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After researching the history of HMS Wensleydale for some 17 years, I decided to put together this website. I have always had an interest in military history and local history. Living in Wensleydale (North Yorkshire) my interest combines the two. I started to find out more about the ship by getting in touch with The Royal Naval Museum and The Imperial War Museum. Both provided me with brief summaries of what the ship did during World War Two. I also discovered that there was an HMS Wensleydale Association. From contacts made with the Association, I contacted members and on a number of occasions went and interviewed them. Sadly, the Association is now disbanded, due to the simple fact that many are no longer with us. Those that are still alive must be in their 80's by now. The ship's complement was about 170 men. I'm only guessing but I believe somewhere in the region of about 300 men must have served on the ship at one time or another. I have a list (see officers and crew list) containing about 100 names. Therefore, there is stillabout another 200 names to find. Plenty of work still to do.
RIGHT: The official ship's crest of HMS Wensleydale. Image kindly provided by Keith Reade of Trooperbones.com
Wensleydale was a hunt class escort destroyer. In all 86 hunt class destroyers were built. All were named after foxhunts. The hunts were divided into 4 different types. Wensleydale was a type III. These were designed for anti-submarine and anti aircraft escorts for convoys. They were mainly based around the coast of Great Britain and The Mediterranean. Wensleydale was fitted with 4, 4" guns, 4, 2 Pdr pom poms, 2, 21" torpedo tubes and carried around 110 depth charges.
Finding information about the ship and it's crew was challenging, but very rewarding. Often, leads ended up at a dead end. However, sometimes research paid off. Little did I know when I started researching the ship, that I would end up corresponding with the brother of a Sunderland Flying Boat pilot in Canada. The grandson of a Norwegian who served on the ship and was reputed to have spied on the Germans in Norway. A chap who went aboard the U-110 just before it sank. (the film U-571 was based on the incident. The American film makers had an US Navy ship capturing the ship and the Enigma machine, when in-fact it was The Royal Navy). I also found out that New Zealand's top post war film maker (and communist) served on Wensleydale. Using BT.com proved to be a good source of locating ex-crew and relatives. However, the subject has to be approached with quite a bit of care, due to the fact that you might not know whether the person you are looking for is alive or dead. From making dozens of calls I only had one regrettable experience when a woman informed me that her husband had been dead 25 years, and she 'didn't want all that brought up again'. Naturally, I had to respect her decision, and made a note not to ring again.
There was uncanny coincidences too. I work in the tree surgery and forestry business. Occasionally, I undertake work for The Caravan Club. Whilst talking to the winter warden at our local site, the subject of HMS Wensleydale was brought up by me. The warden instantly said that he knew someone who served on the ship. I was rather dubious at first, as Wensleydale was only a small escort destroyer. But he assured me that the chap did serve on the ship.
Hence, I ended up travelling down to South Yorkshire to interview Reg Young. Upon entering his house I noticed that his calendar had a picture of our old house in Thwaite, North Yorkshire. A coincidence yes, but the picture was on the May page of the calendar. When I visited, it was September. Reg and his wife liked that photograph so much that they purposely left it showing, even though it was months out of date. Unfortunately, Reg like a number of others is no longer with us.
Wensleydale was adopted by the civil community of Swinton and Pendlebury (a part of Manchester). This was due to Warship Week National Savings Campaign's in March 1942. A couple of the crew were invited to lunch with the Mayor. I believe a couple of plaques still hang in Council offices today. However, I was unable to find out much more about this association.
The ship obviously has links with the Dale of Wensleydale. One Yorkshire Post reporter visited the ship and found that "the crew were proud of their links with the sturdy folk of the dales and their age long traditions". He also found that hanging in the Captains cabin was a calendar from a wensleydale dairy and a photo of hounds chasing a fox; and a cutting from The Yorkshire Post telling how the children of Wensleydale had enjoyed a brief spell of sledging in May. It was noted that among the crew were a number form Yorkshire. Seaman Parkinson from Borden showed he was no stranger to the dales by referance to Hardraw Scarr, the 100ft waterfall near Hawes. HMS Wensleydale's crest is appropriately the coat of arms of the Chapman family (several members of whom have been masters of The Wensleydale Hounds) and a hunting horn. Her mascot is a mask of a fox killed by 'Magic' the best hound the dale has produced. The mask was given to the ship by Major RH Whitehead, and there was satisfaction in the dale, when the Captain sent him a message stating: the luck still holds. All members of the ship's company are keen to hear the latest from Wensleydale and to get in touch with the people. Books, papers, letters and indoor games would be particularly welcome, and should be addressed to HMS Wensleydale C/O GPO, London. (extracted from old newspaper cutting of Yorkshire Post, date unknown)