A Sail of Two Cities As Portsmouth based HMS Lancaster Joins in Belize City Celebrations
Given the fact that Belize’s European and African settlement began with arrivals by boat (unless, of course, you subscribe to the various theories of visits by spacemen and other extra-terrestrials) it somehow seems fitting Belize’s sovereign shores were visited by the Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Lancaster, which took part in Belize’s 2013 Independence Day celebrations.
In 1798 the early Belizeans were repelling a substantial Spanish naval force, and now 215 years later today’s Belizeans were welcoming a modern British naval vessel to help celebrate independence from Great Britain.
The Lancaster is a Type 23 frigate currently on a six month deployment to the North Atlantic and Caribbean providing security to the region as well as conducting counter narcotic operations.
However, in the spirit of camaraderie between the two nations, the Lancaster anchored off Belize City for four days and a squad of 20 sailors took part in the Independence Day parade in the capital, Belmopan on 21 September.
Looking sharp in their tropical uniforms they marched amongst servicemen from the Belize Defence Force for a total of four miles around the city; cheered all the way by local citizens and school children. Then there was a reception by the Governor General, which concluded with a midnight flag lowering ceremony, which commemorates the last time the Union Jack was lowered as the national flag in Belize in 1981.
Think of it – representatives from the country Belize achieved independence from taking part in a ceremony marking the last time that former imperial nation’s flag was lowered in one of its dominions. This, to our thinking is diplomacy at its finest and shows the sort of civilised world we can all live in.
Other official functions included a wreath laying ceremony at the British Army Training and Support Unit in Belize, which until 2011 used to house the large contingent of British servicemen stationed in Belize. Many of us fondly remember the days of the “squaddies” visiting the towns and villages around Belize, spreading good cheer.
Back when the only beer you could get in Belize was Beliken, the soldiers’ often open-handed generosity with their own supplies was welcome indeed. Remember Tennents’s Beer? In the big cans adorned by smiling ladies? Those of us in Placencia, where one regiment had an R&R camp and we were the happy recipients of the soldier’s largess, we each had our favourite. I can’t remember them all, but “Penny in the Evening” was a personal favourite….
OK, it’s one of those things you just had to be there for to appreciate…
But just like the British deployment, the Independence ceremonies also had their serious sides, such as serving to remember those who had died in service or training in Belize since the end of the Second World War, and respectful services were attended by the Royal British Legion.
HMS Lancaster’s Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Moorhouse, had this to say:
“It was a great honour and a privilege for me to be able to bring Lancaster to Belize and take part in the Independence Day celebrations.
“Belize has a long and rich history with the UK and the Royal Navy in particular and I believe that our visit has renewed old friendships and helped establish many new ones.
“Whilst we are in the region we will continue to support the people of Belize in any way we can.”
While in Belize the Lancaster’s crew also hosted several tours for groups of people including the Sea Scouts, Liberty Children’s Home and members of the British expat community in Belize, providing an insight into the Lancaster and what she offers the Royal Navy and its partners.
Steaming away amid cheers and goodbyes the Lancaster went back to duty, embarking on a further counter narcotics patrol in the Central Caribbean – just one of the many roles she is currently carrying out on her deployment in support of British interests overseas and in protecting Belizeans from the scourge of drugs which those traffickers in human misery once felt they had open slather in transferring across the Caribbean to the lucrative markets up north.
The ship also provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief as well as a feeling of reassurance that she’s out there with a highly trained and capable crew.
So bon voyage, HMS Lancaster, thanks for helping Belize celebrate Independence, and all the best to your officers and crew. Maybe we’ll see you next year….