HMS Hawke Memorial Art Installation

In mid September 2015, the Shared History Workshop was approached by Greater Village Regeneration Trust about the problem of racist graffiti on walls in the mid Donegall Road area. Graffiti was constantly being painted over by Belfast City Council, leaving many walls a real eyesore. Painting over the offending material just provided a fresh canvas for vandals.

Angela Johnston of GVRT realised that in order to combat the graffiti and put some pride back into the area, some type of wall art was required. Angela contacted Pete Bleakley of the Shared History Workshop, having seen the Band Of Brothers (Polish RAF in the Battle Of Britain) mural project created by him and launched at Beverley Street in the Lower Shankill on the 75th anniversary of the Battle.

Pete Bleakley carried out research on the area and found that every branch of the services in WW1 had drawn volunteers from the Donegall Road area, and together Pete and Angela decided to create a history trail which would reflect the honour, service and sacrifice of local men and women in the Great War. The resulting Donegall Road Poppy Trail, with support from the Community Cohesion Unit of the NIHE, will provide many benefits to the community when completed in 2016.

For the first mural, Pete decided to really "push the boat out" and focus on a little known story of sacrifice from early in WW1 - the sinking of HMS Hawke in the North Sea by the German submarine U-9. The sinking, on October 15th, 1914, led to the deaths of 524 sailors, 49 of whom were from Northern Ireland, with five men coming from the Donegall Road area.

Angela Johnston wanted the art installation to be launched by Remembrance Sunday, 2015, which fell on November 8th - this meant that GVRT and the Shared History Workshop had little more than two months to create and deliver the project! With no time to lose, a site was identified at Barrington Gardens, and the rest, as they say, is history...

The original site of the HMS Hawke memorial art installation at Barrington Gardens in the mid Donegall Road area of South Belfast.

As the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net was being worked on by the Donegall Road community, the art installation site at Barrington Gardens was being prepared by workers from GVRT's associate social enterprise TREE

Given the shape of the wall(s) at Barrington Gardens, Pete Bleakley had decided early in the project to keep the imagery and information separate - utilising the small red brick wall for a 5'x4' information plate telling the story of HMS Hawke.

With the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net installed, the transformation of the site was almost complete. The art installation would be launched the following day with the help of the Royal Navy, NIHE and local COI minister Rev Raymond Moore.

In order to tie in with Remembrance, Pete designed the art installation to combine a 30'x10' poppy net (based on a ship's scrambling net) with 524 hand made satin poppies. Sea Cadets from TS Decoy in Bangor were 'roped' in to work on the net, which the Sea Cadets kindly sourced and supplied from Kilkeel.

Angela Johnston had stressed from the outset that she wanted maximum 'hands on' community involvement in the project, and enlisted many people from the Donegall Road area to help with the poppy net creation. Local resident Alison Patton, pictured (centre) with Angela Johnston and Melissa Lynas of GVRT, had the unenviable task of cutting and sewing together 524 satin poppies for the net...and the clock was ticking...

With the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net installed, the transformation of the site was almost complete. The art installation would be launched the following day with the help of the Royal Navy, NIHE and local COI minister Rev Raymond Moore.

Pictured at the official launch of the HMS Hawke art installation at Barrington Gardens, Donegall Road, on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November, 2015, are (l-r) Pete Bleakley of Shared History Workshop, Jennifer Hawthorne OBE of NIHE, Angela Johnston of GVRT and SNONI Commander John Gray of the Royal Navy.

The HMS Hawke info plate tells the story of the ship and her sinking, and includes a list of all who died in the tragedy. It highlights the five local men from the Donegall Road area who perished when the Hawke went down - helping to anchor the project within the community.

The HMS Hawke information plate drew interest as soon as it was erected. Here relatives of Stoker 1st Class Alexander Mairs from Glengormley identify his name on the roll of honour.

Members of various senior groups from the Donegall Road area helped sew the 524 satin poppies onto the net, which had been made suitable for wall mounting after a rope splicing procedure by the Sea Cadets of HMS Decoy, under PO (SCC) Brian Higgins. The boardroom at GVRT became a sewing room for several frantic days in October 2015!

A very wet Saturday 7th November 2015 saw the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net being erected at Barrington Gardens - just 24 hours before the Remembrance Sunday deadline!

As the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net would not be durable enough for constant exposure to the elements, the minister of St Simon's Church Of Ireland on the Donegall Road, Rev Raymond Moore, kindly offered to install the net in his church for eleven months of the year. It will be re-erected at Barrington Gardens for a month each year from 15th October - the date of HMS Hawke's sinking.

Pictured at the installation of the HMS Hawke memorial poppy net at St Simon's Church Of Ireland, Donegall Road, Belfast on Sunday 28th November 2015 are (l-r) Cadet 1st Class Stephanie Emes, Officer Cadet Zac Lloyd Humphreys, Petty Officer (SCC) Brian Higgins, Rev Raymond Moore, Lt Cdr (SCC) Leslie King, Cadet 1st Class Melissa Ramm.