Queen’s request for new Royal Yacht Britannia removed from public scrutiny

Copyright The Times RED BOX 30th January 2019 including picture and text, unless otherwise stated differently.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 after the Labour government took office




Britannia shown underway dressed on the bow with the Union Jack [Union Flag for all but naval use]; on the stern with the White Ensign, The ensign of the Royal Navy; on the foremast the Flag of a rear admiral whose title was FORY [Flag Officer Royal Yachts - plural because many years ago we had more than one Royal Yacht - in the swan song commission of the final Commander of the Yacht, the rank of the officer was a Commodore, and FORY changed to CORY who flies a Pennant and not a Flag], and on the main and mizzenmasts White Ensign's. When the Sovereign was embarked, Flags/Standard flown were foremast, the Flag of the Lord High Admiral;  mainmast the Royal Standard and the mizzenmast, the Union Jack the Flag of an admiral of the fleet viz Her Majesty, our C-in-C. In this case, the Flag of FORY/Pennant of CORY were not flown.





A commodore 1st class was a rank deleted from the senior officers structure in 1968, so the pennant flown on the Yacht without H.M. aboard in its final commision would have been that or the commodore second class.  A PENDANT usually means something that hangs down, but it can also mean several other things including Identification: in this case an identification that the ship is in commission. Pennant is the modern word [associated with flags/bunting] we use today and have done for a considerable period. The senior officer pennant is rarely used today and instead we denote that by painting the tops of funnels black.


Before I tell the story just a little snippet.

Long ago and far away I once had a near neighbour who was a permanent member of the Royal Yacht crew. We became good friends with just a couple of personal visits to HMY where most visitors do not go! Time and Service commitments separated us for a considerable time until one day I got a 'phone call from him saying that he was now a civilian, looking for a job, and had considered signing up for a five year stint back in the navy as an also-ran - he left as a PO Seaman and did I know of any openings in the Portsmouth areas. At that time, mid 1979, I was the Standing Officer of the Watch at HMS Mercury  Leydene Hampshire, and it so happened that my gangway staff changed almost weekly and was treated as a temporary personnel dumping ground. I argued that for good security, especially when the IRA were active on the UK mainland, we needed some permanency of staff and I was awaiting a command decision on the way ahead. I mentioned this phone call to the commander who gave his permission for me to tell my contact that he was at liberty to tell the authorities organising his application [were he to make one, at that time to HMS Centurion]  that subject to those criteria for short term employment, and an excellent reference, we had a suitable security position. As regards his reference I would have thought it gold plated after over 15 years of superior assessment in the Yacht. Anyway correspondence was exchanged between Centurion and Mercury and the commander, true to his word sealed the deal. My man duly joined the team and was reinstated as a naval pensioner back onto the Centurion payroll in return for a five year commitment.  His name was Danny Brown, married to a charming lady from St Helena. He had a collection of photographs associated with Britannia second to none, and over dinner at our house, we ploughed through them transfixed. He mentioned that he was thinking of asking the Queen's permission to publish a book on his experiences with HMY which would contain some of his collected photographs. Over an extended period, Danny gave me copies of some of them to keep and enjoy for ever as many had not been seen outside the Palace: they were mine to do as I wished with them! Eventually Olive and he went back to St Helena to live and from there he developed his idea of publishing his story/pictures. He sought the permission of the Palace and Her Majesty agreed and he produced his book which I own a copy of  and which I will donate to the RN Comms Museum in due course. The title is 'A ROYAL YACHTSMAN' by Danny Brown ©   first published in 1999 in Cape Town South Africa as a limited edition ISBN 0 620 23999 9.  Sadly, once back in St Helena and having settled in, Danny passed away. So, before you read the STATE SECRET below, a few pictures and a letter to view.


Britannia leaving the  MIRAFLORAS Lock in the Panama Canal 1959


On the fo'c'sle of the Britannia carrying out a crossing the line ceremony with Prince Philip being prepared for a dunking standing in white shirt having his collar felt [Hm!] and the admiral in his supervisory role watching on seated.

Britannia in the middle of a RAS [L] with RFA 'Wave Master' in the Pacific in 1959 taking on board FFO = Furnace Fuel Oil for her engines.


Britannia  alongside in Fremantle for a Perth visit with the Royal Roller offloaded and waiting as Her Majesty with Prince Phillip alights down the gangway.

HMY Britannia passing through a lock - Panama Canal 1963.

HMY Britannia dressed overall alongside in Jamaica  with a Tribal class frigate escort down aft.

Another vehicle carried in Britannia instead of the Roller, a 4-wheel drive royal Land Rover when the yacht was used for holidays in Scotland especially in the western isles.

Danny Brown the coxswain and helmsman in charge of the landing ashore of the Land Rover.

The Royal Family with a very young Edward

It's time for the Guard Ship to stand down from its protective duties towards the yacht and HER MAJESTY and she races down the starboard side of Britannia giving a procedure alfa salute to the monarch. F421 was the Leander HMNZS 'CANTERBURY' and I was involved with her workup at Portland before, after purchase as a UK build, she went back home to Devonport Auckland New Zealand. Some royals and guests are visible on Britannia's stern but I would guess The Queen and Prince Philip would have been on the bridge wing where hand salutes and hand waves are exchanged with the departing Escort.

The crew of the royal barge fighting turbulent and stormy seas trying to leave Britannia

RFA 'Blue Rover' doing a sail-by watched by Her Majesty and Prince Phillip. She was always with Britannia there ready to supply her fuel as she travelled thousands of miles  around the Commonwealth which she clearly treasures and none of it is foreign.  Pleasingly, it is an integral part of UK. The tanker is also in Procedure Alfa which crew members smartly turned out and stood to attention to form a salute and mark of respect.

A beautiful scene of peace and quiet. Britannia at anchor and fully illuminated in the River Dart at Dartmouth.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh being transferred to the frigate escort HNNZS Caterbury on his way to saying a personal hello to the Kiwi lads and thanking them for their protection. He would have returned to HM and Britannia by the same route.


A good view of Britannia now as a private ships i.e. no royals embarked.  Just FORY [Flag Officer Royal Yachts] flag flying high up on the foremast.

Britannia secured alongside - not sure where but the flags aloft at the very tops of the three masts tell a tale and being dressed over all suggests a very important occasions.  Those mast head flags forard to aft are the admiral commanding flag of A REAR ADMIRAL [FORY] - pass on the middle - and the White Ensign aft. The flags tell one just who is onboard, and it is my understanding, subject to correction, that the three flags we see here are part and parcel of the dress ship when it would seem strange with just an overall string of bunting strung over the mast leaving the very tops as bare wooden stalks. It is possible that the centre flag on the man mast is a royal personages standard for I think I spy a harp and some prostrate animals. When the yacht has the monarch aboard the flags flying are on foremast Lord High Admirals Flag; main mast the Royal Standard and on the mizzen a Union Flag. The rear admirals flag is flown on the foremast when royalty are not embarked but in this case it has been shifted higher up the foremast just to clear the dress ship line forard.  There again because a White Ensign is flying where normally a Union flag flies and with the rear admirals flag forard the mainmast flag, a standard of sorts, it could just mean that it is the monarchs vessel with the current highest rank on board the commanding officer of the vessel [FORY] no more than that

Britannia at anchor in the seaway in Venice opposite the Doge's Palace facing the right way for the open sea, namely the MARE ADRIATICO, the Adriatic Sea.  Opposite the stern is St Marks Square and immediately behind the stern at a distance, the entry into the Grand Canal.




A confidential government file that disclosed how the Queen lobbied for a new royal yacht has become a state secret once more.

The Times revealed a month ago that a senior Buckingham Palace official wrote to the Cabinet Office in 1995 saying that the Queen would “very much welcome” a replacement for the Royal Yacht Britannia, due to be decommissioned. The report was based on a Welsh Office document that had been released into the National Archives, where it was found by Philip Murphy.

The file has now been removed from public view. A note in the catalogue says: “This record is closed whilst access is under review.”

Although government papers are usually made available after a number of years — it was formerly 30 but is being changed to 20 — files relating to the royal family are usually kept secret.

The Welsh Office file’s disappearance was noted by David McClure, who is researching a book on royal finances. When Mr McClure first requested the file this month he was told: “Unfortunately the document you have requested is currently in use so we are unable to make it available for your visit.”

When he submitted another request two weeks later he discovered it was closed. An official told him that she had forwarded his request to the National Archives’ freedom of information team.

Mr McClure said: “They are retrospectively pulling it back. It is symptomatic of an overzealous, overprotective attitude towards royal documents. It is a deferential cringe.”

The file included a letter from the Queen’s deputy private secretary, Sir Kenneth Scott, who said that the Queen would “very much welcome” a new yacht. He added: “The last thing I should like to see is a newspaper headline saying ‘Queen Demands New Yacht’.” Although John Major’s government said that it would replace Britannia, when Labour won power in 1997 Tony Blair decided not to. Britannia was decommissioned that year.

Professor Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, who discovered the document in October, believes that it was overlooked because it was in a relatively “boring” Welsh Office file. He said: “It looks as if the Palace has asked the government why this document was in the public domain, and the government has clawed it back.”

However, sources have said that it was the Cabinet Office — not the Palace — that asked for it to be reviewed.

Professor Murphy said there had been past cases of the government reviewing documents that have been in the public domain. “They have demanded them back, and then redacted them further or retained them, because they had not realised that sensitive stuff was out there,” he said. “There is an absolute ban on material relating to the monarch and the heir to the throne. The vetters are always sensitive about any document that appears to show the Queen’s view on something.”

He said that it was in the public interest to understand how the constitutional monarchy works. “If you say that any document which records a personal opinion by the Queen should be censored, you are robbing the public of the ability to learn anything about the constitutional history of Britain over the last 65 years.”

It remains unclear whether the file has been retained permanently or merely until a decision is made.

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