The Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, in the county of Devon on the south coast of England, has played an important part in British military history. Built in 1905 as part of the British Navy’s attempt to ready itself for any future war, it trained several of the greatest sailors of the Royal Navy, including Admirals Andrew Cunningham and John Fieldhouse. It fully deserves the word Royal in its title as previous cadets have included King George V, King George VI, the present King Charles III, and Prince William of Wales. It was also where Queen Elizabeth II had her first meaningful meeting with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was a cadet there. (There have also been some less distinguished alumni, including Prince Andrew and the Cambridge traitor Guy Burgess.)
In September 1942, after six Focke-Wulf warplanes bombed the college, it moved to Eaton Hall, the Duke of Westminster’s stately home in Cheshire, where it remained for the rest of the Second World War, only moving back to Dartmouth in the fall of 1946. Since 1998, Britannia has been the country’s sole remaining naval college.
The reason that Britannia is in the news today is that, having been starved of funding for many years now, as the result of defense spending cuts, the college is physically collapsing. The government’s own education inspectorate, on visiting the college that houses 450 students, has reported that it has “some of the worst infrastructure that inspectors have ever seen.” This includes mold in the bedrooms, rotting window frames that had to be boarded up, and whole areas of the college that are roped off for safety reasons. Rating Dartmouth as inadequate for the second time in two years, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, described conditions there as “unacceptable” and demanded immediate action.
The best that Britain’s Ministry of Defence could do in reply was to put out a statement saying, “While committed to addressing the recognised shortcomings, the College’s Grade II historic building status may require more time to deliver the necessary improvements.” Grade II is the same status enjoyed by many stately homes and historic monuments, and it is recognized that it is usually much more expensive to refurbish and renovate them than non-historic buildings, but nevertheless it is the duty of the government not to allow its only naval academy to rot, especially while 450 pupils are being educated there.