ALL the talk we’ve had recently about the naval visit to the Tyne in 1965 reminds me that the ‘Grey Funnel Line’ had often been here before, albeit with more drama on some occasions than on others.
I loved it when I recently came across a record of an exercise that took place a decade or so before the First World War, that was designed to test the Tyne’s defences.
It was timed for the mid-evening darkness of a late summer evening, when searchlights located on the north side, at Clifford’s Fort, the Spanish Battery and the foot of the North Pier, played over the harbour as two torpedo destroyers ran up close to the South Pier end.
A red flare signalled the start of the exercise, guns being fired on detection of the ships, which then returned to sea.
But ah, suddenly the floodlights all went out. They had been captured by a party of ‘bluejackets’ from the destroyer, Lightning, which had slipped in earlier, berthed alongside the training ship Satellite and despatched her ‘handy men’ across the river to take out the harbour defences. Red faces all round, I imagine!