‘The Best Job in the World’: A Guide Aboard Victory

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HMS VICTORY is among the most famous ships in history; the only surviving warship that fought in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars. She served as Lord Nelson’s flagship at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Now preserved for future generations in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard she’s a must-see for all those with an interest in history and the Royal Navy. I must have toured over this iconic ship 20 times, and I was privileged to have been given special access during the research for my book VICTORY. For this second Guest Blog Post I’m delighted to introduce one of her current guides, Chris Revell, who says he has the ‘best job in the world.’

Detail of Victory’s keel

Detail of Victory’s keel

From the age of ten I was always fascinated with the Napoleonic wars and purchased any books on the subject when I could – it’s now built up into quite a collection!

I became a boy soldier and served as a trooper with the Junior Tradesman’s Regiment at Rhyl, North Wales until I went to West Germany and joined my parent regiment 2nd Royal Tank Regiment  based in Munster.

I left the army and joined the London Fire Brigade which I loved – a lot of ladder work, ropes and routine based on the navy structure.

When I moved to Bognor Regis I decided to join the police. In 1979 I transferred to the Sussex Police and completed a further 28 years pounding the beat. On retiring in 2007 I looked for vacancies at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with a view to gaining employment in HMS Victory. Sadly there were no vacancies but HMS Warrior was looking for a quartermaster. So for the next six years I was employed on a wonderful iron warship whilst biding my time for a vacancy on HMS Victory.

In February of this year HMS Victory was advertising for guides so I applied and the silly buggers took me on! I work from March to the end of October as a seasonal worker doing full time hours. This consists of standing at various points talking to the public about Victory, the personalities, the battles, life for the officers and crew – and the Georgian period. I also conduct tours around the ship, mainly for those attending dinners aboard; these have included admirals and foreign dignitaries, sometimes quite daunting!

From November we go onto tours only. These tours take you all the way round the ship and last about 50 minutes. We have a basic script to learn but are encouraged to make it our own and bring the ship alive.

Chris Revell outside Nelson's home, Burnham Thorpe

Chris Revell outside Nelson’s home, Burnham Thorpe

My day begins at 0900 when I change into uniform in the building directly overlooking the bow of Victory. I then chew the fat with my colleagues, male and female of all ages. After doing a sweep of the ship to check that the route is clear, all ropes are in place, signs are out and fire escapes in order, we open the ship at 1000.

We are assigned a point within the ship which also includes the entrance and the exit and await the deluge of happy visitors.

My favourite point is the Middle Gun Deck right next to the original 24 pounder gun and the Brody stove. I enjoy explaining how the gun deck must have been in the midst of battle, what the crew ate and how the Battle of Trafalgar unfolded.

I love the great cabin, talking about the great man whilst standing in his day cabin next to the round table where it is reported he wrote his last prayer; it still makes the hairs go up on the back of my neck.

We stand at a point for up to three hours then take a tea break, move onto another point, have another tea break and then the final point till the close of the ship at 1730. The day goes so quickly due to the amount of questions you get asked, and as we say we never get a silly question – but we do have a laugh!

Victory guides learning the ropes

Victory guides learning the ropes

We have been particularly busy this summer with an average of 3000 per day coming onto the ship, this includes a lot of parties from all over the world. We are now at about 1000 a day.

HMS Victory is undergoing a 20 year programme of conservation and repair work so that she will be around for another 250 years to educate and amaze the public. One of the changes that I’m excited about will be in the Great Cabin and Captain Hardy’s Cabin. The bulkheads etc in these two locations are stained a dark brown, which was carried out by the Victorians. Hopefully next year these two cabins will be restored to their original colours of white and pale blue.

HMS Victory

For a chance to win a signed copy of my book VICTORY leave a comment below. We’ll choose a winner at random. Deadline: November 8

26 Comments on “‘The Best Job in the World’: A Guide Aboard Victory”

  1. Today in The States the mid-term elections are taking place. The eve Mt always takes me to our first trip to England and our tour of the HMS Victory, particularly the sea biscuits eaten by the crewmen, how after many days at sea, the biscuits would often become full of weevils – that when it came time for making a choice between two biscuits, most sailors would opt for the one having the lesser of two weevils.
    Hence American elections.

  2. Pingback: VICTORY: Kydd at Trafalgar | Julian Stockwin

  3. I grew up overlooking the HMS Warrior, where for some 50 years, she provided the docking berth for tankers discharging oil into storage tanks, in the upper reaches of Milford Haven. The sea was in my blood,as my grandfather was a Lightship Captain in the Trinity Service & who taught me to row & sail! A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting both HMS Victory & HMS Warrior. The visit to Victory was very enlightening with explanations of “Taking the cat out of the bag”, “a square meal” ,etc. I am a great fan of “Kydd”,now reading “Quarterdeck” with many others to follow. Please keep writing!

    • From November we go onto tours only. These tours take you all the way round the ship and last about 50 minutes. We have a basic script to learn but are encouraged to make it our own and bring the ship alive.

  4. Linda and I enjoyed our visit during July this year. Because of your brilliant description of the ship I felt really at home. We were not allowed to enter the Master Cabin or Officers Cabins because of a trip hazard!!

    • Although ‘technically’ HMS Victory may be the only surviving ship of the “American War of Independence”, many will consider the “War of 1812” an extension or continuation of war against Britain, in which USS CONSTITUTION defeated four British ships that continued to poach American sailors.

  5. I am also very interested in the history of the British Navy and must have been part of it in my life before. Love your books above all!
    Thanks so much for the pleasures they give me.
    John Gow

  6. What a wonderful job to have. I want one. The Napoleonic wars are a particular interest of mine, enhanced by the Kydd story. Really interesting to see parts of the ship not normally viewable

  7. The VICTORY is constant reminder of the efforts the RN made to advance Great Britain not only as a country which was willing to fight for her national interests and independence but also her place in global affairs, all this in a period of extensive jockeying for power across the globe. It is good to know that VICTORY’S heritage is alive and well.

  8. I fully understand the “fun” associated with being a representative of the Victory. I’ve been a volunteer ham radio operator in the RMS Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA) radio room for the past 16+ years and am always learning more about the ship. Always great to talk to the many visitors on the ship and many times learn from them

  9. I’ve had the privilege of visiting VICTORY a number of times and have always been impressed by her guides. Most memorable times were a blustery Boxing Day when we had the entire ship to ourselves and a guide that went way beyond the call with the kids; dinner in CAPT Hardy’s cabin with a tour in black tie; and – most of all – their open arms in accommodating my physically disabled daughter onboard. All the best to Chris and his colleagues.

  10. As a naval nurse across the water at RNH Haslar in the early 1970’s I remember a serving Royal Marine patient who was a guide on the Victory. In fact he was the guide a year before on my very first visit. I can remember his name and clearly see his face in my minds eye! I assume serving personnel must have been the guides in those days? – and our male medical ratings had an HMS Victory cap badge at the time.

    This is a really interesting site and what a fantastic job you have, I envy you!

  11. Hi Jules,

    Right in the middle of reading Caribbee,bringing back lots of happy memories while serving onboard H.M.S Blake, We where there for the sole reason to act as flag ship for the islands that where being given back independence in 1962, say no more,

    The punch was called Kickapoo-Joy -Juice (See Mrs Beeton,Ch.V,p.71)Take 179 gallons of rum and the juice of one small lemon. Mix in a king-size bath with an outboard and prop. Add girls, various,suitably spiced and 200 Blakemen.Serve in the sun.R.I.P Happy days.

    Bob Barker Ex. Chief Stoker Date: Sun, 3 Nov 2013 08:23:26 +0000 To: bobbarker1921@hotmail.com

  12. Chris – I joined the R.Marines in 1965 and after commissions in Aden (45 Commando) and on HMS Eskimo (middle east and west Indies) I was very fortunate to serve on HMS Victory, as a guide from 1969 to 1972.
    For a youn!g single man, interested in naval history it was the perfect job! We worked every day except Xmas day and were also responsible for the cleanliness and security of the ship. Rum was still issued and was a definite protector against the cold in the winter months! I am still very interested in the period and have the greatest admiration for Nelson and all of his contemporaries.

    • Hi Phil.. Remember me? Served on the great ship at the same time as you with a short break it go south with Endurance… Left the corps in 1973 to join HM Coastguard ….Vicky ship was probably the best draft I ever had…. Take care Oppo

      • Mike – thanks for your message. My brain cells aren’t what they used to be (or perhaps they are?) do remind me are you the guy whose parents, or relations, owned a series of pubs on the Isle of Wight and we went there once for a bit of a pub crawl?
        If you’re on Facebook look me up and we can get back in touch. Alternatively my email is: hargrave2510@gmail.com

  13. Just curious: I am aware of the ongoing project of restoration for VICTORY, but I wonder if she could actually sail, as does USS CONSTITUTION?

    • She is berthed in dry dock, Edward. Last time she was afloat was in 1922 when she was towed into No. 2 dock (a dry dock), at Portsmouth for restoration – her condition having deteriorated to the extent that she could no longer safely remain afloat. Sadly, doubt we shall ever see her actually sail again.

  14. I too have visited Victory many times having family and friends visiting us in Gosport, Victory was always on the list to see. Of course in my time it was manned by serving members of the RN and Royal Marines but like Chris it was a dream draft that not many achieved. Glad to see that once again she will be in pristine condition for future generations to enjoy.
    I also have a great link to Victory my grandson was born 21st October 2005.

  15. Chris Revell is indeed a Lucky Man. Looking at his long and impressive employment history, I would say that the harder he works the luckier he gets.
    It is the dedicated and passionate band of guides, such as Chris, who truely bring these great ladies of the sea alive for us to experience and learn from.
    Bravo Zulu Chris

  16. A dream job. Keeping history alive!
    I wonder what the funniest question that he has been asked is?

  17. This is the first time I have seen images of Victory’s keel; thank you so much for sharing them


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