HMS Belfast is best known for her participation in significant moments in British history, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy during the Second World War.
Hundreds of men could be serving on the ship at any time and when Christmas came, the ship’s company would do their best to enjoy the festive season even when they were a long way from home.
Discover what Christmas on board HMS Belfast was like through the cards, menus and memories of the men who served on her.
A royal message
Christmas 1943 saw HMS Belfast on convoy duty in the Arctic Sea – and this particular festive season would see HMS Belfast engaged in the Battle of North Cape.
Lieutenant W P Brooke-Smith remembered the crew singing carols and tucking into Christmas dinner of bully-beef and a boiled potato.
He also remembered the comfort of hearing HM King George VI’s Christmas address broadcast on Christmas Day.
'At 3 p.m. the King’s Christmas speech was relayed over the ship’s broadcast system and, although the wind drowned much of it, the homely words that we heard, as we sat huddled up in our “goon skins” and balaclavas, brought us closer to our families, especially as we knew that they too would be listening to that same voice at home,' he recalled.
Visitors to HMS Belfast today can explore the Arctic Mess Deck, where sailors ate and slept during the perilous Arctic Convoy missions.
G Stacey, a rating on board HMS Belfast, was given a special certificate to mark the fact he had crossed the Arctic Circle just before Christmas 1943.
Dated 16th December 1943, the certificate is signed by Captain Parham and declared that Stacey was a 'loyal and trusty bluenose'.
The men serving on HMS Belfast got to enjoy traditional festive foods, even when they were serving far from home.
This menu from the 1951, signed by members of the ship’s company including the commanding officer Captain ACAC Duckworth RN, shows that dinner included roast turkey and stuffing with Christmas pudding and rum sauce for dessert.
For tea, there was Christmas cake and supper involved mince pies and cocoa.
The ship’s company also had their own Christmas traditions – including an exchange of uniforms depicted in this photo from IWM’s collection.
Keeping in touch
HMS Belfast was sent to the Far East towards the end of the Second World War. In October 1945, she was engaged in transporting people who had been interned during the war – this included a group of children who had been interned in Shanghai. The crew kept them entertained by building rope swings on which they could play.
The ship was still in the Far East during Christmas 1945 – this Christmas card sent from Shanghai shows that the men were still thinking of home and the future even though they were far away.
A present from home
“My mother was probably the world’s best cook and when I left home, she baked me a Christmas cake and posted it in the first week of November. A parcel used to take an absolutely age to get to you. And I told the crew members I got a Christmas cake coming. So, every mail delivery, “where’s the Christmas cake, Norman? It hasn't come yet.” December went. No cake. January went. No cake. February came. No cake. March came. No cake. And then in the first week or two of April when the chap went up for the mail, he says: “Norman. Parcel at the parcel office.” And there was a huge cheer and they all shouted out: “Norman's cakes come!” So, I went up to the mail office and I didn't do it deliberate, it’s by nature…when I open a parcel no matter what it is I always take my time, I don’t like tearing things out. And of course I was being ridiculed, I was being shouted at by crew members: “come on!” And I finally opened it. And then I opened the tin and the greaseproof paper and there was my Christmas cake sitting in the middle there. I can see it to this very day. And of course, everybody: “oh, let's have a piece, Norman.” “Wat, wait” and so forth. And I took my time. And do you know? That was the first week in April, so that cake had taken five months to get to me, five months. And it was still as fresh the day my mother put it in, and I had to give out tiny little portions to the baying mob around me!”
Ron ‘Norman’ Yardley was a wireless telegraphist on board HMS Belfast during the Korean War. He was 18 years old in 1950 and serving far from home that Christmas, so his parents sent a traditional treat to him.