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Southampton to celebrate its seafaring history
11:02am Sunday 24th February 2013 in News
A MAJOR public event – the first of its type seen in Southampton – is to be staged in the port to celebrate in spectacular style the city’s long and rich seafaring heritage.
The Southampton Maritime Festival promises to be a feast of nostalgia, with historic ships, vintage vehicles, flypasts, bands and live music transporting visitors back to the 1940s.
Over the weekend of May 5 and 6, the Ocean Terminal in Southampton’s Eastern Docks will be transformed into an exhibition hall, with displays telling the story of the city’s maritime legacy.
There will be a series of attractions, both on the water and on the dockside, while a Lancaster bomber – designed by Roy Chadwick, who at one time lived in Bitterne, Southampton – is set to undertake a fly-past during the festival.
Organised through the Southampton Heritage Federation by the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, the festival will focus on the years of the Second World War when the docks played a key role in defeating Hitler’s Germany.
Besides being a family day out, the festival also aims to help educate younger generations about Southampton’s past, as well as inspiring local children to take part in a special art competition.
A purpose-built pontoon is to be constructed close to the Ocean Terminal to provide berths for a fleet of historic vessels, which will include a collection of craft from the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.
Prince Michael of Kent, in his role as the association’s honorary admiral, is set to visit the festival during the weekend.
Among the craft on display will be the 1931-built steam tug Challenge, which was saved from being scrapped by a Heritage Lottery grant and has now been fully restored.
Typical of many of the vessels working in UK waters during the 1930s and 1940s, Challenge was the last steam tug on the Thames and is best known for the role she played in Operation Dynamo, evacuating troops from beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
Although the full programme of events is still to be finalised, among attractions already confirmed will be the presence of SS Shieldhall and the tug tender Calshot – both members of the National Historic Fleet.
Visitors will also be able to see the high speed launch 102, which was built in Hythe back in 1936.
Originally serving as an offshore rescue boat for the RAF, 102’s war service included periods in the North Sea, where she came to the aid of 38 airmen and was inspected by King George V and Queen Elizabeth in 1941, as well as at Calshot.
Paid off in 1946, she then became a houseboat but was acquired by the British Military Power Boat Trust for restoration in 1993, and three years later was relaunched by the late Queen Mother.
There will also be demonstrations by members of the Historical Diving Society, together with other aquatic displays, as well as Second World War reenactments, while veteran buses will shuttle visitors from the city centre to the Eastern Docks and back.
Gary Momber, director of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, said: “The festival will give the public the opportunity to find out about Southampton’s maritime heritage.
“People will be able to see at first-hand vessels which played a vital role in our history, not only in and around Southampton but in the country as a whole.
“Southampton has been a major player on the world’s maritime stage throughout history.
“It bore witness to King Henry’s forces leaving for the Battle of Agincourt, the embarking of the Mayflower on her epic journey to the New World, together with the maiden and ill-fated voyage of Titanic.
“The port’s natural deepwater harbour makes it ideal for super-tankers, cruise ships and container vessels and has long acted as a gateway in and out of the country.”
“Organisers are asking for volunteers, who will be the backbone of the event, which will provide a great opportunity to showcase exhibitors, organisations as well as performers, and make the festival the hit the city deserves.”