Dr. TERRY SPENCER
H.M.S. Kennet, the warship adopted by the townspeople of Knottingley
during ‘Warship Week’, in 1942, was built by Smith’s Dock Co., Ltd.,
downstream of Middlesborough in 1916. The firm originated in 1908 as a
ship repair yard but by the time of the Great War had expanded into
vessel was constructed in 1916, pendent number ‘T17’, yard number 688,
being one of a dozen trawlers built for service in Russia. The ships were
small but sturdy vessels, 139 feet long with a beam of 24 feet and having
a gross displacement of 426 tons. (2) The vessels were driven by a 525
horsepower engine which provided a maximum speed of 10.5 knots. (3)
on the 17th July 1916 and named ‘Iceaxe’, the vessel and
her sister ships were initially operated by Russian nationals. However,
following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent intervention
of the Western Powers, the ship was seized by British forces while
operating in the White Sea in August 1918. (4)
October 1920, the vessel was renamed as ‘H. M. T. Kennet’ and used as
a fishery protection vessel under the command of Lt. Ernest Beeley. (5) It
is not until 1937 however that Kennet features in Admiralty Movement
Books, at which time she was refitted and converted to use as a
minesweeper before being paid off and placed into the reserve pool at
Portsmouth. The measure was obviously a precautionary one, taken in
conjunction with the ominous threat of war in the not too distant future.
As such a likelihood became increasingly apparent Kennet was taken out of
‘mothballs’ the following year and given a full crew under the command
of Lt. E. A. Church and assigned to the shore-based establishment ‘H. M.
S. Vernon’, a torpedo school serving the Portsmouth area.
the 5th June 1940, Kennet was commissioned in her own right
with H. Keatings, R. N. V. R as her captain and became part of the 4th Minesweeping Flotilla patrolling between Oban and various Welsh ports.
late 1940 and through 1941, Kennet underwent a major refit at Rosyth and
in November 1941 was despatched to African waters where the ship undertook
duties at Freetown, Sierra Leone, Lagos and Capetown.
the time of Knottingley’s ‘Warship Week’ and throughout 1942, Kennet
was still on overseas duty patrolling between Durban and Mombassa and
eventually moving to cover the Suez-Aden area. (6)
reinforce the link forged between the ship and the town by ‘Warship Week’
a number of supplemental activities were undertaken. Local people seeking
a forces pen-pal (a quite common practice at that time) were given the
opportunity to write to members of Kennet’s crew. Others, seeking to
provide comforts for servicemen, such as knitted scarves, socks, mittens
or reading material, could send such items to the men on ‘their’ ship
rather than to an anonymous distribution centre. In turn, the commanding
officer or his delegated representative, would keep the townsfolk informed
of the activities of vessel and crew through communication with the
possible, officers and men of the ship’s company would make personal
appearances. Such occasions were invested with the formality of public
events in order to draw public attention to the continuing connection
between the vessel and the local community and thereby underline their
mutual involvement. In the middle period of the war arrangements were made
by the Knottingley Urban District Council to have a replica made of the
town’s recently granted coat of arms for presentation to the ship’s
crew. (7) Simultaneously, the Secretary to the Admiralty had a replica of
Kennet’s badge made an exchange of ‘tokens’ took place at a public
ceremony held within the town.
plaque presented by the Council was made of hardwood and of rectangular
shape, being some 12 x 9 inches and 5/8 of an inch thick. At the top was a
hand carved reproduction of the town’s arms and carved below in capitals
were the words: -
THE ADOPTION OF
H. M. S. KENNET
THE URBAN DISTRICT
KNOTTINGLEY WARSHIP WEEK
FEB 28th – MARCH 7th 1942
featuring Kennet’s badge bore the following inscription: -
THE LORDS COMMISSIONERS OF THE ADMIRALTY
TO COMMEMORATE THE ADOPTION OF
DURING WARSHIP WEEK MARCH 7th 1942
many years after the presentation ceremony the plaque bearing Kennet’s
badge was displayed in the public room of Knottingley Town Hall. At some
point however, the plaque was removed (probably to enable redecoration of
the hall) and not repositioned.
remained in the Middle East, largely in the area of Alexandria, during the
latter stages of the Second World War. In the final year of the war the
vessel underwent yet another conversion, this time as a fire float. The
fire-fighting duties were a brief duration, however, for in May 1946 the
ship was sold and broken up. (8)
connection with Knottingley does not end there however, for immediately
prior to the scrapping of the ship all extraneous fixtures and fittings
were removed for disposal. Amongst such items was the carved plaque
commemorating the adoption of the vessel by Knottingley.
a general meeting of the Knottingley Urban District Council held on the
3rd April 1963, the Town Clerk submitted a letter from a Mr. C. T. Norman
of Hungerford. Mr. Norman stated that whilst in Oxford he had purchased a
carved plaque commemorating the adoption of H. M. S. Kennet by the
township of Knottingley and was prepared to return the object if the
Council so desired. The Council resolved to accept the offer, formally
recording its grateful thanks to Mr. Norman and the object was duly
returned to the custody of the Council. With the reorganisation of local
government in 1973, Knottingley Urban District Council became defunct and
it is shameful to record that the plaque was again abandoned as part of a
consignment of rubbish left behind when the Council’s archive and
artifacts were removed to Wakefield. Fortunately the plaque was rescued by
the author and now forms part of the local history collection of
Pontefract Museum where it is retained as an enduring memorial to
Knottingley’s Warship Week and the towns adopted warship.
Warship – H. M. S. Kennet. Notes
- North G.A.
‘Teeside Economic Heritage’ (19--) p34 and passim. For the history
of Smith’s Dock c.f. Macdonald I. & Tabner L. ‘Smith’s Dock
Shipbuilders, 1908-1987’ (1986). The last ship was launched 15th
October 1986 and the yard closed on the 28th February 1987.
I am indebted to Mrs. R. Bowyer for drawing my attention to this
source and for undertaking research concerning Smith’s Dock and H.
M. S. Kennet’s origins on my behalf.
- I am
grateful to Mr. J. H. Proud of the Teeside Branch of the World Ship
Society for details concerning H. M. S. Kennet'’ size and to Mrs. R.
Bowyer for contacting Mr. Pound on my behalf.
Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Warship Histories Microfiche, ref. PJ/JC
Volume 2, 1979.
- Lenton H.
& Colledge J. ‘Warships of World War II (19--). I am indebted to
Mr. M. Melia of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Museums
Research Department for drawing my attention to this source.
Maritime Museum Warship Histories, Microfiche, PJ/JC, Volume 2, 1979.
photograph of H.M.S. Kennet is featured in Dittmar & Colledge’s
‘British Warships, 1914-1929’ I am indebted to Mr. J. H. Proud for
Minute Book 1942-1943. Meeting of Finance Committee 25th
Movement Books. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Minute Book 1962-1963, p397.
Warship - H.M.S. Kennet is copyright ©Dr. Terry Spencer