For almost a century, HMS Unicorn served her country as the Drill Ship for the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Dundee, and during both World Wars was used as the Headquarters of the Senior Naval Officer. The Naval Reserves played a great part in both wars, and the War Memorial on the Upper Deck commemorates those of HMS Unicorn’s company who went to war and did not return.
The first memorial was unveiled on Saturday 4th May 1924 by Commodore the Marquis of Graham with around 600 people gathering to watch. The event was so popular that people were unable to climb on board the ship, and instead had to stand outside. The Courier reports that, ‘The memorial, which takes the form of a bronze tablet, shows a member of the R.N.V.R and a soldier, both with rifles at the ready, and between them two ships at war. The inscription is as follows: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of those of HMS Unicorn who fell in the Great War 1914-1918’ (…) The Marquis of Graham said that his late comrades were men who had been known to many of those present. They had gone up and down the same gangways and had stood on the same dock. He remembered very clearly issuing the order, which consisted of only one word: ‘Mobilise’. They were members of the first volunteer corps who had been mobilised in 1914 and who had gone forth to battle eager and expectant’. Dundee’s 7 officers and 150 men joined the Hood Battalion of the Second Brigade, were then sent to Belgium for the defence of Antwerp and narrowly avoided internment with the other battalions during the chaotic retreat. The R.N.V.R band under Bandmaster Carrie accompanied the singing, whilst Bugler Nesbitt sounded The Last Post and Reveille.
The memorial to those that fell in the Second World War was unveiled on Sunday 11th November 1951. At the close of a Remembrance Day service on board HMS Unicorn (then called Cressy), the memorial to men of the Tay Division was unveiled on the Upper Deck by the officer commanding the division, Captain D.R. Miller. His brother, Lieutenant Norman Miller, was killed during the First World War and his name appears on the earlier memorial. During the Second World War, HMS Unicorn was a headquarters for a branch of the Woman’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS), with over 1,500 recruits on board the ship (in 1942 there were 739 personnel stationed here alone). Dedication was by Rev. John Turner, chaplain, who also conducted the service. Wreaths were laid by Commander Anderson, Chief Shipwright J. Christie, Mrs Bowman, secretary of the WRENS Association, and retired Captain W Smail.
On 11th November 2018, the centenary of the end of the First World War, the Remembrance service included a roll call of 295 RND officers and ratings from Dundee and the surrounding counties who lost their lives during the conflict. The Last Post was also sounded, on a cornet that had once belonged to Victor Ferrar, a member of the R.N.D Hood Battalion who was killed at Gallipoli aged 17. The Royal Naval Reserve service has been held on the HMS Unicorn every year since 1924 and all are welcome to this event.
The Society is delighted to be working with War Memorial Trust on this conservation project, which will allow the Memorial to be cleaned and restored to a high standard in honour of the servicemen who lost their lives in World War One and World War Two. We’ve been awarded a grant of £500 towards the costs of conservation work to the Memorial boards.
Blog Post by Louise Hurrell, HMS Unicorn Volunteer