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Frigate Foudroyant – a musical story

Training Ship Foudroyant

For a large part of the twentieth century HMS Trincomalee, then known as TS Foudroyant, served as a training ship for young people.

Children would come from far and wide to learn the principles of sailing on board the oldest British warship still afloat.

They would learn to row and sail small crafts like dinghies, and instruction was given in subjects such as knots, tides, and weather.

Summer 1973

One of these children was ten-year-old Tommy Gaede of Hamburg, Germany, who spent time on board Foudroyant in the summer of 1973.

Tommy was a musically gifted child, and he decided to commemorate his time as a trainee by composing ‘Frigate Foudroyant – a musical story’ for the piano; a group of twelve individual musical pieces which he subsequently sent to the ship’s captain.

Put together, these pieces tell the story of a typical day as a trainee on Foudroyant, from “Dawn”, through “Scrubbing the Deck” and “Boat Pulling”, and finally to “Nightfall”. 

Tommy sent a letter to Captain Paiges along with his composition and tells us that his piece will be played by an eclectic group of instruments at his school – including accordion, trumpet, and glockenspiel.

During the performance, Tommy was to wear his Foudroyant cap and ribbon, a common souvenir kept by trainees.

Musical Artefacts

It is Conservation Technicial Emma Callaghan that rediscovered this artefact within the collection and here she tells us about what she found.

Coming across Tommy’s composition in the collection was a special moment for Emma, both as somebody interested in the ship’s history, and as a pianist.

Emma's musical curiosity could not be overcome, and she just had to hear the pieces played – possibly for the first time since Tommy’s school performance.

A Musical Story

Music exists in part to tell stories and to convey emotions, and these pieces when played aloud do just that. “Dawn” is calm and peaceful, whilst “The Boys Assemble” is fast and chaotic – just as you expect this task might have been!

“Sailing” tells us a lot about Tommy’s experience of this particular activity. The piece is more sedate than Emma first imagined it might be, and she thinks it was maybe when Tommy went sailing on a calm day.

But, his use of sharps and flats in the music express his possible feelings of uneasiness and apprehension. Perhaps he much preferred watching the sunrise from the deck of Foudroyant? We can only guess!

Foudroyant Trainee Experiences

The effort put into creating this composition by a ten-year-old child is an impressive feat, and it tells us of the lasting impact which spending time on the ship could have on young people.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy continues to hear experiences from trainees which add to the story that Tommy so sweetly tells through his music.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool holds numerous objects relating to HMS Trincomalee’s time as a training ship, but very few which are as personal, charming, and unique as ‘Frigate Foudroyant – a musical story’.

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