Western Front Association

This month’s meeting of the Western Front Association welcomed branch member Phil Huntley speaking about the naming of some 50 ships after places, people and events connected with the county of Northumberland.

While he did refer to the days of Nelson and even earlier, his talk in the main focussed on the ships in the two World Wars.

He described the different classes of ships and their uses and how smaller boatyards had been brought in to use to build vessels such as corvettes. These provided an important element in the escort of convoys.

Phil explained how names were selected. Tradition, continuity or community support were important but care had also to be taken not to choose a name that could create confusion when signalling, to have a name appropriate to the class of vessel and not allocate a name that could be twisted into something that produced ridicule.

The re-use of a name was important and this allowed for battle honours awarded to an earlier vessel of that name to be handed down. This helped create pride in the ship and esprit de corps similar to battle honours emblazoned on a regimental flag.

Having given us the background, Phil then gave details of some of the ships. These were mainly warships, but there were also drifters and trawlers taken over by the Royal Navy for use as mine sweepers.

The stories of two of these he told in greater detail. HMS Alnwick Castle was built in 1943-44 by Geo Brown of Greenock and was used in the protection of Arctic Convoys sailing to and from the White Sea.

Not only did these convoys have to battle with the Arctic weather but also the Luftwaffe and U- boat wolf packs were frequently waiting for them.

Not all made it through but HMS Alnwick Castle was one that did and in doing so helped to send three U-boats to the bottom. It was eventually broken up in 1958.

The other ship, a destroyer, was HMS Cheviot built on the Clyde in 1944 by Stephen & Sons Ltd.

She was completed too late to participate in the war, but saw a lot of service in the Mediterranean and the Far East through to October 1958.

Phil admitted to being fascinated by naval history since his boyhood. It was clear that this fascination is still with him today.

The WFA’s next formal meeting will be on Monday, June 23, with John Sneddon’s talk War is the Father of All Things.

WFA meetings take place at 7.15pm (for 7.30pm) at Alnmouth and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Northumberland Street, Alnmouth. A warm welcome awaits visitors and WFA members new to the branch. The suggested minimum donation is £2, to include a light finger supper.