their livery hall. So full marks to them for caring for the ship and preserving her down to today.

We now need to do our part because the Master Mariners are no longer using WELLINGTON. They no longer need her in the same kind of way, and her survival is being handed over to the Wellington Trust.”

In keeping WELLINGTON’s heritage alive for the future, and launching the fundraising campaign, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Wellington Trust, Alastair Chapman, said:

“That we are here today, ninety years after HMS WELLINGTON slipped down the shipway in Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, is no accident.  And this is very much a cause for celebration.

I dedicate this day to the memory of all these mariners who were lost, those who were injured and mentally scarred, and to the memory of all who served in HMS WELLINGTON and in every vessel in that six-year-long Atlantic campaign, to preserve the freedoms which we enjoy to this day. 

In celebration, we are officially launching our Wellington@90 fundraising appeal. Quite simply, without additional monetary support, WELLINGTON’s planned bright future is at risk. 

I appeal to anyone who is in a position to do so, to help and support our Wellington@90 fundraising efforts.  All contributions of any size will be in memory of those who died during this campaign so that future generations can learn about their sacrifice.

 We are also fully open to potential donations, sponsorship or partnership arrangement discussion that will help secure WELLINGTON’S future.

All donations will help us realise our plans to conserve, maintain and extend this wonderful ship to a wider public.  Even today, WELLINGTON is seen by many as they walk or sail past her. We want all these people to visit us and to learn more about the ship.”

Also attending the ceremony was Cindy Sheehan, a direct descendant of a victim of the Royal Mail Liner Highland Patriot.  Her great-aunt Marion Cooper (26) was onboard, en route from South America to Gourock to get married, when she found herself a victim of a German U-boat torpedo attack.  The WELLINGTON picked up Marion, along with another 168 victims, including the master.  On the importance of today, Cindy commented:

“I am here for Marion, and for all other torpedo victims from the Battle of the Atlantic.  Quite simply, if it wasn’t for HMS WELLINGTON rescuing her, Marion’s story could not be told.”

Marion was travelling on the Royal Mail liner Highland Patriot when it was sunk on 1 October 1940 following the torpedo attack. She recounted her rescue by HMS WELLINGTON, as this extract from her journal reveals:

“At long last, proud, dignified, masthead upright and fighting to the last, she [The Highland Patriot] plunged to her doom.  It had taken her eight hours to die. 

Shortly after, when the little sloop [The WELLINGTON] slapped her way daringly, jauntily almost, towards us there was only odd floating wreckage where once that liner had reigned so supreme, and a small group of sturdy sailing boats far off to starboard. 

Like a village fishing fleet on a peacetime morning, they said, rather than shipwrecked mariners in a war-scarred zone.  We were hauled aboard.  Grateful, but sad, we stood firm on the open decks and waved farewell to our valiant friends, some six or seven small open boats.  They were twisting and turning forlornly in hollow emptiness in the wake of our stern.”

Marion’s story epitomises the dangers, risks and struggles of the Battle of the Atlantic faced daily, and amplifies why preserving WELLINGTON is so important.  Marion’s story is just one of tens of thousands. The Wellington Trust has launched this fundraising appeal to help keep memories like Marion’s alive and accessible to the public.

All funds raised will both support WELLINGTON’s conservation and preservation and develop a new business plan to make her more accessible to the public as a visitor attraction.

You can donate by either:

  1. Contribute to our GoFundMe campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/f/wellington90
  2. Visit our website: https://www.thewellingtontrust.org/donate/

Keep up to date on our efforts to secure the future of WELLINGTON and what's happening onboard by following The Wellington Trust on Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin.