Our local branch in Plymouth has 32 members and has been meeting for over 40 years a remarkable achievement. On 25 February 2015 we celebrated with The Mayor & Mayoress of Plymouth our 53rd birthday, a lovely evening at the Holiday Inn, Plymouth. Over the past 53 years firm friendships have been established and much fun and laughter has surrounded us all. The hard working chairman’s and committee members consistently organise events both to support each other and to raise money for Merchant Navy Charities. (There are some photos of us handing over cheques to local charities we have supported – Sidmouth Lifeboat, Mission to Seafarers Fowey, Seafarers Link and Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen in our gallery. )
The idea of the Watch Ashore in Plymouth was conceived in 1962 when Mrs Mary Sutcliffe put an advert in the Evening Herald asking if there were any other Merchant Naval wives who would be interested in forming a local support group. An inaugural meeting was held during the winter of 1962 those attending were Mrs M. Sutcliffe ( wife of Capt Hughie Sutcliffe, Inston Line), Mrs Joan Hughes (wife of Captain G. Roy Hughes Head of the School of Navigation), Mrs Virick (her husband was a Captain in Salvesons), Mrs B. Espley (her husband was Commodore Bill Espley, Manchester Liners), Mrs E. Martin (husband 3/0 Barry Martin- Blue Funnel), Mrs Mary Hunt (her husband was a Captain in Everards), Mrs Paula Harper (her husband Captain Ron Harper – Cable Ships) and Mrs Peggy Cook (her husband Capt Alex Cook – Coasters). They agreed to meet monthly at the Duke of Cornwall where we continue to hold our meetings on the 2nd Wednesday in every month.
The local group are part of the national association which was initially formed to fight for the needs and welfare of our Merchant Navy Officers – the Plymouth group whose members were made up from wives, mothers, sisters and “sweethearts” not only supported their national association’s beliefs but forged strong bonds of friendship and support with other Merchant Navy wives whilst their husbands were at sea and we continue with this support and are actively searching for younger MN wives to join us.
Founder members Mrs Wendy Hawkins, Mrs. Avril Bailey, Mrs Doris Barry and Mrs. Elspeth Martin are still members to date and the branch continue to meet at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel on the second Wednesday of the month gathering for lunch and then a business meeting with a speakers as diverse as The Body Shop to March’s speaker from the Evening Herald..
Excerpt taken from the original Watch Ashore rule book
Their subscription in addition to the prevailing subscription to the National Watch Ashore, all members had to purchase a badge on joining and the local subscription was £2.50 per annum. The officers – Chairman, Vice Chairman Secretary and Treasurer were elected by the Branch at the AGM and shall retire at the AGM following their election but shall be eligible for re election at such meeting although in the rules the Chairman may hold office for a period no longer than 3 years.
Several members were married to Lecturers at the School of Navigation, which had been formed in 1862 by Dr John Merrifield, a scientist who bought 13 Gascoyne Place which was run as a school of navigation. The houses opposite housed the boarders and was subsequently called Merrifield Hall. One of the branch members, Mrs. Olivia Johnson, was the matron of the hall and many of the husbands of current members have very fond memories of her.The school of navigation started a 2 year Cadet Course, and this led to the marriage of many of the cadets to local Devon girls who subsequently became members of The Watch Ashore.
Mrs Sutcliffe remained Chairman of the Plymouth Branch until 1970 when she retired to take up office in local government and Mrs E Holmes took the position. It is believed Mrs Sutcliffe returned to Yorkshire in 2004 but subsequently returned to Plymouth to live with her son where she celebrated her 100th birthday in 2011, Members of the Watch Ashore attended. She died shortly after and her funeral was attended by Watch Ashore members.
Initially, when the husbands were home on leave, they were part of the Watch Ashore until 1971 when Gordon Butterworth had the idea to form, The South West Company of Mariners. This Company of Mariners continues to both support and join in with many events held by The Watch Ashore. Early records show that the branch enjoyed many varied social events – including an annual Cheese and Wine party held at The Guild Hall Plymouth, the Birthday Dinner, Children’s Christmas parties held at Merrifield Hall and many events in members homes. Meetings tended to be more formal than today and suits, hats and gloves were the rig of the day. However many Merchant Navy Charities of the day were supported by donations from funds raised at these events.
Despite having an active social calendar, the members never forgot the original aims of the organization and in latter years were involved in lobbying for an enquiry into the loss of the Derbyshire, confronting Alan Clark M.P. for Plymouth Sutton on the loss of British tonnage within the merchant fleet, and most recently the campaign against piracy. In 2000 our National Chairman and Secretary attended a European meeting in Brussels to discuss issues with the MN, and were able to put our views forward. Past Chairman have also been involved in giving presentations at Nautilus Conferences over the years and more recently we were able to plant an oak tree at Mariners Park to commemorate our work alongside Nautilus.
Currently one of our Plymouth members Chris Rankin is our National Chairman and also chairs the Merchant Navy Welfare Board South West Port meetings which take place every quarter. The objective of these committees is to establish and encourage and coordinate the efforts of its members to provide welfare support and facilities for active, or retired seafarers and their dependants within its areas along with raising awareness of any local issues within our ports areas.In the South West there have been many issues both with the fishing fleets and MN and the committee helped raise awareness by bringing these issues to the attention of the wider Maritime Charities community. Indeed last year SfUK were able to give immediate support to the Mission to Fishermen Newlyn with emergency funding following the disastrous effects on the fishing vessels and their gear during the storms.
To bring things up to date, please click on the two pages – Events and Past Events and enjoy the gallery of photos.
JULY 13th Lunch and Branch Meeting
20th Pasties and Puds hosted by Marie Strick – 12 noon
AUGUST 10th Summer Meal – Moorland Hotel, Wotter, 7pm for 7.30pm
SEPTEMBER 14th Lunch and Branch Meeting – Speaker Martin Ellam
28th Harvest Supper – Derriford URC Hall
OCTOBER 12th Lunch and Branch Meeting – Lord Mayor, Pauline Murphy
28th Coffee Morning at Woolwell Community Centre
NOVEMBER 9th Lunch and Branch Meeting
18th Challenge SWCo – Skittles Venue TBC
DECEMBER 14th Christmas Lunch – The Gallery, Bedford Hotel, Tavistock
FEBRUARY 22nd 2017 Birthday Dinner – venue Duke of Cornwall
For further information on any of these events please contact Secretary
Officers of the Plymouth Branch
Chairman: Suzanne Spencer
Vice Chairman: Helen Randle
Secretary: Helen Croft
Treasurer: Linda Lang
Lynda De Boo, Sally Ellam, Julia Escott, Marie Strick
Past Chairmen Plymouth
M.Sutcliffe 1962 –
Marie Sherlock 1967-1970
Edna Holmes 1970 –1973
Elizabeth Proudlock 1973-1976
Barbara Everett 1976 – 1979
Gwen Hayward 1979 – 1982
Monica Mitchell 1982 -1985
Wendy Hawkins 1985 – 1988
Sue Williams 1988 – 1991
Sue Vickery 1991 – 1994
Fran Hyde 1994 – 1997
Lorna Griffin 1997 – 2000
Pat Halford 2000 – 2003
Chris Rankin MBE 2003 – 2006
Julia Escott 2006 – 2007
Helen Rendle 2007 – 2008
Lynda De Boo 2008-2010
Helen Crofts 2010 – 2012
Sue Williams 2012-2014
Christine Payne 2014 – 2016
Wendy Hawkins – Chairman 1985 -1988
Plymouth branch was started in 1962 and Wendy was one of the founder members. She supported the branch as often as she could during her working years and having served on the committee became Chairman of the branch at the AGM in May 1985.
During her term of office –
1. Attended election of Lord Mayor and Church Service each year.
2. Represented Standing conference at monthly meetings.
3. In June 1985 Captain Richard Guy invited the Watch Ashore to lunch on board RFA Gold Rover
4. Guests of the South West Company of Mariner’s at their Annual dinner in November 1985 along with National Chairman Beth Proudlock
5. Annual jumble sales were held at Mutley Baptist Church hall in aid of funds.
6. Annually attended services for Women’s World Day of Prayer.
7. April 1986 attended National AGM in Harrogate.
8. May 1986 Lady Mayoress held a coffee-morning for representatives of Women’s Organisations
9. May 1986 received an invitation from Mission to Seamen to attend lunch in the presence of HRH Princess Anne – Watch Ashore presented an altar to the Centre in Par.
10. July 1986 the start of Chairman’s Charity – Chairman could choose one charity not related to the Merchant Navy or the sea, once during their term in office. Plymouth held “Going for a song” at Saltram House and proceeds went to Rockville Day Care Centre.
11. Watch Ashore supported Brixham Boys Home and always attended the Summer Open Day. Funds raised gave 2 canoes for the boys. With the decline of the Merchant Navy this home has since closed.
12. December 1986 Wendy read the lesson at the Lord Mayor’s Carol Service
13. February 1987 Plymouth’s 25th Birthday Dinner
14. February 1987 Past and Present Chairman’s party for members at Beth Proudlock’s home in Saltash
15. April 1987 Wendy’s husband Alan died suddenly aged 53. He had
always supported the Watch Ashore when he was home on leave. Wendy says
her recovery was helped enormously by the constant love and support from all
her friends in the Watch Ashore
16. National AGM – Sue Williams (Vice Chairman) gave the Plymouth report at the Business Meeting as Wendy did not attend.
17. May 23rd – Wendy returned to the fold on a 25th Anniversary outing to Tiverton with a trip on the Canal and a cream tea
18. December 1987 – Richard Guy’s suggestion – Fran Hyde designed a branch Christmas Card and each one was painted by a team of Watch Ashore ladies – a mammoth task perhaps not to be repeated!
19. February 1988 – 26th Birthday Dinner
20. March 10th Business and Professional Women’s Club invited Chairman to a Candlelight evening where Wendy lit a candle for Asia and the Pacific.
21. April 1988 – lifeboat launched named City of Plymouth – Cheque presented to Vice Admiral Sir Robert Gerken
22. May 1988 – Triennial in Hull.
23. June 1988 Final meeting where I stood down and handed over to new Chairman Mrs Sue Williams.
Photos of these events are available
Sue took over from Mrs Wendy Hawkins in 1988. During her term of office:
She attended the elections of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth and welcomed the Lady Mayoress in each year to attend one of our meetings, at which the Lady Mayoress became an honorary member of the branch. In July 1988 she attended the Armada 400 Commemorative Service at St Andrews Church. Later in the year she presented a cheque to the Par Mission to Seamen – other charities supported during her period as Chairman were the Brixham Boys Home and the Jubilee Sailing Trust.
In 1989 she attended the Annual General Meeting in Birmingham and presented her first branch report. The same year one of our biggest fund raising events was a demonstration on how to make and decorate Easter eggs held at the Moorland Links Hotel – we are not sure that any of these skills were taken away with us!
In 1990 she was invited to attend a coffee morning hosted by the Lady Mayoress on the occasion of the visit of Officers of Woman’s Organisations – this was held in the Council House in Plymouth. The AGM in 1990 was held in Nottingham where she again presented Plymouth’s branch report. In May 1990 one of the highlights of her period as Chair was an invitation from the Fowey Mission to Seamen to attend the visit from the Princess Royal when the new chapel and alter was dedicated and she was then presented to Her Royal Highness Princess Anne.
An invitation from the Lord Mayor of Plymouth to attend a small dinner at Eliot Terrace, the former home of Nancy Astor was another highlight of her time in office. In 1991 she attended the triennial meeting in Cardiff and later in the year handed over the chair to Mrs. Sue Vickery.
Lorna first read about The Watch Ashore in 1963/64 in The Bulletin a magazine issued by The Institute of Marine Engineers. At that time she was living in a small village called New Cheltenham near Bristol. Although she made several enquiries about The Watch Ashore, it wasn’t until two house moves and twenty years later when she attended the Annual Dinner of The South West Company of Mariners that she heard more about The Watch Ashore as Beth Proudlock was the National Chairman then as was the ‘after dinner speaker’! At last she had located the elusive Watch Ashore.
Ruth Wood introduced her to The Plymouth and District Branch and in her own words ‘the rest is as they say history’.
Of many highlights, two stand out in particular. On a journey to visit family in Lancashire in October 1998 she stopped at Alrewas in Staffordshire to attend the launching of “The Merchant Navy Convoy” at the National Memorial Arboretum. At that time it was not much more than a very muddy field as the previous 24 hours had seen a torrential downpour. She trudged across wooden doors and planks which had been provided to enable access to an enormous marquee. She could not help thinking it was nothing compared to the experience of the men and women they were there to remember. She took the first available seats out of about 2000, and soon got chatting to an elderly Welshman in the next seat. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather, where they had come from etc; and to her utter amazement, she discovered her new found friend had known her Granny and her Dad!! 50 years before. The very moving service of Dedication, and the extraordinary coincidence, made it a very emotional and memorable day. She felt a total wreck, and it was not just the muddy boots.
The National Triennial General Meeting was held in Plymouth in the year 2000, and The Triennial Dinner was attended by The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Councillor Tom Savoury and Mrs. Margaret Savoury. A couple of days before the dinner, Lorna met the Lady Mayoress, and tentatively suggested that she should wear her Watch Ashore membership badge, on the evening. The Lady Mayoress then told her that she had sought and received permission to wear the fabulous Astor Diamonds, in honour of The Watch Ashore; which she did alongside the Watch Ashore Membership Badge. Lorna was not sure if anyone noticed ‘the badge’. It was just another example of the esteem in which the Watch Ashore is held.
Chairman 2000-2003. Pat Halford took over from Lorna as Chairman in 2000. During her term of office:
We have had the pleasure of guest speakers at our monthly meetings and in July 2000 we were delighted to welcome a representative of Mercy Ships who gave a most interesting talk on the work they do. 8th November 2000 the Lady Mayoress unveiled the new Watch Ashore Plaque which is displayed in the entrance of the Duke of Cornwall where our monthly meetings are held. A Cheese and Wine evening, held at The Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht club, raised over £700 which was then divided between the Mission to Seafarers at Par, The Seafarers Christian Friends Society and the national Watch Ashore charity.
On 9th February 2001 the Watch Ashore challenged the South West Company of Mariners to a game of skittles. A fun evening as usual with the Watch Ashore winning? During Pat’s term of office, Mrs Gwen Hayward an ex Chairman of the branch presented two paintings in memory of her late husband to Par and Fowey branches of the Mission to Seafarers. A wine tasting evening was held at the Duke of Cornwall and the money raised was donated to The Jubilee Sailing Trust. The Lady Mayoress of Plymouth Mrs Pauline Viney joined us for lunch at the Duke of Cornwall when we had a guest speaker known by us all as The Hat Lady – Mrs Taylor of Modbury Hats. We all entered into the spirit and wore our hats. Our annual Cheese and Wine party raised a good sum and donations were made to both Missions in Par and Fowey and also to the Merchant Navy School Foundation in Berkshire.
After our Christmas break we held a Fish and Ships Lunch for the RNMDSF and presented this money to Gina Moore the region’s charity organiser. 20th February 2002 found us celebrating 40 years of the Plymouth Branch. In May 2002 one of our founder members and past Chairman Mrs Marie Sherlock celebrated her 90th birthday in Pat’s home in Plymouth – once again an enjoyable event. Following Pat’s 90th tea, the branch were all invited to join Marie Sherlock for a birthday lunch which was held at the United Reformed Church. Pat presented a cheque to the Chairman of Par Mission to Seaferes. We were also able to donate books to the Mission following a ‘book’ evening where members bought and/or donated books for this purpose.
The Watch Ashore were asked to join in with the Atlantic Day Parade and Service on the Barbican in May 2003 where Pat laid a wreath to commemorate this for the first time. Many associations take part in the event and the The Plymouth Branch of the Watch Ashore were honoured to be asked to take part. This is held to commemorate those Merchant Navy seafarers who lost their lives in war and in peace and generally speaking approximately 300 people attend.