HMS Montrose spent an unforgettable six days in New Orleans as she helped Americans begin bicentennial commemorations of the War of 1812.
The Devonport-based frigate joined ships from the USA, France and Canada berthed on the famous Mississippi waterfront for festivities.
Montrose arrives in New Orleans under gloomy skies. Pictures: LA(Phot) James Crawford, HMS Montrose, and US Navy
IT’S famously called the Big Easy, but the six days HMS Montrose spent in New Orleans were far from relaxing as she joined Americans commemorating the last time the two countries fought each other.
The Devonport-based frigate was the UK’s representative at the opening of bicentennial events to mark the War of 1812 – a war partially caused by the Royal Navy, and one which saw British warships engaged from the Great Lakes to the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico.
To kick-off commemorations, the Americans invited warships from the UK, Canada, France, Ecuador and Indonesia to join their own warships and Coast Guard vessels on the Mississippi for New Orleans Navy Week 2012.
After completing a challenging 112-mile passage up ‘Ol’ Man River’, Montrose berthed in the shadow of New Orleans’ iconic Crescent City Connection – cantilever bridge spanning the 2,180ft-wide river.
As well as opening their gangway to thousands of visitors, the men and women of Montrose – on the final stages of a Atlantic patrol deployment – got ashore to take part in numerous events including:
- the Louisiana seafood cook-off;
- a rugby match against Loyola University at the Pan Am Stadium (won by the Brits 38-14);
- a community relations project to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina;
- attendance at the New Orleans Hornets basketball team’s final home game of the season, with a return trip of the Hornets to the ship.
- a 100m dash to mark 100 days to the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Chef Luke Gaffney hard at work during the seafood cook-off
For the basketball, RN hoops star LWtr Judson Cupid encouraged 95 of his shipmates to attend the 17,000-seat New Orleans Stadium. They were not disappointed.
“Some of my shipmates had no idea at all what was happening on the court but were caught up in the atmosphere and having a truly great experience,” said Judson.
“It was a wonderful evening of basketball backed with an exciting atmosphere created by the passion of the fans and non-stop entertainment.”
Is it a Mexican Wave... or a Village People tribute? Montrose's crew get into the spirit of things at the Hornets' basketball game
In return, the ship hosted the basketball stars. “It is easy for us to forget what a unique environment we live in, but the fascination that our visitors showed for our work place and home was brilliant to see,” the leading writer added. “It was their turn to take some photographs of what they deemed to be a very memorable morning.”
Between them, the nine ships attending the event – led by assault ship USS Wasp – drew more than 120,000 visitors during their time alongside.
The war of 1812 actually dragged on until 1815 and cost the lives of upwards of 20,000 souls from battle and disease (15,000 on the American side, over 5,000 British and Empire troops and sailors).
The spirit of Kenny Everett lives on... Give a big hand for the Montrose crew at the New Orleans Arena
It was sparked chiefly by Britain’s ongoing trade embargo and blockade aimed at Napoleonic France and the Royal Navy’s pressganging of merchant sailors and ships into its service.
The war inspired the lyrics American national anthem, saw British troops burn Washington (including the White House and the newly-completed Capitol) in 1814, before the British were decisively beaten at New Orleans in January 1815.
Given the length and scope of the conflict, events will take place over the next three years in New York, Baltimore, Boston and on the Great Lakes to commemorate various battles and key moments.
The ship's rugby team power to victory over Loyola University
The six days in the Big Easy were the perfect curtain-raiser to those commemorations, said Montrose’s Commanding Officer Cdr Jonathan Lett.
“Montrose was in a position which allowed her to build powerful bonds with our fellow seafaring nations,” he said.
“We engendered great friendships through interaction at all levels; and the generous hospitality offered to my entire crew over the whole week ensured that this was a visit that none of us will ever forget. There were many highlights but, for me, just being asked to represent the Royal Navy at such a prestigious event was a fitting way to end our deployment."
His ship is now making her way back to Devonport after more than six months away; Montrose’s place in the southern hemisphere is being taken by HMS Dauntless on her maiden deployment.