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H.M.S. Meon: Bletchley, raises money for a ship crewed by Canadian sailors...
River Class Corvette on escort duty in the Atlantic
HMS Meon

As the conflict dragged on, during World War Two it became increasingly essential to raise the finance to continue the struggle. One means was the national introduction of annual 'Weeks', to raise money for a specific theme, and following 'War Weapons Week' in 1941 - it would be the turn of 'Warship Week' in 1942. The objective was for the townspeople to raise £120,000 as the amount needed to buy a Corvette, and as a result of these efforts Bletchley would adopt HMS Meon, a Rivers class Corvette which would see action in the D Day operations.

By March 1942 Britain's spending on the war had reached £9,050 million, more than the entire expenditure for the Great War, and as a means to raise extra funds plans were made to stage the Bletchley Warship Week from 21 - 18 March.

A representative committee had made the preliminary arrangements, and these were then reported to the secretaries of the various sub-committees.

The intention was to raise £120,000 as the cost of a Corvette, and the need for such escort vessels was imperative, since a recent convoy to Malta had lost four fifths of its number.

At 2.30pm the 'Week' commenced on the Saturday with a Grand Parade of Services and Civil Defence Units which, having assembled on the Studio car park, was then led by a contingent of the WRNS via Lennox Road, Eaton Avenue, Manor Road, Aylesbury Street, Church Street and Victoria Road to the Council Offices, where the salute was taken.

The procession included an RAF band, two contingents of WAAF's, units of the regular Army, 456 Squadron ATC, elements of the Home Guard, members of the Women's Land Army, St Martin's Church Scouts and Guides, Buckinghamshire police and Special Constabulary, Civil Defence units and local men and equipment of the NFS.

Yet also adding to the stirring spectacle was a lifeboat full of WRNS personnel, a large model submarine, (made at an RAF station!), and a model 'warship', HMS Bletchley, which, with the assistance of police sergeant Boucher and Mr L Verrel, a member of the National Fire Service, had been built over a lorry with the help of the Council's Surveyor, Mr A Bates, and his staff.

Following the salute the parade then passed through the main gates of the Bletchley Road schools to Leon Recreation Ground, and here the opening ceremony was performed by Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, 'GCMG etc'.

In fact he seemed well qualified for the task, having until his retirement in 1922 enjoyed a long and distinguished naval career.

Indeed, apart from commanding 'HMS New Zealand' during her Empire cruise in 1913, his duties had also seen action both at Heligoland Bight in 1914, and Dogger Bank in 1915, service in 'HMS Iron Duke' at Jutland, and for two years the command of the Royal Australian Navy.

On Monday evening Commander O Callaghan, RN, then announced that so far £18,365 had been raised, and to this amount further sums would then be added by not only the loud speaker encouragement being broadcast from HMS Bletchley, which toured the local streets urging people to contribute, but also by the various money raising events being held during the 'Week'.

With kick offs at 3pm on the LBC ground at Newton Road, these included football played against an RAF XI team on Saturday 21 March and Saturday 28 March and both of these were followed by an dance in the LBC canteen.

Then at 7.30pm on Tuesday 24 March a whist drive was held at the Yeomanry Hall.

Prizes were awarded of Savings Certificates and stamps, and on the at 7.30pm Lorna Webster compered her concert in School Hall.

Artists included Belle Chrystall, 'stage, screen and radio star', and Ernest Elliot's 'Living Marionettes', whilst for the Police Dance on Friday 27 March the music was provided by Reg Millman and his Paramount Players. On Saturday, 28 March the Bletchley Warship Week then closed with a Grand Finale Concert at 7.30pm.

This was presented by the Bletchley Park Drama Group in the Senior School Hall, although also vying for public attention was a meeting held in the Co-op Hall by Ben Bradley - 'the noted communist authority on Colonial affairs' - who, as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Bletchley Branch, spoke on the subject of 'India and the Colonial Question'.

By the end of the month £73,073 had been collected, and to this new total the Warship Week indicator would be raised by a former member of the 1st Fenny Stratford Rover Crew, Ashley Shouler, who was now home on leave from the Royal Navy.

In early April the final figure would reach £78,716, (of which Mrs Hankins, for the Bletchley Road Savings Group, had collected £1,000, the Bletchley Road Schools invested £500, BUDC collected £505, the selling centres £12,629 and Bletchley Park, £5,701), and in recognition of the achievement Mr F Bates, the Chairman of the Council, received a congratulatory telegram from Sir Kingsley Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As a result of Warship Week Bletchley had adopted the yet to be launched HMS Meon, a River Class corvette named after a Hampshire river, and in fact the town's naval enthusiasm might have been further encouraged by the release during the year of the film 'In Which We Serve', which starred Noel Coward, who had also written the script.

Charting the career of the destroyer 'HMS Torrin', this was the first full length feature film by David Lean, and included amongst a cast of several embryo movie stars was Richard Attenborough, who would become acquainted with Bletchley on acquiring his first motoring penalty at Fenny Stratford crossroads!

The theme of the film was perhaps influenced by the naval exploits of Louis Mounfbatten, (who from 18 April was appointed to command Allied operations in South East Asia), and as an interesting association with Bletchley, a member of his staff would be a Wren officer, Miss Philippa Cary, who was the great granddaughter of the late Sir Herbert Leon of Bletchley Park. However, despite the financial success of the Week there was disappointment later in the year, when it was revealed that the public response towards providing money to buy a plaque, and create a comforts fund for the crew of HMS Meon, had been less than forthcoming.

In fact it would be announced at a meeting of the Council that of the £40 needed only one small subscription had been received. Yet at least a model of the vessel had been made by police constable Boucher, and this would now be offered for display in the Council Chamber.

Fortunately matters were more optimistic the following year, for having been ordered from the firm of Inglis, 'HMS Meon' was launched on 4 August, and it was therefore appropriate that with Lord Keyes, the Admiral of the Fleet, receiving the town's plaque from Mr Collins, Chairman of the local National Savings Committee, the exchange of plaques between Bletchley's adopted ship and the town took place on the evening of the first Monday in August. For some while the ship would be transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy, and having 'worked up' at Tobermory she joined the 9th Canadian Escort Group at Londonderry, prior to taking part in the defence of Atlantic convoys. Then in May as one of the six frigates of the 9th Escort Group she was assigned for duties in support of the Normandy landings, and was subsequently deployed in the Bay of Biscay to deter U boat attacks on the invasion fleet.

In the wake of the Normandy landings she then undertook anti submarine duties in the Channel, but on 20 July would be damaged by a near miss when attacked with glider bombs.

After repairs she then rejoined her group and helped in the defence of Atlantic convoys in the Western Approaches but, with the vessel still being crewed by Canadians, in early 1945 in a letter to the Council the Commanding Officer said that although the officers and crew felt honoured to be adopted by Bletchley, the town might wish to consider adopting another ship.

However, the matter would soon be resolved, for on 23 April with the anti submarine equipment now removed the vessel would be decommissioned and revert to Royal Navy control, being converted by the end of the year to the role of a Landing Ship Headquarters.

In 1946 HMS Meon then joined the reserve fleet at Harwich, whilst as for the plaque which had been funded by the Bletchley donations, with the vessel now out of commission this would be recovered in 1947 from Chatham by the Clerk of the Council, to be hung in the Council chamber. HMS Meon remained at Harwich until 1952 but would again see active service in the Suez campaign of 1956, and with the Amphibious Warfare Squadron in the Persian Gulf, before being eventually paid off in 1965.

She then arrived at Blyth for breaking up in May 1966, to be scrapped on the 14th.