Navy's bicentennial marred by pull-out

Unaware that it would later become Murray's Anchorage, it was on a spring day in 1795 that a Royal Navy ship commanded by Rear Admiral George Murray, first anchored off Bermuda.

Unaware that it would later become Murray's Anchorage, it was on a spring day in 1795 that a Royal Navy ship commanded by Rear Admiral George Murray, first anchored off Bermuda.

Murray embarked on a mission to personally check out an East End channel discovered by a ship on an earlier visit.

He entered what is now Five Fathom Hole and proceeded towards the deep anchorage that bears his name to this day.

Having found a way to escape the treacherous coral reefs, the Royal Navy found it made strategic and practical sense to have its base at the West End.

And so it did, first taking up all of Dockyard, then moving in the 1950s to a 27-acre portion now known as HMS Malabar.

Two hundred years later, the Royal Navy's bicentennial has been darkly overshadowed by the UK Government's money-saving decision to close HMS Malabar on March 31.

Any Royal Navy person would tell you that is no cause for celebration.

But, being good sports, Malabar's officers and sailors are laying on a proud display of naval activity to mark the Royal Navy's withdrawal from Bermuda, one of Great Britain's last remaining colonies.

"It is time for celebration tinged with sadness, for the relationship between Bermuda and the Royal Navy has been an endearing one which has been mutually beneficial to both parties,'' HMS Malabar commanding officer Cmdr. Robin Bawtree said.

"Bermudians have been wonderfully welcoming to the Royal Navy and seem to have enjoyed their company while the sailors have always enjoyed their visits to this jewel in the ocean.'' HMS Malabar officially closes on March 31 but because there will only be five sailors left by then, it was decided to have some events to commemorate the occasion and celebrate the two-century association "when there were a few more blue uniforms around''.

The events have been planned around next week's visits of HMS Broadsword , RFA Brambleleaf and HMS Monmouth , to relieve Broadsword as the West Indies Guardship.

And to cheer up those who maybe in melancholy spirits, the Royal Marine Band of the Commando Training Centre in Devon, England is flying in on Saturday and staying until February 24th.

The band, which also performs as an orchestra and dance band, supports Royal Navy and Marines ceremonial and public relations events. Its musicians undergo three years training at the Royal Marines School of Music at Deal.

To oversee the events, Deputy Commander Fleet Vice Admiral Jonathan Tod CBE will visit from next Tuesday to February 21.

As a fixed-wing pilot, he used to fly Scimitar and Buccaneer aircraft. He has also commanded HM ships Brighton , an anti-submarine frigate, the guided missile destroyer Fife and HMS Illustrious .

The Royal Marine Band's performances are: 8 p.m. next Thursday next to HMS Broadsword at No.5 Berth on Front Street along with a Beat Retreat and armed guard and marching platoon by the crew; At 11 a.m. next Saturday during the Royal Navy Bicentennial Parade at which Governor Lord Waddington will take the salute; at 8 p.m. that night in No.1 Shed, where they will give a free two-hour free concert; At 11 a.m. next Sunday in the Anglican Cathedral before the public and several hundred invited guests; and at 8.30 p.m. that night at Dockyard during an hour-long military tatoo culminating in a Beat Retreat and the lowering of HMS Malabar's White Ensign.

HMS Broadsword , a missile frigate which can carry two long-range anti-submarine lynx helicopters, berths in Hamilton next Thursday until the 20th.

HMS Brambleleaf , the tanker for the WI Guardship, goes to Dockyard.

HMS Monmouth , one of the latest Type 23 frigates fitted with anti-surface and anti-aircraft missiles as well as 4.5 gun, arrives February 20 and will sail with the other ships that afternoon after completing a handover from HMS Broadsword Vice Admiral Jonathan Tod

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