Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS WILD SWAN

Warship Weeks

Surbiton in Surrey adopts HMS Wild Swan

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.

Surbiton lost its adopted destroyer six months after Warships Week when HMS Wild Swan was bombed and sunk by enemy aircraft on 16 June 1942 before the exchange of plaques could take place but, unusually, raised the money to adopt a second destroyer, HMS Cassandra, which was also adopted by a national newspaper, The Daily Mirror, whose columnist William Cooper was better known by his pen name, Cassandra. The story of both adoptions are told in the Surrey Advertiser which is included in the British Newspaper Archive (BNA)  from which these extracts are taken. Sadly, the BNA does not include the war years for the Surrey Comet, the oldest paper in the County, which unlike the Advertiser is still published today.

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’.


Surbiton adopted two destroyers in 1942
HMS Wild Swan and HMS Cassandra

Surrey Advertiser 27 June 1942
Press cutting about the loss of the Wild Swan

Surrey Advertiser

Saturday 31 January 1942

"The Mayor of Surbiton presided at a meeting of Surbiton Warship Week Committee on Friday last week when the adoption by Surbiton of HMS Wild Swan, a destroyer, was discussed.  It was reported that the Admiralty intended to present to Surbiton Council a plaque, a replica of the ship’s badge, and that in return, Surbiton would present a plaque to the ship.  Various means of raising money to buy the plaque were mentioned, and the chairman of the committee said that anything raised in excess of the value of the plaque should be spent on comforts for the ships company."

Sadly, the exchange of plaques took place after the loss of the Wild Swan:

On 16 June 1942 Wild Swan was escorting Convoy HG.84 in the Western Approaches and was detached for refueling and passed through a group of Spanish trawlers when a squadron of Ju 88 bombers mistook them for the convoy and attacked Wild Swan and the trawlers. Wild Swan shot down six German aircraft (the record for any single ship) but was seriously damaged and collided with one of the Spanish trawlers, which sank. She rescued 11 survivors but Wild Swan also sank. HMS Vansittart "Picked up 10 officers and 123 ratings from Wild Swan and 11 men from Spanish trawler" but 31 British seamen died from exposure after 15 hours in open boats.

A week after the loss of his ship, Lt Cdr C.E.L. Sclater RN, visited Surbiton with Lt K.G. Holland, Petty Officer Hardy and PO Telegraphist Clements, and described their adventures on the platform of Surbiton County School as reported on in the Surrey Advertiser on Saturday 27 June 1942:

"As you know we were atacked by 12 bombers. We were ready for them. The gunners put up a very good fight, and when we had finished our anti-aircraft amnumition we carried on with armour piercing shells. She was a fine old ship. During the past year she had steamed over 90,000 miles in convoy protection. After she had been bombed she kept afloat for an hour, which gave us time to man the rafts and boats, and every man got off the ship in safety."

Censorship prevented Lt Cdr Sclater from mentioning that although HMS Vansittart "picked up 10 officers and 123 ratings from Wild Swan and 11 men from Spanish trawler" 31 British seamen died from exposure after 15 hours in open boats. For a fuller and more accurate description of what happened and the names of the men who died click on the link.

< The lengthy report in the Surrey Advertiser on Saturday 27 June 1942 is in the left hand column

Surrey Advertiser

Saturday 4 July 1942

Determined efforts are being made in Surbiton to raise sufficient war savings to meet the cost of another destroyer to replace the borough’s adopted ship, Wild Swan recently sunk.  This week ward committees and civil defence workers agreed to make a house-to-house canvass, each undertaking to raise twice the amount obtained in last year’s warship week.

Surrey Advertiser
Saturday 18 July 1942
Over 80,000 has been invested so far towards the 250,000 which Surbiton Saving Committee are trying to raise for a replacement vessel to succeed HMS Wild Swan.

Surrey Advertiser
Saturday 4 December 1943
Notice is given that it is proposed to apply to the Surbiton Borough Council for the registration of the Charity called HMS Cassandra Comforts Fund etc. etc.

Surrey  adopted HMS Cassandra and  there is a report of her crew members visiting Surbiton in April 1945 and in December, her former CO, Commander Powlett,  presented her ensign flown on the North Russian convoy routes, to the Mayor for safe keeping.

The lengthy report in the Surrey Advertiser on the adoption of HMS Cassandra is in the right hand column >

Surrey Advertiser 3 October 1942
Surrey Advertiser

Find out more about HMS Cassandra.
HMS Cassandra was torpedoed on the night of 1 December 1944 while posted as the "canteen boat" at the tail end of Return Convoy RA.62 from Murmansk and remained under repair at Murmansk until April 1945
Dudley Mills (1925-2010) researched the torpedoing of HMS Cassandra and the months he and his shipmates spent in Murmansk whille their ship was under repair
His research formed the basis for A Long Night for the Canteen Boat: The torpedoing and salvage of HMS Cassandra December 11 1944 (Arcturus Press, 1996)

If you want to find out about a member of your family who served on HMS Wild Swan you should start by obtaining a copy of his service record
To find out how click on this link:

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

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