A POIGNANT bid to put a former Navy school near Clanfield “back on the map” has finished with an emotional presentation at a training establishment in Fareham.
Commodore Peter Swan brought down the curtain on the HMS Mercury blue plaque scheme by unveiling the last one at HMS Collingwood on Saturday.
Around 60 people were given clearance by the Royal Navy to watch the 13th and final blue plaque unveiling at the base’s Mercury block.
The block contains a museum dedicated to the communications school at Leydene where 500,000 sailors and personnel members served or trained.
A small group of HMS Mercury ‘old boys’ who were keen on commemorating the base and its impact on the area came up with the plaque scheme in 2013, some 20 years after the school closed.
The first was unveiled at the Rising Sun in Clanfield the following year, just two days before co-organiser, David Morris, moved to Norfolk. He returned to Hampshire last weekend for the final unveiling and the ending of an “emotional and extraordinary journey.”
He added: “What we have is a fitting tribute to HMS Mercury and the half a million people that served or trained there.”
“It’s over three years since we got together and discussed the idea of putting Mercury back on the map,” said David Smith, project co-ordinator, who felt the existence of the base was unknown to many people.
“I hope our programme of blue plaques and the publicity it has attracted has gone a long way to putting that right.”
Mr Swan recalled the “rapport and joie de vivre” of HMS Mercury before revealing the plaque. He said: “Perhaps it was because we lived in the midst of nowhere on a hill that we had to do something amongst ourselves.
“It was a very close affectionate group up there. Mind you, we officers absolutely loved it, we could lord ourselves in a great big country house and see ourselves as landed gentry.”
The scheme finished where it began – at the bar, with many veterans chatting fondly about the past and further plans to commemorate their former base. But before drinks were served, Mr Smith presented a boxed HMS Mercury ensign to Warrant Officer Stan Matthews for making the event possible.
“I hope the memory of Mercury lives on, not just in this building, because it was a special place,” said the latter, finishing: “Long may Mercury continue.”