HMS Illustrious Commissioning Card

On 25th May 1940 a new, and desperately needed, aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious was commissioned into the Royal Navy. The lead ship of a new class, she built upon the experience of the earlier HMS Ark Royal and was a more efficient and better armoured design than the earlier ship. She had been laid down in 1937, launched in April of 1939 and was finally ready to take her place in the fleet the following year.

Even in wartime, traditional commissioning ceremonies took place, especially for important capital ships like Illustrious. The ship’s company would have been formed up on the quayside for the ceremony and each man received a small commemorative card. The ship’s name and badge have pride of place on the front:

Inside the card was printed the naval prayer and a message from the ship’s first captain:

The captain’s wish to bring his ship into contact would be fulfilled less than six months later when the ship was instrumental in the Battle of Taranto. Her aircraft sank one Italian battleship and badly damaged two more and changed the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean for the rest of the war; not bad for a ship newly commissioned into the fleet!

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