Crest of the V&W Destroyer Association
Crest of the V&W Destroyer Association

HMS VESPER






Warship Weeks

Skipton adopts HMS Vesper

Warships Week February 1942

Between October 1941 and the end of March 1942, Warships Weeks were organised in cities, towns and villages throughout Great Britain.  The intention was to raise a sum by investment or deposit in all types of war savings representing the cost of building one of His Majesty’s ships ranging from the smallest to the largest vessels.  Once the target had been raised the community adopted the vessel along with its crew and the bond was strengthened by presentations in recognition of the money raised. Adoption plaques were presented by the Admiralty to the community and a plaque presented by the community to the adopted vessel. Links were maintained by the writing of letters and the provision of comforts and whenever possible visits were arranged to the adopting area.

Most of the V&W Class destroyers in commission with the Royal Navy were adopted during the Warship Week scheme and in a number of cases local sea cadet units later took the name of the ship. To find more about Warship Weeks see Peter Schofield’s article on ‘National Savings and Warship Weeks’.

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Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
 Monday 16 February 1942

Tomorrow The Yorkshire Post exhibition of naval photographs will be opened in Skipton Town Hall by Colonel Longden Smith.  Mr. E. H. Tillet of The Yorkshire Post will set the indicator

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Wednesday 18 February 1942

Skipton Warship Week total is now 270,000, which is 60,000 more than the original aim. The town has been congratulated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on having exceeded its aim on the second day. The indicator outside Skipton Town Hall was reset yesterday by County Alderman J.J. Brigg.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Friday 20 February 1942

Skipton Warship Week total today rose to 360,000, which is 150,000 more than the original aim. Today was Children's Day, and the indicator was reset by a schoolgirl, Barbara Gelling , Skipton's gala queen. Jack Hargreaves a Burnsall schoolboy, presided at the ceremony. Excellent work has been done by savings groups. One street group set out in Skipton for 200 and raised over 1,000, a figure exceed also by an elementary school. Thousands of people have visited the Yorkshire Post exhibition of naval photographs, which is proving an invaluable asset to the main Selling Centre in Skipton Town Hall. Business at the centre has been brisk, and it is expected that the record figure of 30,000, raised b the centre in "War Weapons Week" will be exceeded.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 23 February 1942

Skipton's Warship Week closed last night with a total of 463,000, a sum more than double the target sum of 210,000, the objective being the hull of the destroyer Vesper. The final figure for the week will be declared on Wednesday. Selling centres ( the chief of which was at the Yorkshire Post exhibition of naval photograph's, a popular attraction during the week at the Skipton Town Hall), raised 42,926. Moving the indicator yesterday, Mr. W.O Rickards, MP for the division, said that magnificent though the week's effort was, he urged the people of Skipton and district to carry on with the good work by continuing to pour in a steady flow of money in to the Exchequer.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Thursday 26 February 1942

The final figure for Skipton Warship Week, which concluded on Saturday was announced yesterday as 492,887 10s 11d.

Barnoldswick and Earby Times
Friday 27 February 1942

Cowling took part in Skipton Warship Week which concluded on Saturday. The Acre Shed Savings Group bought certificates to the value of 119 5s, as a contribution to the week's efforts.

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The exchange  of plaques

Skipton must have been confident they could raise the target sum of 210,000 to adopt HMS Vesper as they h
ad its plaque completed before the week was opened as reported in the Bradford Observer:

Bradford Observer
16 February 1942

How’s this for an example of Warship Week confidence?  Skipton which has set out to raise 210,000, had its plaque for HMS Vesper completed before the week was opened.  The teak was supplied by Mrs. L. Betts, the designing was done by Mr. J. C Midgley, principal of the Skipton School of Art, and Miss Varley, an active worker in the National Savings movement, has executed the carving with the assistance of Mr. W. E. Robinson.  The plaque is now on view at the War Savings Centre in Burton’s Building.

As a result of the success of Skipton's Warship Week in February 1942 the Ship's crest mounted on a wooden shield 
was presented by the Admiralty to Skipton Town Council on  Saturday 29 May 1943 as reported in the Bradford Observer:

Bradford Observer
31 May 1943

A big crowd witnessed during the afternoon of Saturday 29 May the exchange of plaques to commemorate the Skipton district’s raising 492,887 during Warship Week last year.  Rear Admiral, the Hon. Lionel Forbes-Sempill presented plaques to Mr. D. S. Jones and Mr. G. S. Green.  The Rear Admiral received a plaque for the Skipton area’s destroyer, Vesper.

Rear Admiral Arthur Lionel Ochoncar Forbes-Sempill, R.N (1877- 1962) retired in 1923 and his last seagoing command was as Captain of the Battleship HMS Colossus in 1919. Skipton is now part of  Craven District Council and the Admiralty shield and ship's crest of HMS Vesper is on display in the Craven Mueum (
Object Ref. 672/2016.33) in Skipton Town Hall.

The plaque commissioned and made for presentation to HMS Vesper by Skipton before Warship Week even began is in the Royal Navy Museum at Portsmouth but I have been sent a photograph (below left) for placing alongide the photograph of the Admiralty plaque (below right) on display in Craven Museum at Skipton Town Hall.

The plaque in the National M useum of the Royal Navy presented to HMS Vesper by Skipton in 1942
The plaque presented to HMS Vesper by Skipton is in the NMRN at Portsmouth
Click on the image to zoom in on the plaque
Trustees of the National Museum of the Royal Navy
The plaque with the crest of HMS Vesper presented to Skipton in 1942
The shield bearing the crest of HMS Vesper presented to Skipton by the Admiralty
Partly hidden but
on display in Craven Museum at Skipton Town Hall
Courtesy of Craven District Council



The HMS Vesper Association

Crest of HMS VesperCrest of HMS Vesper The HMS Vesper Association was formed in 1985 and met annually at Skipton, Yorkshire, between 1986 and 2013. Skipton raised 492,887 to adopt her during a Warships Week fund raising campaign in February 1942. Plaques to commemorate Vesper’s link with the town were placed alongside Skipton’s canal basin in 2007, ninety year after HMS Vesper was built, and a letter wishing the association well was received from its patron, HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who served on HMS Wallace. Sandy Stephen, the grandson of Alexander Stephen, the founder of the shipbuilder which built HMS Vesper at Govan on the Clyde in 1917, was another patron. He and and his wife, Sue, attended many reunion weekends over the years.

Skipton is a popular tourist destination, with the superbly preserved 900-year old medieval Skipton Castle, famous open-air Skipton market, spectacular limestone cliffs at Malham to the west, celebrated beauty of Bolton Abbey to the east, and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal passing right through the centre. The canal is Britain’s longest, at 127 miles, and was originally used for transporting coal, stone, cloth, and other cargo after its completion in 1816, but is now used by narrow boats taking visitors on canal tours.

Canal basin at Skipton
The Canal at Skipton - Courtesy of Pictures of England
Copyright Tom Curtis


The canalside memorial to HMS Vesper

The veteran members of the HMS Vesper Association attended the opening of a memorial to HMS Vesper errected alongside the canal basin in 2007, ninety years after she was launched and sixty years after she was scrapped. An Admiral  who served in HMS Befast presided and The Revd Canon Graham Bettridge of Skipton gave the blessing. The cadets of the Skipton Sea Cadet Unit attended linking the generations who fought in the war with a new generation of future sailors in the Royal Navy.

The veterans meet at the unveiling of the canalside memorial to the adoption of HMS Vesper by Skipton in 2007
Admiral Sir James Henry Fuller Eberle GCB and veterans, some in Vesper Association jumpers, at the unveiling of the canalside memorial to HMS Vesper in 2007
From left to right: AB Tom Dixon from Morpeth, Signalman Dave Kirk (1944-5),
AB Harry Russell from Durkar, Admiral Eberle, James Frederick "Nick" Carter (1918-2017) from Harpenden, Herts,
Bill Park ("Jack Dusty") from Spalding and Alan Stewart, a lawyer in Inverkeithing
Photographed by Tim Brunt, a member of the Skipton Royal Navy Association


The palaque in the Canal Basin, Skipton
The plaque on a wall in the canal basin
Photograhed by Tim Brunt
Vesper Association veterannd on cruise of the canal
Veterans of HMS Vesper on a canal cruise at Skipton - Barrie Wright centre facing camera with his wife Mairi McClean (nee Howie)
"The father of Derek Ramsden, the skipper of the canal boat, was rescued by HMS Vesper in the north Atlantic" Tim Brunt


Veterans from HMS Vesper visited Skipton at the weekend to witness the unveiling of a commemorative plaque. The reunion weekend started with the annual Vesper Association dinner on Friday night.

The following day, 50 people congregated at the canal basin to witness the unveiling of the plaque, which provides a permanent reminder of Skipton's link with the warship which it adopted during World War Two. The guests included seven former shipmates and their families, members of the HMS Vesper Association, Admiral Sir James Eberle, Commander Harry Hartley, Lieutenant Steve Wrigglesworth and the patron of the Vesper Association and grandson of the ship's creator, Sandy Stephen. Cadets from HMS Dolphin, MEP Timothy Kirkhope, Craven District Council chairman Coun David Ireton, Skipton mayor Carole Manley and Canon Graham Bettridge were also in attendance.

After the ceremony, there was a canal cruise followed by a social evening at the Three Links Club. The celebrations concluded with a church service on Sunday. Secretary of the Vesper Association, Jean Phillip, said it had been an "amazing" weekend.

Craven Herald and Pioneer
14th September 2007

Skipton keeps alive memories of its adopted WW2 warship
Craven Herald and Pioneer
6th September 2013

The HMS Vesper Association will meet for the last time this weekend before disbanding. Here, with the help of the association, we look at the history of the warship, which was adopted by Skipton in 1942, and the association, which was founded in the 1980s.

HMS Vesper was built in 1916 at the shipyard of Alexander Stephen & Son, on the Clyde. The shipyard built many warships for the Royal Navy, including HMS Amethyst, which secured a place in history after being trapped on the Yangtze River for three months during the Chinese Civil War in 1949.  Vesper – an Admiralty V Class destroyer with the motto Nescis quod vesper vehat (You know not what the evening brings forth) – was launched in December, 1917 and saw service during the remainder of the First World War. She was later decommissioned and placed in reserve.

In 1939 the now elderly Vesper was due to be scrapped but the Second World War intervened and she was pressed into service once again. She carried out convoy escort duties down the East Coast and along “E-Boat Alley” and in February 1940, with the destroyer HMS Whitshed, rescued 72 survivors of the British merchant ship Sultan Star, which had been sunk by a German submarine south-west of the Scilly Isles.

Vesper also took part in the 1940 Dunkirk Rescue where a flotilla of 900 naval and civilian craft was sent across the Channel under RAF protection and managed to rescue 338,226 servicemen. However, during the evacuation, the Luftwaffe attacked, reducing the town of Dunkirk to rubble and destroying 235 vessels and 106 aircraft. At least 5,000 soldiers lost their lives. The ship continued her convoy duties both close to home and further afield across the North Atlantic to Halifax, in Nova Scotia, taking part in further rescues.

In April 1944, Vesper was chosen to take part in Operation Neptune, the assault phase of the upcoming invasion of Normandy, scheduled for early June.  She was at Omaha on D Day – the ship’s company cynically believing she had been sent because, being old and worn, she wouldn’t be much of a loss if she was destroyed. However, she survived and for the rest of June 1944, she operated from Milford Haven defending convoys transporting reinforcements and supplies to the beachhead.  She then resumed convoy duties around British waters until the surrender of Germany in early May 1945.  She was sold to BISCO for scrapping and arrived at the shipbreaker’s yard in March 1948.

Skipton’s involvement with HMS Vesper dates back to February 1942 when the town adopted her during Warship Week. Across the country, cities, towns and villages were encouraged to organise “warship weeks” to raise money to meet the cost of providing a particular naval ship. The aim was that cities would raise enough money to pay for the battleships and aircraft carriers and towns and village would pay for cruisers and destroyers. Skipton raised an amazing 492,887 during that week. There are still people in Skipton who remember, as schoolchildren, writing letters and sending socks and scarves to the men and receiving sweets and chocolates in return. The Admiralty presented a plaque (now in Craven Museum) and a wooden block acknowledging the adoption. This is now in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth Dockyard.

It was not until 1985 that the HMS Vesper Association was formed.
Its launch followed a letter from Bill Park to the town clerk of Skipton asking whether there was any connection between the town and the former ship’s company. By sheer coincidence, Skipton and District RNA had raised an interest in the ship and it was decided to form an association.  A reunion was organised for March 1986 in the Midland Hotel (now Herriots) – and annual get-togethers have been held ever since.

Plaques to commemorate Vesper’s link with the town were placed in Skipton’s canal basin in 2007 and a letter wishing the association well was received from patron, HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who served on HMS
Wallace. Another patron is Sandy Stephen, the grandson of Alexander Stephen, and he and his wife, Sue, have attended many reunion weekends over the years. Sandy has also read the lesson on many occasions at the “parade” service in Holy Trinity Church. The second Sunday in September has been designated “Vesper Sunday” at Holy Trinity and the ship’s ensign hangs in the church. The closing hymn at the service each year is “for those in peril on the sea” and it never fails to bring a few tears.

Over the years the association has grown into a family who care about one another to the point where a “ring round” system was set up in order that everyone received important information as quickly as possible. Sadly, due to the fact that there are so few of the crew left who are able to travel, the association will formally disband this year.  However, that is not the end. Those who remain, including the widows, children and even grandchildren of these wonderful men will still meet in September each year to celebrate Vesper and carry on the “family tradition” of raising a glass of rum to old comrades. The final reunion will be held this weekend at the Three Links Club on Rectory Lane and the association invites all friends to attend a social evening on Saturday from 8pm.

Long may HMS Vesper be remembered in the town.



The battle ensign flown by HMS Vesper when she escorted the American troops landing on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944 hangs in Holy Trinity Church Skipton
The ensign is not the standard sized ensign normally flown by destroyers but the much larger ensign of a cruiser.
Before being hung in the church it was repaired by Sue Stephen, the wife of "Sandy" Stephen whose grandfather built the Vesper in 1917


If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Vesper you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/servicerecords.html


If you have stories or photographs of HMS Vesper you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster



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