Warships Week and the HMS Berkeley Badge

black and white image shows a long low ship stretching across the screen from left to right. It sits on a calm sea.
HMS Berkeley at sea ©IWM

During the Second World War, the Government faced a huge challenge raising the capital needed to support the war effort. Warships Week was a series of fundraising events organised across the country over a period of 24 weeks from 1941–1942.  It was hoped that these funds would cover the costs of the expansion in shipbuilding.

Plaque of Hemel Hempstead sponsored HMS Berkeley

Towns and districts were tasked with organising fundraising events in which residents were encouraged to subscribe to Government War Savings Bonds and Certificates. In return, the community would gain sponsorship of a Naval Vessel, which would, where possible, involve visits by ships’ crews, the exchange of memorabilia and further donations of comforts for the crew members. Nationally, the events were incredibly successful, raising just under £1bn or £46bn in today’s money.

HMS Berkeley after being scuttled in the English Channel ©IWM

The communities that make up the modern day Dacorum Borough were involved in three major fundraising efforts, based around the towns of Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted and Tring. The timing was decided to coincide with those of neighbouring towns to create a spirit of competition. In the first week of March 1942, Hemel Hempstead held its Warships Week event at the same time as Rickmansworth, followed by Berkhamsted several weeks later at the same time as Chesham. In both cases the Dacorum towns were winners. The scale of local events was impressive given war time restrictions, with parades, displays and pageants, all faithfully recorded in the local newspapers.

Warship week poster

Hemel Hempstead sponsored HMS Berkeley, a Hunt class destroyer launched in 1940, and raised £286,000.  The town was visited by its captain, Lieutenant Commander James Yorke and was subsequently presented with the ship’s badge, now in the care of Dacorum Heritage. Sadly, HMS Berkeley did not enjoy its association with Hemel Hempstead for long as it was destroyed during the raid on Dieppe in August 1942. Hit by German bombs with the loss of 13 crew, it was abandoned and then scuttled by its fellow destroyer HMS Albrighton with a salvo of torpedoes.

The other vessels sponsored by Dacorum towns were more fortunate. Berkhamsted raised £226,000 for the submarine P44, which was being commissioned at Barrow-in-Furness at the time of the town’s Warship Week, and subsequently named HMS Union. A banner with the submarine’s image was hung from the Civic Centre and the submarine’s captain, T.E. Barlow, managed to pay a short notice visit to Berkhamsted one Sunday evening in March 1942, whilst on a visit to his home in Wendover. HMS Union went on to have a successful career in the Mediterranean sinking a number of Italian naval ships, submarines and merchant vessels, and was scrapped in 1946.

Tring raised £77,113 and sponsored HMS Arctic Hunter. Artic Hunter was a converted trawler from Hull used for minesweeping duties in the North Sea and English Channel and had a supporting role in the Normandy landings.  During its career, the vessel was credited with destroying 110 mines and one Dornier 217 Bomber. It returned to fishing after the war and was scrapped in 1952.

P44 – HMS Union ©IWM
Researched and written by Alex Scott and Robin Herzberg
Dacorum Heritage Volunteer, and Dacorum Heritage Trustee February 2024

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