Seaford College hosted its annual History Society talk and dinner, with guest speakers Lord Peter Hennessy and Dr James Jinks authors of a much lauded history of the Royal Submarine Service: “The Silent Deep”.
The evening was introduced by Seaford’s Head of History, James Gisby, who began by saying that history was about much more than just “the past” and that the evening promised to demonstrate to the assembled crowd of students, parents and interested local people that history is still occurring before our eyes.
Lord Hennessy began the presentation with a brief sketch outlining the genesis of the project, explaining that due to the sensitive nature of the submarine service’s operations, there was, before their book, a sizeable “gap” in British naval history where submarines were. This perhaps explains the “special fascination” that these craft and their operations have, not just for historians like himself but also many curious laymen, as evidenced by the attentive and appreciative faces before him.
He explained the “remarkable access” that he and Dr Jinks had enjoyed to previously forbidden territory, remarking however that the clear enjoyment he took from the research led his wife to suspect the whole thing was some kind of “extended jolly”. And this was perhaps the overriding message of the night, especially for the students: despite the fact that the speakers were discussing such terrifying concepts as the “letters of last resort”, they had an infectious enthusiasm for history and the stories they had to tell, which transcended the serious subject matter to make for an enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Dr Jinks then followed, giving a brief history of the submarine service from its beginnings on the “piratical fringe” to its current modern incarnation. Much of its modern history was of course concerned with Cold War intelligence gathering, and Dr Jinks’ talk was accompanied by some fascinating photographs of Russian military hardware taken by submarines in the 70s. He spoke also of the service’s involvement in the Falklands war, as well as offering some fascinating insights into the under ice warfare that characterised the 1980s as the Russian fleet retreated to the Arctic Circle.
The question and answer session that followed raised some fascinating points with two very searching questions from Seaford students, Tom Hennessy (no relation) and William Morris. Tom had clearly done his homework, having read one of Lord Hennessy’s other books, questioning him on his personal views on nuclear retaliation while William asked about the safety measures aboard nuclear vessels. Both questions provoked well-considered and detailed responses from the panel.
The event was followed by a book-signing and dinner with many guests and students stocking up on some high-brow stocking fillers for the Christmas period.
John Doy, Seaford’s Director of Academic Performance said: “The evening was a fascinating, if sometimes alarming, insight into what has gone on, and continues to go on, beneath the surface of the world’s oceans; we were all left feeling privileged to have glimpsed for a moment the secretive and compelling world of “The Silent Deep”. Many of Seaford’s Gifted and Talented students and the students on the Academic Enrichment Programme attended the talk and dinner and they enjoyed hearing Lord Peter Hennessy and Dr James Jinks share their experience and expertise.”
James Gisby, Head of History added: “My vision for the evening was to inspire future historians with influential speakers who are experts in their fields. This talk follows closely on the heels of Seaford’s Gifted and Talented conference for local schools and Seaford staff, making a link between the skills we teach and foster at Seaford, manifested in an authoritative work. This is a key feature of providing extension of provision for the Gifted and Talented pupils.”
The talk and dinner was supported by the Petworth Festival Literary Weekend. Festival Manager, Kate Wardle, and her colleagues attended the event and added: “Thank you very much indeed for a superb evening on Friday. We all enjoyed the talk and presentation enormously. Lord Hennessy and James were very knowledgeable people who could both speak eloquently and expertly on the subject, but from different points of view and with different emphasis. This made for an extremely interesting and informative evening. I don’t think many of us can imagine quite what it’s like to spend weeks on end under the sea without any daylight or realised quite how important the sub-mariners work is to our national security. Dinner was wonderful with a great atmosphere too. All the Festival team so enjoyed being guests at Seaford.”