Life on Board
Navy re-enactors eating lunch on board HMS Belfast.
The Ship's Company Galley
The Ship’s Company Galley (kitchen) churned out hundreds of meals a day for a hungry crew.
The Forward Messdeck
There was no privacy on board a warship with men living, sleeping and eating in communal areas, or 'messes'
Hammocks were slung only 52 cm apart, and it was not unusual for men to share the use of a hammock
The Provision Issue Room
The daily ration of grog (two parts water to one part rum) was introduced by Admiral Edward Vernon in the mid-eighteenth century. It remained a naval tradition until as late as 1970.
The Dental Surgery
The dental officer spent most of his time looking after the teeth of the ship’s company but - as a surgeon lieutenant-commander - he was also an important member of the ship’s general medical team.
The Operating Theatre
The operating theatre was normally only used in emergencies because of the vibration and movement of the ship.
During her time at sea, HMS Belfast was home to crews of up to 950 sailors. Today, you can discover what life on board was like for them. From eating and sleeping to healthcare and dentistry, the ship functioned as a floating community as well as a mighty warship, providing for the daily needs of her crew during long months at sea.
Among the many rooms where domestic tasks such as laundry and baking bread took place, the Ship’s Company Galley (kitchen) was the most important of all, churning out hundreds of meals daily for a hungry crew.
The Galley dates from after HMS Belfast’s modernisation in the 1950s when food started to be prepared by qualified staff and the crew ate together in a dining hall. Before this, sailors would eat their meals in the groups - or messes - they lived in, appointing a duty cook to prepare the food and bring it back to the communal living area known as a messdeck. Visit the Arctic Messdeck to get a sense of what living on board during the Second World War would have been like. See the tightly-packed hammocks, slung just 52cm apart, and hear a genuine letter home from a sailor relaxing in between shifts.
Experience the smell of cloves as you peer into the Dental Surgery and see a man in the middle of a painful-looking procedure. Next door, the Sick Bay, complete with recovering patients lying in bunk beds, a distinct surgical smell and an operating theatre, shows that the medical facilities on board were sufficient to deal with most routine operations.
The daily rum ration was one of the great traditions of naval life until as late as 1970, and you can see the Provision Issue Room where the measures were poured. You can also stop by the NAAFI (Navy Army and Air Force Institute) Canteen to browse the small luxury items such as tobacco and chocolate that were available to buy on board.
From our Collections
Christmas with the British Liberation Army in Holland, 16 November 1944
With Moderation Towards Ourselves
Princess Mary's Gift Fund 1914, Class A non-smokers (writing stationery)
Post Much Earlier this Christmas
Christmas Party for Trooper Devereux's Daughter: Christmas in Wartime, Pinner, Middlesex, December 1944
Parcel cover, Scarborough Christmas Parcel Fund
British Forces in Bosnia 1994: Operation Grapple
Tin, South African Gifts And Comforts Committee
Percy Vere - Number 18 (recto) Wishing You a Happy Christmas and an Accident Free New Year (verso)