This month, from May 26 through May 28, merchant and naval ships will arrive in Liverpool to begin three days of commemorations and celebrations marking the Battle of the Atlantic.
The arrival of the vessels, led by the destroyer HMS Defender of the Royal Navy, is expected on Friday morning, kicking off a weekend of events to mark the 80th anniversary of the longest and hardest naval battle in history.
Joining HMS Defender on the prime berth of the cruise liner terminal at the heart of Liverpool’s waterfront will be the French frigate Bretagne and Trinity House Vessel Patricia. The American destroyer USS Ramage will also call into Liverpool during the weekend.
The vessels will provide an impressive backdrop to events on and over the Mersey, while their sailors will join in commemorative events ashore. HMS Defender and the Bretagne will be open to visitors, welcoming members of the public on board throughout Saturday and Sunday.
A new national memorial to the battle which kept us from starvation
The weekend will get underway with a private service of commemoration at St Nick’s Church at the Pier Head.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal will be the guest of honour at the service, which will acknowledge the sacrifice of the thousands of UK and allied sailors involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, both merchant and military.
After the church service, The Princess Royal will unveil a new Battle of the Atlantic Memorial and garden of reflection – the first of its kind in the UK – in the church grounds.
In the evening a poignant light show beaming the names of ships and sailors into the skies – Atlantic Lights – will be switched on at Woodside for the first time.
Both the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and vintage Fleet Air Arm Swordfish and Seafire aircraft will stage flypasts on all three days of the event, weather permitting.
Ships open to visitors, and a 1940s-themed military village at the Pier Head
Participating ships will open their gangways to the public on Saturday May 27 and various activities will be staged in a ‘military village’ across Pier Head.
The village will feature equipment and a whole host of free family activities from the Royal Navy, Army, and RAF including Typhoon simulator, a Royal Navy VR speedboat simulator, climbing walls, bungee runs, a Spitfire replica, tanks, helicopters, and vintage military vehicles.
The extensive Battle of the Atlantic displays and special family activities will be open for visitors at Western Approaches Museum, and the Maritime Museum in the Royal Albert Dock.
Over the water in Birkenhead, Cammell Laird shipyard will run a series of BoA80-themed tours around its yard to celebrate the efforts of shipbuilders in WW2, and to show how things have moved on. Visitors will be given an exclusive behind-the-scenes commentary on board vintage buses supplied by Wirral Transport Museum on Saturday 27.
On Sunday May 28 there will be a Drumhead service of thanksgiving at midday at Pier Head followed at 1.30pm by a March for the Medals from Exchange Flags to Princes Parade, where a group of Battle of the Atlantic veterans, now all in their 90s, will take the salute from the marching troops.
Those who have family medals related to the Battle of the Atlantic campaign, or any other related Second World War campaign, are invited to wear them in honour of their loved one as they watch the local, national, and international contingents march in their memory.
The weekend’s commemorations will conclude with the visiting vessels sailing down the Mersey at 5pm, escorted by a convoy from the Mersey’s maritime community and a Beat Retreat played by His Majesty’s Royal Marines Band at Pier Head.
A programme of theatre, music, and dance
The weekend’s events include an engaging programme of theatre, music and dance, including a Battle of the Atlantic themed variety show written and performed by students of Liverpool John Moores University.
Performances of ‘Blowing a Raspberry at Hitler’ run Weds 24th – Friday 26th May. Tickets, which are free of charge, can be reserved here.
Throughout the weekend, an outdoor stage at the Pier Head will host performances from 1940s and vintage style musicians and performers including The Soldiers of Swing, The Lahdidah’s, The Swing Cats, Mersey Swing, Joanne Dennis and Hattie Bee. Sea Shanty band The Jack Tars, will also perform.
Visitors to the waterfront will also be able to enjoy performances from 4th Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, the Royal Danish Navy band, as well as local cadet bands, drill and PT displays.
Over in Canning Dock, Art Deco steamer The Danny Adamson will open its saloon to host folk shanty performances by Gerry Ffrench, Yesterday’s Men, and the Port Sunlight Seadogs, as well as Battle of the Atlantic talks by historian David Hearn and seafarer David McNamee.
And on Saturday night, His Majesty’s Royal Marines Band are set to raise the roof with a special commemorative concert at the city’s Philharmonic Hall.
Celebrating and commemorating with our remarkable veterans
Chairman of the Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Charity, Gary Doyle, said:
“No city is more connected with the Battle of the Atlantic than Liverpool, and there can be no more fitting a setting for these important 80thanniversary commemorations.
“The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest and most strategically important battle of the Second World War. If the allies had lost the fight, there’s little doubt that we would have lost the war.
“The death toll was – and still is – staggering. Tens of thousands of Merchant Navy, Royal Navy, and Allied Naval seamen, and thousands of RAF and allied aviators lost their lives in order to keep our supply lanes open and our families fed.
“This 80th commemoration is extra-special because we will be joined by some of our Battle of the Atlantic veterans at events during the weekend, and they are without doubt the focus of the whole event.
“It is perhaps the last major commemorative opportunity we will have to come together to say thank you to those remarkable men and women, and to celebrate their great effort and achievement, in the pleasure of their company. We hope that the whole of Merseyside will get behind what we are doing and turn out to join us.”
Liverpool’s BoA80 weekend of commemorative events takes place during the third bank holiday weekend of the month – the Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th May. You can find more information about all the Battle of the Atlantic 80th commemoration events here.