Monday 11 October 2010

A tale of two launches - part 2...

The second blogged launch on waters around Glasgow - the launching into the Clyde of the sixth and last of the Type 45 destroyers, Duncan. She'll become HMS Duncan in a couple of years once she goes into service.

It was only the second launch I've been to - the last was St Albans in 1999 (I reckon), the last of the Type 23 frigates. I didn't work on the design of those - I was still at school when they did the Type 23 Duke Class.

It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies and warm sunshine - always a bonus in a Scottish October! The date was the anniversay of Admiral Duncan's naval victory over the Dutch at Camperdown. Fair enough. The ship looked rather stark, I felt, a feature of this new design-style for warships.
There was a short service, lead by the chaplain of the fleet in his preaching bands and choir dress, the singing of 'For those in peril on the sea', some prayers. The crowd joined in slightly self-consciously and erratically with both the hymn and the Lord's Prayer. The prayer-book language naval prayer didn't get a look in with the ordinary punters!

The 'God-bit' over, lady something or other (apparently Mrs Marie Ibbotson, wife of the first Sea Lord!) crashed the champagne, pretended to push the bow, and off she (the ship) slid into the Clyde. Balloons flew and fireworks fountained - unfortunately the two crossed over and many of the balloons were shredded by the roman candles! I'm sure the symbolism was unintended: the fireworks were mounted around the missile silos, a system designed to shoot down large numbers of incoming aircraft and hostile missiles.

They have even made the Type 45 logo politically correct since I left - it used to be the ship with a missile blowing up a target - a subtle change and now it's a lovely round sun!

I met a few ex-colleagues at the shipyard, which I wasn't expecting, to be honest. They've all moved on to other things, but still in naval circles. They all knew that I am now 'a vicar', but not that we are up in Dunoon. It was rather unsettling, going back so vigorously into one's past. One of them even said they'd had some mail for me the other week, down in the HQ in Bristol.

Moving on, and in quite such a radical way, from shipbuilding executive to Anglican priest, has been quite a rollercoaster ride. The ethics of the industry in which I spent nearly 15 years are fascinating, and they are complex ethics, knitting together defence, weapons, foreign policy, national and international economics and social engineering in shipbuilding and other industrial regions. I can hardly claim a pacifist platform, with military service followed by a naval engineering career, but I can claim a nuanced take on the issues involved. Must all Christians be pacifists? I would suggest that Jesus was a pacifist, in the sense that we use today, but it doesn't follow that we all should be the same. Jesus was lots of things...

The Scottish Episcopal church has taken a stance against all nuclear weapons. That's not an area that I have ever encountered, other than some time in RAF Germany in the later cold war, before submarines had taken it all over. There are some interesting debates to be had about that war - the cold one - and how it was not fought and won.

But today was almost all about the future - the Type 45s were designed to be able to do nice gentle humanitarian errands, as well as shredding incoming missiles or aircraft. And the politics rumbles on - in the sheds behind us were looming blocks of aircraft carrier structure, well advanced in construction. Loss of jobs? Economic prudence? Unilateral reduction of armed forces? Who knows what the next few months and years may hold for my former colleagues?

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