HMS Montrose has spent six days in New Orleans helping 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 the festivities.
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.
Montrose 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 the 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 (180km) passage up the Mississippi, Montrose berthed in the shadow of New Orleans’ iconic Crescent City Connection, a cantilever bridge spanning the 2,180-foot-wide (664m) river.
As well as opening their gangway to thousands of visitors, the men and women of Montrose - on the final stages of an 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 in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina
- attendance at the New Orleans Hornets basketball team’s final home game of the season, with a return trip for the Hornets to the ship
- a 100-metre dash to mark (the then) 100 days to the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
For the basketball, Royal Navy hoops star Leading Writer Judson Cupid encouraged 95 of his shipmates to go along to the 17,000-seat New Orleans Arena. 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 Leading Writer Cupid.
It was a wonderful evening of basketball backed with an exciting atmosphere created by the passion of the fans and non-stop entertainment.
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 workplace 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 and over 5,000 British and Empire troops and sailors).
Whilst the Royal Navy’s press-ganging of US-naturalised, ex-British citizens into its service was a factor that led to the war, US territorial ambitions in British Canada also played a part.
The war inspired the lyrics of the American national anthem, and saw British troops burn public buildings in 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 six days in The Big Easy were the perfect curtain-raiser to those commemorations said Montrose’s Commanding Officer, Commander Jonathan Lett:
Montrose was in a position which allowed her to build powerful bonds with our fellow seafaring nations.
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.