MiKo: Volunteer on HMS Belfast in London and WoWs Gamer

hms belfast

MiKo: Volunteer on HMS Belfast in London and WoWs Gamer

By this point, some of you might have noticed that I’ve been semi-regularly posting on WGB Facebook Group a few photos from my volunteer shifts on HMS Belfast (HMSB).

It turns out I might have overdone it slightly, and now the Boss is wondering what the fuss is all about. So, at iJoby's invitation, here's a brief look at a WoWs player who spends most Saturday mornings as a front-of-house volunteer on a distinguished Royal Navy light cruiser in the Pool of London.

Proud and majestic, if somewhat rusted.
Who is this guy?

I go by MiKo on the WBG Facebook group, with the person behind the name being a young(-ish) man hailing from the Far East. I’ll keep my exact geographic origin a mystery and let your imaginations run wild...

In WoWs, you’ll find me as Ixanor under an account set up since 2016. I rarely stray into Random Battles, so the proper designation for me would be ‘Veteran Noob’. Limited gaming proficiency aside, the game is what got me interested in WWII naval warfare and its history.

How did I get into volunteering on HMS Belfast?

I discovered the opportunity by chance through a Facebook ad in July 2021 from the Imperial War Museum (IWM), the charity that operates HMSB as a museum. They had just reopened the ship to visitors after the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK and were recruiting volunteers to help with ship conservation and visitor-facing roles. Sensing a rare chance to work on a distinguished warship, I quickly filled out the online application form. I initially applied for the conservation role; I may not have the ship in-game, but maybe I can help keep her afloat in the real world. Unfortunately, my work schedule clashed with the conservation shifts available, so I switched to the front-of-house ‘Discover’ volunteer role. Disappointing at the time, but not exactly a total loss, as I’ve come to appreciate. 

Being a Discover volunteer

Discover volunteers basically help visitors have a great time on the ship. We give them directions when they get lost, offer recommendations on what to see, provide information about the ship’s history or technologies, and refer them to the yeomen if they have any serious issues.

The number of volunteers present vary day by day, but we typically get 6-8 regulars onboard on Saturdays. We come from various backgrounds (from ex-Army personnel to heritage train drivers), but we share a passion for the ship and we now form a merry band of curious mates. We all work under the supportive supervision of a volunteer manager, a lovely young lady with a lot of bright ideas, as well as the knowledgeable yeomen. The atmosphere is fairly relaxed and we’re allowed to have our own styles in interacting with visitors (from official and proper to informal and even mildly teasing), so long as we follow the broad policies and general duties.

Shifts and Positions

Shifts can be half-day or full-day, and each begin with a briefing with our manager. She’ll let us know about all the important updates, like whether activities for families are on or if there were operational issues that we should be aware of. By this point, we have some inside jokes for the latter, particularly regarding the ships’ toilets and audio-visual elements in the exhibits (‘Is the cat still alive in the potato store?’).

After the briefing and some quick banter, we head off to our designated positions at roughly 10:00am, when the visitors start coming aboard. We’ve recently introduced a rota system, so we will be assigned to various key positions at different times for a bit of variety. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of some of my common posts.

The area where you first arrive on the ship.

Our role here is to greet visitors when they arrive, and bid them farewell as they leave. If they seem open to conversation, we can chat with them a bit and suggest the recommended route for going around the ship. It’s the perfect place to be on a sunny day.

2 deck - The Paintings:
Great conversation starters.

Around the middle of the ship on the same deck as the quarterdeck (collectively known as 2-deck), there are two outstanding paintings of the ship. One is a highly-detailed cross-section, the other shows the different refits HMSB has gone through. I often enjoy staying here, where I can task children (and adults for that matter) with finding out where they are on the cross-section, and explain the background behind HMSB’s different refits.

2 deck - Sick Bay:
The crossroads.

This is easily one of the more important positions from an operational perspective, as visitors tend to get a bit confused at this point. The sick bay is to the starboard side of the ship, while on the port side you can 1) head back aft for access to the decks below to see the primary steering position and the critical Admiralty Fire Control Table, 2) head towards the bow to see the mess decks, or 3) head up the ladder to the café on the boat deck. Many visitors miss option 1), so I do try to remind them whenever we can. It is also here where visitors often ask us where they can find the engine and boiler rooms (most will have missed the entrance for these when they made their way through 2 deck). To these queries, we mostly guide them personally to the entrance.

Flag deck:
My favourite position on the ship on a nice day, but hold onto your hats in the cooler months.

Apart from the fantastic views, this is where we can tell curious visitors about how gunnery worked on the ship, including the roles of rangefinders, the radar-equipped Director Control Tower and the Admiralty Fire Control Table. We also tell visitors about different signalling methods, from the signal flags that can be hoisted from this deck (hence the name ‘flag deck’) to the ‘Aldis’ lamp on the port side that visitors can handle to simulate sending Morse messages.

Games Room:
Often an intriguing place for younger visitors, maybe less so for some parents.

Admittedly, this isn’t an official position for volunteers, but we sometimes joke that I should be posted here because I’m the only volunteer who plays WoWs regularly. I sometimes pop in here to check if anyone needs some extra guidance on how to play. 

Final comments

Being a Discover volunteer is quite rewarding, as we can always help visitors one way or another. The best moments are when visitors are visibly intrigued by what we say (though directing people to the toilets is also an indispensable service in its own way). We’re always learning new things about the ship, whether they’re facts shared with us by the yeomen or just things we see from exploring areas normally closed off to visitors. These are the reasons why I keep volunteering on the ship.

If you ever visit HMSB, do look out for and talk with us volunteers, who are all conspicuously dressed in red shirts and coats. On Saturday mornings, you might even find yours truly standing somewhere with a World of Warships water bottle in hand.

Thanks for reading up to this point. Good luck and fair seas!

I want to thank MiKo for sharing his experience on being a volunteer on the HMS Belfast, he frequently post images of his days working aboard the ship, and always a great topic starter for the Guys n Girls in the Facebook group. Joby

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