The HMS Belfast is a decommissioned naval ship permanently docked on London’s Thames River. This WW2-era ship has been preserved by the Imperial War Museum and serves as a popular London tourist destination. My decision to give this attraction a “Don’t” didn’t necessarily come from its design or content, but instead due to an incident that left me feeling uneasy while I was aboard the ship. I know that what transpired will not leave my mind, and for that reason I would never go back, nor can I recommend the HMS Belfast to any of my peers. That makes this an unfortunate “Don’t.”
I purchased tickets and boarded the HMS Belfast with my husband and family. This destination was saved for my step-dad’s visit since he served in the U.S. Navy many moons ago. My husband’s suggestion to take him here was a huge hit and the boys were very excited. I was personally indifferent. To actually see an old ship’s insides, in-person and not just in Hollywood, would be interesting, but I think I had hit my capacity on World War 2 facts and another area dedicated to Churchill. I’ve come to realize over time that London lives and breathes Winston Churchill.
So, anyway, we embarked on the HMS Belfast and began looking from room-to-room and deck-to-deck, at bits of information, pictures, machinery, and reenactments put together with props and creepy mannequins. I was initially impressed with the overall structure, and then less enthused once I reached the unappealing infirmary and other mannequin areas, and hit my information quota in the mini-museum. And then of course there was the incident.
The situation I keep referring to was this: I noticed something when I went to the bathroom as soon as I boarded the ship. My family went ahead and I went alone, finding the ladies room down a hallway, close to a restricted staircase. The restricted staircase was roped off and blocked with a very obvious sign. The staircase appeared to lead to another level of machinery, but the floor seemed dark–only lit by the windows that must be on that floor. As I went into the bathroom, a man was coming down the stairs. He swiftly cascaded down the staircase, let himself out of the clipped roped exit, and disappeared. I never saw him again and I don’t think he saw me. He was gone, but I was left with a sinking feeling. This man was not wearing an HMS Belfast uniform, nor was he wearing a badge. In fact, he was wearing street clothes, and sporting unkempt hair and an overgrown beard. I tried to tell myself that perhaps I was making presumptions because he was a man and not a woman, or maybe because he looked like what we have come to assume is the look of a bad person. Regardless of what my mind was trying to rationalize, one thing I knew for certain, there was a man somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. There is a saying that the government has ingrained in us: If you see something, say something. So I said something.
After taking the fastest pee of my life, and booking from the bathroom in case a bomb went off and I was in the closest area to the detonated weapon, I found someone that clearly worked for the HMS Belfast. I told him calmly what I saw and then tried to put the encounter out of my mind. But the problem is, I couldn’t. The employee that I had spoken to was back within seconds. He didn’t seem concerned as he went back to his post. In fact, none of the workers did. I tried to tell myself that he had passed it on to his supervisors who were looking into the serious matter, but all I kept imagining was him taking a trip upstairs, not seeing an obvious bomb, shrugging, and heading back to his post. I felt uneasy and that feeling did not subside. I kept noticing the lack in security, the lack of a metal detector or a bag search, and spent more time pinpointing the nearest exits in each room than paying attention to the actual content. It was unfortunate.
I realize this entire issue was probably nothing and this post is more about feeling unsettled than the actual exhibit. But, unfortunately, this is the world we live in now. This blog reviews the whole package, and I promise to do my best to only steer you to places that are a good value, fun, interesting, but also safe.
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2JH