Junior Officer, R.N.R., Royal Naval Unit, University of Southampton

A photo-booth snap during my time as a Midshipman, Royal Naval Reserve & treasurer of the University of Southampton Royal Naval Unit (1979) - perhaps the first and only botany student in such a unit, though I did take Oceanography courses? I was sorely tempted to go on the marine biology field-trip to Guernsey but stuck with the expected trip to the Atlantic Coast of Spain. Most of my fellow unit members studied Ship Science, Engineering and similar subjects. Like a majority of members I did not go on to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy (there was no obligation to do so; we were not sponsored by the Navy, as some Southampton undergraduates were, in return for serving a minimum number of years) but the experience helped prepare me for expeditions along the Himalaya and life in general.  I did return to visit the university campus on one occasion, to collect some of the set of pressed specimens collected during the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition, to take back to India (they were not being used in the botany department herbarium) for use by Amchi Tsewang Smanla (a doctor of Tibetan Medicine for use in teaching students), see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/kohli-memorial-gold-medals scroll down to 2011 and: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/flowers-for-a-dalai-lama (see Stage 2, Little Tibet).  I popped into the Unit's office, then at University Crescent; by chance some of the students in unit at that time were about to attend the annual Army versus Navy Rugby game at Twickenham, so decided to meet up with them and enjoy the game; it was thought that other past members of the Unit were going to attend, so I thought I might catch up with one or two from my time but in the end, nobody else turned up.

 Chris has been fortunate to live during a period when his country was involved in a full-scale war.  The Falklands War in 1982 brought home to him that he might be required to fight,  Whilst under no obligation, as his service as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve ended when he graduated, he certainly would have volunteered to join the Royal Navy had the war escalated, which fortunately it did not.  Whilst his training had only been part-time, he could initially  have helped release others for more active roles. Head of the Unit at this time, was by coincidence, Lt.-Cdr Pearson, whose experience included captaining H.M.S. Endurance, the Ice-Patrol Vessel, whose proposed decommissioning due to budget cuts, prompted the Argentinian invasion.  When HMS Sheffield was sunk, I was reminded of being shown round her sister ship.    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War

Chris Chadwell photographed in his Midshipman's Uniform at his home in Stevenage in the late 1970s


Inshore Minehunters in a French canal en route to Paris - two of the training ships for the four University Royal Naval Units:                         Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow (Strathclyde) & Edinburgh

H,M.S. Isis - an inshore minehunter (modified for seamanship and navigational training) arriving in Paris during a spring cruise

Members of the Southampton Royal Naval Unit in Paris

Member of the Southampton Royal Naval Unit in Paris


Chris has fond memories of a cruise following a week's training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, which took HMS Isis up to the West Coast of Scotland (stopping off at Tobermory, Skye and Isle of Staff, before squeezing through the Caledonian Canal, ending at Rosyth).

The situation has changed considerably with an expansion from the four units when I was studying at Southampton in the late 1970s to 15 at present, along with increased activities and faster vessels (Southampton has an Archer Class patrol vessel), see:







Edge of the Isle of Staffa, Western Isles of Scotland (where there was a Puffin colony) during a University of Southampton Royal Naval Unit Summer Cruise from Dartmouth ending at Rosyth Dockyard having travelled through the Caledonian Canal about H.M.S. Isis - an inshore minesweeper, only just narrow enough to squeeze through the locks. © Chris Chadwell


Alderney in the Channel Islands, one of the places Chris visited on a weekend training cruise on board HMS Isis - the German military defences and small number of inhabitants give this island a special atmosphere. Well, that was the case 40 years ago.


Strangely enough, Chris attended the Silver Jubilee Fleet Review in the Solent just 3 months before he started his degree course at the University of Southampton.  One of the ships (albeit one of the smallest) present was HMS Isis with members of the University Royal Naval Unit, which he was shortly to join but in June had absolutely no idea that this was going to happen.

Article from 'The Times' - the Southampton University Royal Naval Unit's captain during my first two years was Lt.-Cdr. Pearson, who had captained H.M.S. Endurance.  His seniority created complications when our miniature minesweeper was in harbour with Frigates and destroyers, as often we had the senior captain, so we were obliged to leave harbour in the morning first.  On one occasion, after leaving Poole one Sunday morning, heading back to Portsmouth, a Frigate turns its main guns on us and sent a message in Morse, which embarrassingly none of us University students could read - fortunately our captain could; he explain that we had been told is 'Sailor's language' that as they were much bigger than us, we should move out of the way! There is no doubting that the Thatcher governments decision to announce the scrapping Endurance (with its contingent of 12 Royal Marines, if my memory serves me correctly - the only ice-patrol vessel) because it could not afford to operate her, encouraged the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina's military government.  There thankfully was only one civilian death during the conflict, the wife of the vet (who was the daughter of the landlord of the flat I rented in Llandrindod Wells towards the end of my spell as team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation).



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