HMS Belfast Through History

Life on Board

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.

Collections in Context

HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast was launched in March 1938, at a time when navies were competing to build powerful cruisers to protect shipping routes...

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