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’.
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.
The exchange of plaques
Skipton must have been confident they could raise the target sum of £210,000 to adopt HMS Vesper as they had 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 theBradford 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 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 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
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.
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.
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 plaque on a wall in the canal basin Photograhed by Tim Brunt
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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