HMS Beryl


HMS Beryl at sea
The converted fishing trawler HMS Beryl

One of the great acts of national savings to fund our military forces during World War Two was Warships' Week that was held throughout Britain to buy new fighting vessels to join the Royal Navy fleet.

This was a patriotic appeal by the government for the public to dig deep into their pockets and provide the cash to fund new ships and Lincolnshire responded magnificently with each town and village raising massive amounts. Here in Bourne, the Warships' Week appeal was held from 7th-14th February 1942 with a target of 35,000 to buy a minesweeper but in the event, 54,168 (1.5 million at today's values) was collected and in June, the town adopted HMS Beryl at an official ceremony on the Abbey Lawn when Rear Admiral F A Buckley of the Royal Navy handed over a plaque to mark the occasion. In return, Bourne Urban District Council also gave a plaque that was eventually fixed on the ship and stayed there for the rest of the war.


Newspaper notice from 1942
Notice from the Lincolnshire Free Press on 2nd February 1942


The Maritime Museum in Malta contains the actual contract signed by Rear Admiral Buckley on behalf of the Admiralty and the citizens of the town of Bourne who helped finance HMS Beryl, together with a brass plaque from the ship which commemorated the adoption.

The boat had a chequered history. It was built at Hull in 1935 as the 650-ton fishing trawler Lady Adelaide but was bought by the Admiralty at the outbreak of war in 1939 and renamed HMS Beryl, an auxiliary minesweeper of the Gem Class named after semi-precious stones. The boat was 150 feet long, powered by a 700 hp engine and capable of 12 knots.


The first commanding officer was Commissioned Bosun Harry Sellwood (later Lieutenant Commander Sellwood) and after the ship had been altered and adapted for minesweeping and anti-submarine work, he took it to Malta where it became involved in the long and bitter siege of the island during which action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. 


HMS Beryl was sunk alongside Parlatorio Wharf in French Creek during an attack on the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious on 19th January 1941. Only part of her funnel and the tip of her mast were still visible above water in the harbour (pictured above). She remained submerged until refloated in October 1941 and repaired. At that time, the waters around Malta were littered with mines sown by Italian naval craft and dropped by German aircraft. These claimed various naval and merchant ships. 


Both of Beryl's sister ships, Jade and Coral, were wrecked early in 1942 and Beryl became the largest naval vessel remaining afloat at Malta, the lone bulwark in the campaign, and was nicknamed "the Flagship of Malta" by the islanders because she flew the flag of the Flag Officer, Malta.


The sunken ship just visible
Photo: Courtesy John Mizzi


After the Malta campaign, Sellwood left the ship in November 1943 when there was a complete change of crew and it went to the Greek Islands and Turkey and later took part in the Sicily landings leading up to the invasion of Italy. HMS Beryl was decommissioned when the war ended in 1945 and the following year was sold to the Iago Steam Trawling Company at Fleetwood in Lancashire and renamed the Red Knight. It continued fishing until 1963 when it was sold for demolition and so ended its days in a maritime scrapyard at Barrow-in-Furness.


A Bourne man, Tony Orchard, a former chief petty officer with the Royal Navy, has completed a model of the Beryl, working from the original plans which he was able to purchase, and it is now on display at his home in Northfields, Bourne, forty inches long and complete in every detail.


The cast iron plaque presented by the Admiralty to mark the adoption of the ship by Bourne is now in the possession of wartime naval veteran Bert Johns, a retired policeman, who lives in Stanley Street, Bourne. He rescued it from Wake House as it was about to be thrown away when the building was vacated by Bourne Urban District Council to make way for the newly formed South Kesteven District Council in 1974 and he now retains it on behalf of the Bourne branch of the Royal Naval Association of which he is secretary. 


Bert Johns and the Beryl plaque The wooden plaque made by Jack Rayner

Bert Johns, secretary of the Bourne branch of the Royal Naval Association, pictured with the cast iron shield carrying the crest of the minesweeper HMS Beryl that was presented to Bourne Urban District Council by the Admiralty to commemorate Warships' Week in February 1942. It would have been destroyed had it not been for Bert's  intervention. The plaque presented to the ship by Bourne Urban District Council in 1942 survived the war and was returned to Bourne when the ship was broken up in 1963. This plaque has a particular history because it had been specially carved for the council when the ship was adopted by Jack Rayner*, a woodwork teacher at Bourne Grammar School, and so it was sent there for safekeeping but that too was almost lost. It was about to be thrown on a bonfire when some of the old wooden buildings were demolished in 1995 but Bert again managed to save it.


HMS Polyanthus


A second warship associated with the Bourne area was adopted by South Kesteven Rural District Council whose administration at that time included several villages around of the town. Their target was much more ambitious and they managed to raise 120,000 which was used to adopt a corvette, HMS Polyanthus. Models of similar vessels, HMS Cossack and Exeter, were mounted on lorries and sent to tour the locality including the Deepings, Billingborough and Pointon, as part of the savings drive and the pennants of the international naval code were flown from flag staffs mounted on public buildings to stimulate support.


The 925-ton HMS Polyanthus, with a crew of 85, was one of the Royal Navy's Flower Class of corvettes of World War II whose main duty was safeguarding the passage of merchant ships bringing in vital supplies from the United States and Canada. They were built mainly in Canadian and British dockyards in 1940-41 and soon became the workhorses of the North Atlantic, escorting convoys and attacking submarines.


In the autumn of 1943, it was part of the escort group with the combined westbound convoys that became the first victims of the new acoustic torpedoes introduced by the German Navy. In addition to several merchant ships, four of the escorts were hit and sunk including the frigate HMS Lagan, the four-stack destroyer HMCS St Croix, the frigate HMS Itchen and HMS Polyanthus that went down on September 21st.


The fatal torpedo was fired by U-952, a submarine built at the Hamburg shipyard and commanded by Captain Oskar Curio. The Polyanthus was one of three Allied ships that he sank during his wartime career with a total of 14,299 tons but his own submarine suffered the same fate when it was sunk during an American bombing raid off Toulon on 6th August 1944 although he survived to command two other U-boats before the war ended.


HMS Polyanthus plaque


The cast iron plaque of HMS Polyanthus given to South Kesteven Rural District Council following its adoption is now on public display in the Heritage Centre at Baldock's Mill. At the base is a brass plate and an inscription commemorating its presentation to the council by the Lords of the Admiralty to mark Warships' Week in November 1941.


The various Warships' Weeks held throughout Britain to persuade the public to help buy new fighting ships was one of the most successful of the savings campaigns held by the government during the war. When the dates and targets of the various Lincolnshire weeks were announced in November 1941, it was revealed that weekly savings from that county alone had enabled the Admiralty to sign contracts for three cruisers at a cost of 3,466,566 (119.3 million) and four destroyers, two submarines and other craft at a cost of 4,007,000 (138 million). 


The national mood prevalent at the time was summed up by Captain H F C Crookshank, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who told a campaign meeting in Lincoln: "Saving in wartime was a very important part of the national effort. In the last few weeks, the country had celebrated the raising of the first 1,000,000,000 in a campaign that has lasted about two years. We have to try to raise a second similar amount in even quicker time. It is of vital importance that the weekly volume of genuine savings should be increased. Savings are of value not only to the individual but nationally as a safeguard against inflation. It is up to you to get it out of these pockets and into a safer place. You must be super-pickpockets on a national scale for national purposes."


H M S Beryl

Photo: Courtesy Bourne branch Royal Naval Association

Another picture of HMS Beryl


* NOTE: Jack Rayner died in June 1990 at the age of 73.


See also

Remembering Commander Sellwood     National Savings


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