HMS MONMOUTH is to be scrapped and salvaged for spare parts, ending a direct Royal Navy association with the Wyeside town stretching back to 1666 – the same year as the Great Fire of London.
Built in 1991, the seventh ‘Black Duke’ was decommissioned two years ago, although there had been lingering hopes that the Type 23 frigate would be brought back into service or sold to a foreign navy.
But the ship’s bell was formally donated to the town last year, and naval bosses have now confirmed that the current ship, harboured in Portsmouth, will be sold to be broken up.
The Defence Equipment Sales Authority is inviting interested parties to buy the remains of HMS Monmouth and sister ship HMS Montrose, along with HMS Bristol and HMS Walney for the sole purpose of recycling.
It’s sad news for those who served on it and the town -– which gave the crew the ‘Freedom of Monmouth’ in 2004. HMS Monmouth’s long tradition is remembered annually by the town branch of the RNA with a service at St Mary’s Church, to mark the anniversary of the 1914 sinking of the sixth HMS Monmouth at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile, when 734 men lost their lives.
Nicknamed the ‘Black Duke’ after the Duke of Monmouth’s treachery against King James II in 1685, HMS Monmouth uniquely flew a black flag denoting when the name was historically blacked out, and her nameplate on the stern was also painted black, not the traditional RN red.
The seventh ship travelled in excess of half a million miles, visited over 200 ports and was also one of the last Royal Navy ships to sail into Brisbane in Australia in 1995.
In 2017, she seized £65m of cannabis and heroin from a suspect vessel in the Indian Ocean, dealing a major blow to the funding of terrorism.
Her last deployment was to accompany the Royal Navy’s first fifth-generation aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2018 when she sailed to the East coast of the US on trials.
She was decommissioned in summer 2021, and key equipment was removed alongside treasured symbols and objects which are unique to a warship – badges, tampions, honours board and the ship’s bell, which was donated to the town last year.
Lieutenant Commander Steve Reah, the last Senior Naval Officer of the ‘Black Duke’, handed over the prized brass bell in April 2022 to then Mayor of Monmouth Terry Christopher as a token of appreciation for the town’s support for the frigate.
The bell was cast before the warship was commissioned in September 1993 and, although its role on board was largely symbolic – unlike in days of old they are no longer sounded to announce the change of watch aboard – they remain a much-loved feature.
In keeping with naval tradition, the names of children baptised on board are engraved on the inside of the bell, which served as a baptismal font.
Lt Cdr Reah said at the time: “It gives me great pleasure to present the ship’s bell from HMS Monmouth to the beautiful town of Monmouth.
“The Royal Navy and the thousands of sailors that have served in HMS Monmouth thank the town and associated affiliations for the close bond that has existed, including being awarded the Freedom of the Town in 2004.
“The presentation of the bell serves as a fitting memory of this 28-year relationship, and we hope Monmouth enjoys displaying it for many years.”
Accepting the bell on behalf of the town, Cllr Christopher described it at the time as a “bittersweet” occasion.
“In 2004, the town council bequeathed to the ship the Freedom of the Town and since that time, the relationship between the town and the various ship’s companies has gone from strength to strength,” he said.
“I first had the honour and privilege to welcome HMS Monmouth in 2007 and on that occasion, the commanding officer Cmdr Tim Peacock presented me with his book: it was a wonderful experience to welcome the crew home after their circumnavigation of the globe.
“Once we heard the news of the decommissioning of ‘Monmouth’, it was met with great sadness and regret, coming as a little bit of a shock.”