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Admiral and Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy HRH Princess Anne has filmed a video message to mark 80th years since the opening of the Western Approaches command centre in Liverpool. The site was once the headquarters of the Battle of the Atlantic campaign, and until lockdown, was one of the city’s most popular heritage attractions.
With plans for a celebration party cancelled due to lockdown, the management team have encouraged supporters to deliver a birthday video message, which are to be played on social media over the next week.
In a secret bunker built under Exchange Flags square, hundreds of war-time staff managed a 24/7 operation to ensure that vital supplies routes were kept open across the Atlantic Ocean, and to help nullify the growing menace of German u-Boats.
Most of the staff were young girls of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (known as Wrens). Much of their work remained classified under the official secrets act for years after the war ended, meaning their vital but secret work remained unrecognised. The Wrens were responsible for a huge range of roles within the bunker, from decoding messages from Bletchley Park, analysing patterns of uBoat tactics, plotting convoy routes on a 20ft wall map and even training Naval Captains in anti-submarine warfare.
One such captain who took part in the Western Approaches Tactical Unit training school was a young Naval Captain called Phillip Mountbatten, who later went one to marry the young Princess Elizabeth and be better known as Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. It is fitting therefore that the Duke’s daughter, Princess Anne has marked the 80th anniversary with a specially recorded video message. The Princess Royal has a long connection with the Women’s Royal Naval Service and serves today as the Admiral and Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy.
The labrynth of rooms and corridors were closed off in 1945, and whilst reopening briefly to the general public in the early 1990s, had closed and fell into state of disrepair. In 2017 a lease was secured by heritage non-profit Big Heritage, who have painstakingly restored the site which has quickly become a hugely popular tourist and educational destination.
“There is perhaps no other single building in the world that had such an impact on the outcome of the war as Western Approaches HQ. Whilst Covid19 scuppered some of our plans, we have been working hard to restore further parts of the site in lockdown and to provide free online lessons that have been accessed almost a million times. There is no better way to honour those who served in Western Approaches than by educating a new generation on the sacrifices made in the Battle of the Atlantic. We are hugely grateful for HRH Princess Anne for using her platform to share our story further, and for the many other messages of support we have received from across the globe.”
Other video messages have been sent by various present-day military commanders, famous historians and broadcasters, and the current Ambassador of the United States, Woody Johnson who visited the site in 2020, and made a personal donation towards the restoration in memory of his late mother Betty Johnson, who herself served in the WAVES, the US equivalent to the Wrens in the Second World War.
To mark the 80th anniversary, Big Heritage are launching a series of new initiatives over the course of 2021, including the opening of a dedicated Museum of the Wrens, a special series of heritage apprenticeships, a children’s animation and a new Battle of the Atlantic tour service.
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