HMS Conway - Click here to return to the menu HMS Conway 1859 - 1974

Alfie Windsor 1998
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The Closing

 

The announcement that the Conway was to close came in the Summer term of 1972. Basil Lord, the headmaster, with some education bigwigs from Cheshire County Council, called us all in to the Mess Hall and announced that the school was to close in the Summer of 1974. The shock and disappointment was immense, and I still remember the reaction of loyal and dedicated teachers, including Mr. Kingsford (history) Mr. Robinson (Geography, and the reason and inspiration that I went on to get an Honours degree in Geography/Geology). Mr. Woolley (physics) and Mr. Kirkham (English,went on to Head of Department in Newport, Gwent), Mr. Fozard (Fozzie, Spanish) and Mr. Howard Davidson (Seamanship) and the officers Dhobi Clarke, BooBoo Davison (Fxl) and Brooke-Smith, who had given so much of their lives to the old wooden mother. They showed immense dignity and strength to all the cadets, even though they had just been told they had lost their jobs and unique way of life. Many would not work again.  It must have been a double blow for Brookie and Mr Kingsford. Both had been at Conway when the ship was nearly lost during the wartime bombing of Liverpol during the blitz, when the ship was lost in the Swellies in 1953, through the recovery in the wooden huts and then the false dawn building of the New Block, closely followed by a change from naval command to civilian, and then the end of the ownership by the MMSA (the ship's founders).

 

The cadets entering the 5th year or O level year, could not therefore stay onto until 1975 to complete their A levels as planned and we had to find alternative education. This is when the link to Kelly College came about. They offered us places at their school in Tavistock, Devon, so that we could complete our education. I am not sure if anyone joined Kelly College (I went for an interview but found it very uninspiring after the Conway).

 

You will no doubt remember Maggie was education minister at the time the closure of the old ship was announced/decided. From what I remember from the speech Basil Lord gave on the messdeck when the news broke, central government withdrew funding/subsidies from Cheshire council in respect of Conway. Together with my parents, I attended a couple of Conway parent meetings which were convened shortly afterward and as I recollect this was reinforced as the   principal reason for the Conway's demise.

 

The stated   problem at the time with the grant system was that the local authority at the cadets' home address was supposed to pay Cheshire for the education fees. Many of the loony left councils, and maybe a few of Maggies's as well didn't pay up, leaving Cheshire out of pocket. Although we were all bitterly disappointed and surprised at the announcement of the closure, we did at least have enough notice to complete our 'O' level or 'A' level courses. A few cadets joined the following year, but were aware that they would not complete their education at Conway. The last year was rather poignant as half of the dorms on each floor were shut, with more than enough bed space in the remaining side (port, I think).

A group of parents joined together and tried to save Conway. A meeting of parents was held in the Summer of 1972, and approx 40 parents attended a church hall meeting in Stafford. Letters were sent to all the Council Education Departments and Shipping Companies. The response was apathetic at best, as the accountants had already moved into the shipping companies, in the first of what was to prove many cutbacks for the UK merchant fleet. After that the masters and officers kept up the academic standards very well despite their imminent redundancies, and many showed a more humane and supportive side that they had done previously. Their trips to various hostelries increased, but then who could blame them! Discipline remained high and I remember coming back from Bangor on a Saturday night 30 minutes late, due to the Crossville bus breaking down outside Llanfairpwll, having had 3 pints after an away match at Rydal - Basil Lord, wrote to our parents and put us on watch, looking over the playing fields (Why?) for the last 4 Saturdays and Sundays of term. The BBC came to film the school before it closed etc., and I remember we all went sailing and rowing in a force 5-6. All capsized and I think the RAF Valley rescue helicopter was called. Not the best advertisement for a naval establishment!

12th July 1974

Times change, empires fade, priorities alter and Britain's reliance on a strong merchant marine declined rapidly. The demand for men faded, the ship sadly closed her doors and paid off in 1974.The laying up of colours of HMS Conway took place in Liverpool Cathedral, on 12th July 1974. After the solemnities, another Conway ensign was lowered from the mast of the Royal Iris while the bugler played "Last Post".

One Liverpool newspaper reported that sirens had been sounded on our behalf by ships up and down the River Mersey. Old Conways had lunch on board the Royal Iris in Canada Dock, eventually evading Liverpool's licensing laws by setting sail.

Some of the 1970s Old Conways met again that evening at the Missions to Seamen, before continuing to a well-known discotheque in the City, deep in the bowels of the Earth, surely the last rousing rendering of the "Conway Song" on that momentous occasion was their's - at 1:30 in the morning!

I can't remember whether we were bussed to Liverpool for the laying up of the colours, or whether we finished the term at the school and made our way there with our parents. In any event, there was a grand, but sad, ceremony in the Anglican Cathedral, then lunch on the Royal Iris tied up at one of the piers, then we went home. And that was it.

Carry on.

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