03.12.20 The Clerk

Clerk’s Notes – December 2020

Eighty years ago on the night of the 11th-12th November 1940, men of 815 and 819 Naval Air Squadrons lumbered into the night sky of the Mediterranean Sea from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. Their destination and target was the home port of the Italian Battle Fleet at Taranto inside the north part of the heel of Italy. Flying 21 obsolescent Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bombers, they launched in two waves of aircraft 90 minutes apart. Against significant odds, in the space of a few hours they sank the battleship Conte di Cavour and left the battleships Littorio and Caio Duilio heavily damaged, the latter having been intentionally grounded to prevent its sinking. They also badly damaged a heavy cruiser and caused much mischief among the shore facilities. The British lost two Swordfish, the crew of one aircraft died, the other was captured.

In one night, the Royal Navy succeeded in halving the Italian battleship fleet and gained a significant advantage in the Mediterranean at a time when good news was in short supply. As a result of the strike the Italians withdrew the bulk of their fleet farther north to Naples. Since then this successful raid has also given all Fleet Air Arm Officers the excuse, whenever two or more should meet on the 11th November each year, to remember the event and drink a toast to “The men of Taranto”.

View from a Wildcat cockpit as it lands on ITS Garibaldi

ITS Garibaldi Task Group in the Mediterranean, Nov 2020

Happily, 80 years later we’re now good friends of the Italians and in late November this year a Commando Wildcat from 847 Naval Air Squadron, part of the Commando Helicopter Force, became the first Wildcat to conduct a landing on the deck of the Italian Aircraft Carrier ITS Garibaldi. The landing was made during a recent Task Group training package in the Central Mediterranean region and before the aircraft launched again the crew was given a box containing a crate of Peroni and freshly cooked pizzas; which is of course exactly the sort of in-flight meal needed to help a helicopter pilot to keep his eye on the ball. At this point I should explain to those not versed in such things that Peroni is a brand of strong Italian beer; other beers are available but perhaps not in Italian warships.

Commodore James Parkin CBE RN

HM The Queen’s Birthday Honours List

In other Navy news, on behalf of the Company I am delighted to congratulate Liveryman Honoris Causa Commodore James Parkin Royal Navy who was appointed as a Commander of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the recent Birthday Honours List.


Coachmaker events to come

Hopefully you will all be aware that the Coachmakers’ Annual Carol Service will take place via Zoom on Thursday 10th December 2020. It starts at 1800 hrs and if you have not yet booked your place to attend please do so via this link.

Also, there are still places to join the final ‘60 minutes with’ event of 2020. This last episode of the year will again be held via Zoom and the guest is our own Giles Taylor. Giles was the Coachmakers’ 1989 Motor Car Centenary Bursary Award Winner and is a Court Assistant of the Company. He started his career designing for Automobiles Citroen in Paris before moving to Jaguar Cars as Chief Designer and then to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars as Director of Design. Giles is currently Vice President of Design for FAW China and responsible for three significant brands at the forefront of the highly competitive automotive market in China. To book your place please click here.

City news

The Lord Mayor’s Annual Address to the Livery Masters and Clerks was broadcast via Zoom on 25th November and shared his thoughts of how the City will recover from the pandemic. He also spoke of his vision of what the future might hold for the City of London and beyond. To watch the video follow this link.

Honorary Assistant Alderman Alastair King has asked me to bring the following to your attention:

On Monday 7th December 2020 at 1800hrs I invite you to join me as I interview The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of London, Alderman William Russell. This is part of the Leadership Masterclass series of interviews that I produce for the Institute of Directors. Every fortnight, I interview an outstanding leader in business or politics.

  • On Monday I shall ask the Lord Mayor about:
  • The rebuilding of the economy of the City of London, following Covid-19 – what steps are being taken?
  • His views on the impact of the end of the EU transition period on 31st December 2020:
  • How prepared is the City of London?
  • How will the City’s standing be affected from 1st January 2021?
  • His desire to be known as “The Green Lord Mayor” – how will he do this?
  • And finally (as he is a Liverpool FC fan) – what lessons in leadership we can learn from Jurgen Klopp?

Please email Alderman King if you would like him to ask a particular question.

To join this interview live, please register here. This registration will give you your unique access code.

City events

Carols for the City

For those who like to attend numerous carol services during the season, and to set you up for the Coachmakers’ Carol Service on the 10th, this might be for you. In partnership with the Lord Mayor of the City of London, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Voces8 Foundation will be holding a virtual Carol Service on Tuesday 8th December. The singing will be live streamed from the Voces8 Centre, the Church of St Agnes and St Anne, in Gresham Street.

The Lord Mayor will introduce the service and read one of the lessons. Another will be read by Sir Kenneth Olisa, the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and Past Master of the The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT). Other lessons will be read by a very distinguished group of City figures and others associated with the livery companies. One of the organists will be the Past Lord Mayor, Sir Andrew Parmley. The service will benefit The Lord Mayor’s Appeal, The WCIT Charity, the VOCES8 Foundation and The Friends of The City Churches. Full details can be viewed on the Livery Committee website here, and at https://carolsforthecity.org where you can book places.

Activities in spades

The Makers of Playing Cards is also pleased to announce details of its third online Inter-Livery Bridge Competition (ILB) to be held on Monday 7th December 2020 at 2.15pm (with an expected finish time of 4.30pm). It will be an 18-board Duplicate Pairs competition, open to any member of any Livery Company, and to make the event more inclusive during the pandemic they are relaxing the normal ILB rule that your Partner must also be a Livery Company member. Accordingly you are most welcome to join the Makers of Playing Cards and play with any partner of your choosing. The only restriction is that only one member of each pair may have an NGS* King or Ace designation. Not sure what that means but it is probably a golf style handicap rating; alternatively it could be weight related like the Jockey Club’s handicap system. No matter, if this appeals to you please click here for details.

Freemasons’ Hall first virtual organ concert

If you like your music on the booming side of loud then this might be for you. The Freemasons are organising their first virtual organ concert, which will take place on 9th December at 7pm. The event aims to showcase the magnificent Willis Pipe Organ, and will be streamed from the majestic Grand Temple in Freemasons’ Hall, London, regarded as an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1933. For more detail and the link to book your place, follow this link but note that you need to read to the end to find the booking link: https://pglherts.org/2020/11/freemasons-hall-first-virtual-organ-concert/

Potential Christmas gifts

Sparkly stuff – Coachmakers’ Gold Pin

Following the swearing of the Liveryman’s oath, every Liveryman clothed in the Coachmakers’ Livery receives a silver gilt pin to wear as an emblem of their status. Following a specific request, a very limited supply of 9ct gold versions have been commissioned and can be obtained from the Clerk for £130 inc vat, postage and packing. For more details, contact the Clerk at: clerk@coachmakers.co.uk. An even more limited supply of the same pin but made from 18ct gold can be had for £250 inc vat and postage and packing. Please note these are available on a first come first served basis.

A History of the 7th HMS BULWARK

A number of copies of the history of the latest HMS BULWARK, the Coachmakers’ affiliated RN warship, are still available. This is a 270-page volume produced to record the first 12 operational years of the ship and is packed with facts and photos. You can obtain a copy for only £5 to cover postage and packing. For details, contact the Clerk at: clerk@coachmakers.co.uk

Other Sparkly Stuff

The Goldsmiths’ Company has a number of enticing events that you might wish to dip into; if so please click here.

Hand Fans

The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers has launched a specially designed hand fan to mark the impact of COVID-19 on so many lives in 2020 and to raise funds for the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Appeal. You can own one if you wish and for details please click here.

Appealing Submariners

Now that is an oxymoron to be proud of, and as one who was trained to drop high explosives from helicopters onto where we thought a submarine might be this is an odd one to bring to your attention. However, the Assistant Clerk’s grandfather served in submarines during the 1st World War and so that half of the office often has a rather strange view of the world. Notwithstanding, my good friend the Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Cooks has asked me to bring this to your attention, and as he is a Vice Admiral y’ere t’is:

Although I realise that not of all of you were lucky enough to serve in submarines, may I just bring to your attention the Thunderer article in the Times of 9th November 2020 written by Admiral Lord Boyce on the subject of a new Memorial to Submariners to be built at the National Arboretum. Like the Admiral, I am also involved with the Appeal and at some stage in 2021, a call for donations will be made. Please have a look at the website www.submarinermemorial.uk for more information or do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. With all best wishes and hope you are staying safe and thank you for reading this far!

Peter Wilkinson
Clerk to the WC of Cooks
Chairman Submariner Memorial Appeal

In conclusion

Drawing this rather loose collection of vaguely related topics to a close, you will recall that at the head of the piece I mentioned the Fleet Air Arm’s success at the Battle of Taranto. Unfortunately, to misquote Newton’s third law of motion which states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, 13 months after Taranto on 7th December 1941 the “Day of Infamy”, as President Roosevelt described it, played out in Pearl Harbour, Honolulu. During this action the Japanese Navy took the idea of Taranto, improved it and carried out a devastating attack on the US Pacific Fleet in its main base with wave after wave of modern naval aircraft, temporarily crippling the American fleet. Fortunately the four aircraft carriers normally based at Pearl Harbour were at sea that day otherwise the effect would have been truly catastrophic for the Americans.

Ultimately the Americans entered the war following Pearl Harbour. This was good news for the Allied cause and led eventually to the right result but before that could be envisaged, for the British there was more bad news to contend with that month.
Despite proving that aerial attack with torpedo bombers could sink a modern battleship at Taranto, and with the evidence of Pearl Harbour still making headlines around the world, the Royal Navy still allowed Force Z to sail from Singapore without air support to intercept what was known to be a Japanese invasion force en route to Malaya (now Malaysia).

During this sortie Force Z comprised the modern battleship HMS PRINCE of WALES, the 1st World War veteran battle cruiser HMS REPULSE and four destroyers. An aircraft carrier with escorts had been allocated but the first choice was damaged and undergoing repair and the second choice was not considered fast enough to keep up. Also, it was considered that the success of the Taranto and Pearl Harbour raids against battleships in harbour was not representative of battleships at sea manoeuvring at speed which, it was thought, would be less vulnerable. Well they got that wrong.

Following an inconclusive engagement with heavy units of the Japanese Navy, the invasion force could not be located and the element of surprise was lost. As a result Admiral Sir Tom Phillips KCB, the Flag Officer commanding Force Z, decided to return to Singapore. Unfortunately in the early morning of 10th December 1941 Force Z was attacked by numerous land based Japanese torpedo bombers and both PRINCE of WALES and REPULSE were sunk.

This was a serious blow to the Royal Navy and had far reaching consequences to the conduct of the war in the Far East for some considerable time but for the Coachmakers Company it was a particularly tragic blow. More than 2,000 sailors from the PRINCE of WALES and REPULSE were rescued by the destroyer escorts but 840 were lost. Admiral Phillips did not survive nor did Captain John Leach, the Commanding Officer of PRINCE of WALES, and nor did Temporary Lieutenant Benjamin Rhodes Armitage of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who was onboard the PRINCE of WALES serving as the Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Phillips.

And the reason why this would have had such resonance with the Coachmakers in December 1941 was that Benjamin Armitage was still the nominal Clerk to the Coachmakers Company having taken up the position in 1934. Benjamin was 34 years of age when he died. He was recovered by the destroyer, HMS EXPRESS, but succumbed to his wounds and was laid to rest in Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore. A photo of his grave can be found at this link.

This knowledge has only recently become known to me and although at this stage we have limited information to work with I shall return to the story again in the future. For now, on the 10th December 2020 please take time to remember one of your former Clerks, killed in action on the far side of the world at a time that so many of us would struggle to understand.

Of course 2020 itself has been a year like no other in our lifetime but with luck the various magic mixtures that have been developed will help us to return to a recognisable pre-Covid normality at some point during 2021. That said, all City activities are still on hold and it will remain to be seen how the Tier system evolves before any form of physical gathering in the City can once more be considered. For now, be assured that we are monitoring the situation as it develops.

For everyone, but particularly for so many who work in the hospitality industry the past nine months have had a truly dreadful effect. However, looking on the bright side no-one has been bombing the venues so at least the infrastructure will still be there when the All Clear is sounded and London will still “look” the same. On 28th December 1940 this was not the case because that night the Luftwaffe carried out its heaviest and most destructive incendiary attack of the Blitz campaign on London. Timed to coincide with the spring low tide in the Thames, parts of the City of London were devastated by fire. Twelve Livery Company Halls were lost including the Coachmakers’ Hall on Noble Street. With the Clerk away at war it was left to the Assistant Clerk to pick up the pieces – literally – but I shall tell you more of what happened that night in the next edition of Coachlines.

For now, if you want a little spiritual upliftance, follow this link and listen to the performance of the Unthanks at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2017. I defy you not to be moved by their gentle and haunting melodies.

Stay safe and don’t miss your vaccination appointment when you are called forward.