‘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.’
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.
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!
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.