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Wartime Memories

KNOTTINGLEY'S WARSHIP

H.M.S. KENNET


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 shipbuilding. (1)

The 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)

Launched 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)

In 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.

On 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.

From 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.

At 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)

To 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 Council.

Whenever 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.

The 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: -

TO COMMEMORATE
THE ADOPTION OF
H. M. S. KENNET
BY
THE URBAN DISTRICT
OF
KNOTTINGLEY
YORKSHIRE
KNOTTINGLEY WARSHIP WEEK
FEB 28th – MARCH 7th 1942

The shield featuring Kennet’s badge bore the following inscription: -

PRESENTED BY
THE LORDS COMMISSIONERS OF THE ADMIRALTY
TO
KNOTTINGLEY
TO COMMEMORATE THE ADOPTION OF
H.M.S. KENNET
DURING WARSHIP WEEK MARCH 7th 1942

HMS Kennet badge

For 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.

Kennet 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)

Kennet’s 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.

At 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.

Knottingley’s Warship – H. M. S. Kennet. Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Warship Histories Microfiche, ref. PJ/JC Volume 2, 1979.
  4. 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.
  5. National Maritime Museum Warship Histories, Microfiche, PJ/JC, Volume 2, 1979.
  6. A 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 this information.
  7. K.U.D.C Minute Book 1942-1943. Meeting of Finance Committee 25th August 1943.
  8. Admiralty Movement Books. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
  9. K.U.D.C. Minute Book 1962-1963, p397.

Knottingley's Warship - H.M.S. Kennet is copyright ©Dr. Terry Spencer

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