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Memories of life on an ocean wave on HMS Foudroyant

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: September 03, 2014

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Following a recent glimpse into the lives of some Ashbourne schoolboys as they took on an unforgettable adventure at sea, News Telegraph reader Eric Williams has told the story of how a week aboard an historic sailing ship steered a course through his entire life.

TWO weeks ago, Mick Betteridge shared his story and some pictures of the HMS Foudroyant – a training vessel used to give schoolboys a taste of life at sea and some of the skills required as a sailor.

His father, Mick Betteridge Senior, was a teacher at the town's secondary modern school and made regular trips with his classes to the ship, which had been converted from its former use as a warship into a training vessel.

One of the lads who spent a week on board was 14-year-old Eric Williams, who is now a retired plumber living in Windmill Lane.

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He has fond memories of his time on the Foudroyant and it left such an impression on him that, during a brief career as a teacher, he took his own class down to stay on the vessel.

He said: "I'll always remember the trip.

"It was a very full week and they were very long days.

"It was fairly strict, but we were not totally under the thumb all the time. It was very enjoyable and of course, living in Ashbourne, it was not something any of us would ever have experienced before."

The classmates, who slept in hammocks during the trip, spent the week visiting different islands and calling in to look round other vessels, including submarines and warships.

Foudroyant ceased to be a training ship in the 1980s but it was not the last time Mr Williams was on board.

He has been back on a few occasions to see it in its latest location in Hartlepool where it is now open as a museum.

However, visitors looking for the ship as it stands today, will need to look out for the name "Trincomalee" as, confusingly, the Foudroyant was never the ship's real name.

The real Foudroyant, a name that means "thunder and lightning" in French, was the second battleship to bear the name and was launched in Plymouth in 1798.

A one-off design with a complement of 315 officers and men, the 80-gun 'third-rate' ship served in the French Revolutionary War and Napoleonic Wars.

Foudroyant served Nelson as his flagship from June 1799 until the end of June 1801.

In 1808, Admiral Sir Sydney Smith chose it as his flagship for an expedition to South America.

In 1862, Foudroyant was converted to a training ship and served the Plymouth gunnery school.

Thirty years later, she was sold for breaking up to a German firm.

Following a public outcry, it was rescued and was destined for life as a training ship but it was wrecked in a gale on Blackpool Sands in the summer of 1897.

The Blackpool lifeboat was able to rescue all 27 of her crew and the Foudroyant was broken up to be sold off as souvenirs in the form of walking sticks, medallions and coins.

Such was the impact of its loss that its name was transferred to the HMS Trincomalee, a 38-gun British Navy frigate built in the early 19th century.

It had been sold in 1897 for breaking up but the former owner of the Foudroyant snapped Trincomalee up as a replacement commemoration ship for his lost vessel and the name was changed.

After the Second World War, in which Foudroyant was used as a store ship, it was demobilised to continue youth training under the auspices of the Foudroyant Trust.

It was during this period of its long history that it hosted schoolboys from Ashbourne but, in 1986, the training stopped and the trust restored it.

Its name was then returned to HMS Trincomalee and it was put on display as the centrepiece of the historic dockyard museum in Jackson Dock, Hartlepool.

Visitors are now invited on board what is the oldest floating British frigate – HMS Victory, although 52 years her senior, is in dry dock – and the second oldest floating ship in the world.

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