Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS WHITEHALL





Warship Weeks

Cheltenham adopts two Warships:

HMS Legion - and HMS Whitehall

Warships Week 22 - 29 November 1941



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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Garden of Remembrance in Cheltenham
Cheltenham's Garden of Remembrance
Copyright David Reynolds


The wooden shield with the ship's crest of HMS LegionThe names of the men who died when HMS Legion wasT lost Cheltenham held a very successful Warships Week in November 1941 which raised 1,046,951 to adopt the modern L-Class destroyer HMS Legion commissioned on 19 December 1940 at a total cost of 445,684. It was a wealthy area and Cheltenam Rural District and Charlton Kings Urban District helped raise this large amount, more than twice the cost of the adopted ship.

Three months after she was adopted she was bombed and sunk in Malta harbour on 25 March 1942.

"On 23 March HMS Legion was detached to join Eridge in escorting the merchantman Clan Campbell. During this operation, the vessels came under air attack and Legion was damaged by a near miss. The ship proceeded on one engine after successful damage control prevented her from sinking and she was beached at Malta. She was then towed to the docks on 25 March and tied up alongside the Boiler Wharf the next day. Whilst awaiting repair, the docks were the target of an air raid. Legion was hit by two bombs and sustained further serious damage when her forward magazine exploded. She rolled over and sank in the harbour, with her bridge and funnel lying on the jetty. She was cut in two during 1943 and attempts were made to refloat her. They were unsuccessful." Wikipedia

Wartime censorship rules prevented negative news being reported in the press but the traditional presentation of plaques to the three councils whose combined efforts raised more than a million pounds went ahead and was reported at length in the Gloucestershire Echo on 12 December 1942, nine months after her loss. The Admiralty was represented by Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Hernell RN at the presentation of the ship's crest of HMS Legion mounted on a wooden shield to the three Councils but no reference was made to the loss of the ship nine months earlier. The shield still hangs in the Town Hall at Cheltenham alongside a bronze plaque recording the names of the eleven men who died when she was sunk.

It was customary for civc dignitaries to visit the adopted ship and her officers and crew to visit the town which had adopted their ship and for "comforts"  to be sent to the ship, items such as warm clothing or, perhaps, cigarettes, but in this instance there could be no such contacts. The news must inevitably have become common knowledge over time and parents would have had to tell their children what had happened to the  ship on the tin badges they had bought with precious pocket money and proudly worn. Two years went by before the situation was resolved and the people of Cheltenham read in the Gloucestershire Echo on 6th April 1944 that HMS Legion had been "withdrawn from the adoption scheme" but it was not until December that they read that its place was taken by the destroyer HMS Whitehall.

The
Gloucestershire Echo now had something more positive to report.

The adoption of HMS Whitehall
"Cheltenham has a new ship"

Gloucestershire Echo
6 April 1944
Gloucestershire Echo 6 April 1944
WARSHIP WEEK

Tin badge for Warships Week in Cheltenham

Gloucestershire Echo

27 October 1944
Gloucestershire Echo 27 October 1944
Gloucestershire Echo
3 August 1944
Gloucestershire Echo 3 August 1944
press cutting

Where is Cheltenhams's
"Bluenose Certificate"?

"Bluenose Certificate" awarded to crew members entering the Arctic
A "Bluenose Certificate"
awarded to a crew member in HMS Westcott


Gloucester Echo, Friday 20 December 1944
Cheltenham in 1944 - The town in conjunction with Charlton King’s formally adopted the destroyer HMS Whitehall instead of HMS Legion, reported lost.


Cheltenham can be proud of HMS Whitehall

Sergeant G.H. Kelly of 7 Oxford Parade, Cheltenham, was rescued by HMS Whitehall from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Click on the link to see rare film taken from the deck of Whitehall during the Dunkirk evacuation. Snr Lt Valentin Alexandrovich Martino, a Russian submariner taking passage from Murmansk with Arctic Convoy RA.59 to Britain in the Liberty Ship William S Thayer to become the Navigator of a RN submarine being transferred to the USSR, was rescued by HMS Whitehall on 30 April 1944. You can read his story illustrated with photographs never previously published in the West in the "Special Feature on VED 75" in the combined June - July issue of Warships International Fleet Review on sale now in branches of WH Smiths and  Sainsbury's.


Does Cheltenham have a red face?
- for loosing its "Blue Nose Certificate" -


Where are:

"ship's badge made by the destroyer's crew and the ensign flown when the ship was last in action" (Gloucestershire Echo 6th April 1944) and the
"Bluenose Certificate sent by the ship's Commanding Officer to the Town Clerk" (Gloucestershire Echo 27th October 1944) and
"the censored photographs showing some of the ship's activities" taken on "the pocket camera" presented by Cheltenham to the ship (Gloucestershire Echo 3rd August 1944)?

I  have made extensive enquiries in Cheltenham - but nobody seems to know!

Cheltenham has a beautiful Garden of Remembrance
but by VED 75 the adoption of HMS Whitehall by Cheltenham had been forgotten
I appeal to the people of Cheltenham to trace the plaques exchanged when Whitehall was adopted and these other memorials and send me photographs.




Please contact me, Bill Forster, if you know where they are or have anything further to contribute to this page about the links between Cheltenham and HMS Whitehall.


I would like to acknowledge David Reynolds and Pictures of England for the photograph of the Garden of Remembrance in Cheltenham
And Shiela Lewer (War Memorials Online) fot the photographs of the wooden shield and crest given to the city on the adoption of HMS Legion and the bronze plaque recording the names of the men who died when she sunk


If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Whitehall 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 Whitehall you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster



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