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A farewell to Lusty

When the fourth ship to carry the HMS Illustrious name, and Britain’s last working aircraft carrier and decorated war veteran, set off on her final journey from Portsmouth Harbour to a Turkish scrapyard on 7 December 2016, there was not a dry eye in the port. What began as a wartime morale booster became a timely reminder of the strength of the 300-year-old relationship between the insurance industry and maritime behemoths.

For the uninitiated, the scrapping of HMS Illustrious was a particularly sad day for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) as it marked the end of an era with a ship we have held dear for more than 70 years. The story of how we became intertwined in the life of ‘Lusty’ (as she was affectionately known) is one that involves many of our own staff and members, including myself.

My Grandad served on HMS Illustrious in World War II and sustained a terrible head injury which was subsequently treated in Virginia, USA after  ‘Lusty’ limped sorrowfully to its shores, following a ferocious attack by German dive bombers in 1941. I have warm memories to this day of Grandad knocking on his forehead and making clanging noises against his ‘metal’ plate.

As the ravages of World War II began to take a heavy toll on the nation’s morale in 1942, the Government, led by Winston Churchill, launched Warships Week during which major industries were invited to sponsor a warship. The ABI’s predecessor at the time, The British Insurance Association, the ABI of its day, became affiliated with predecessors of HMS Illustrious.    .

While you may think our liaisons would have been all business, this was far from the truth. In fact our initial relationship was supplying all manner of highly sought-after wartime luxuries including cigarettes, chocolate and various other ‘wish list’ goods for the ship’s crew via the committee who reported to the Board.

The war ended on 8 May 1945 but our happy liaison continued with the committee visiting the ship in all sorts of locations ranging from the North Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1955, the ship was decommissioned. To mark the decommissioning, all the past Captains attended a dinner at the BIA and presented the ship’s bell to the then Chairman, with it came a plaque signed by each of the Captains, including Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, the Queen’s uncle.

For many years, the bell hung in a specially-constructed frame at our former premises in Queen Street and in Gresham Street. Following the decommissioning of HMS Illustrious on 28 August 2014, the bell and the plaque have become an official trophy artefact of the Royal Navy.

Despite the loss of our ship, the ABI continues to cherish its ongoing ties to the HMS Illustrious Association. As we mark the official end of HMS Illustrious’s service with a church service today, it is worth remembering that the passage of time does not diminish the importance of remembrance, nor does it close the door on relationships that have long survived the ravages of war.

Last updated 18/01/2017