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YEOVIL AT SEA

During the First World War one of the most dangerous threats to Britain’s survival came from the interruption of our supplies of food and fuel by German mines, and nearly 600 British warships, merchant ships and fishing vessels were lost to mines between 1914 and 1918.

To deal with this menace, the Royal Navy at first adapted fishing trawlers as minesweepers and later purpose-built vessels entered service. Minesweeping was a very dangerous task and two hundred and fourteen minesweepers were sunk or damaged.

The Aberdares were a class of successful minesweeper and one of them was HMS Yeovil, which commenced the dangerous task of minesweeping off the west coast of Scotland on 16 November 1918.

In April 1919, HMS Yeovil departed the west coast and steamed across the North Sea to the Norwegian port of Lervick, south of Bergen. The Germans were not the only nation who used mines against their opponents’ shipping, all the belligerents laid them. Between May and November 1918, American and British warships planted over 70,000 mines between the Shetlands and Norway, mainly to catch surfaced or submerged U-boats, and Yeovil was one of the minesweepers engaged in clearing them. This was hard and dangerous work, with five days at sea and three-day interludes at Lervik. For most of the time, Yeovil was partnered with HMS Belvoir, and in May 1919 the two ships swept 1710 mines between them, 175 exploding in the sweep wire close enough to bodily lift the ships.

HMS Yeovil tour was completed at the end of September, she was then transferred the Reserve Fleet off Chatham and broken up in 1928.

Throughout the Second World War communities and organisations became involved in a wide variety of voluntary activities to support the fighting forces, including fund raising to ‘buy’ aircraft and ‘adopting’ warships.

During the National Savings ‘National Savings‘, in February 1942 Yeovil factories, shops, and office held collections and the final sum raised from all sources was over £425,000 which exceeded the target by £125,000. The townsfolk ‘adopted’ the destroyer HMS Hesperus and sent books, cigarettes and other comforts to the ship’s company. The destroyer served with distinction in the North Atlantic, where she sank five U-Boats, including the U-357 which the destroyer sank by ramming, and damaged several others At the end of her short but distinguished career in 1947, the ship’s ensign is laid up in St John’s Church, and on 3 October 1993 a Service of Dedication and Remembrance to Honour the Crew of HMS Hesperus was held in the Parish Church.

However, some two years before, Yeovil Rotary Club ‘adopted’ the Quiet Waters a 117 ton trawler working as a Royal Naval Auxiliary patrol craft in the North Sea and English Channel. And in April 1940 the Yeovil Review wrote:

‘Yeovil may be situated deep in the heart of the west country, away from the briny, but this has not stopped the Rotary Club from “adopting” the Lowestoft trawler, “Quiet Waters,” which is now operating with The Navy.

‘The Club is keeping the crew supplied with smokes and games, while the ladies of the Inner Wheel have undertaken to provide woollen comforts.

‘The crew must have thought Father Christmas had arrived (although a bit late) when Secretary W. Hicks paid a visit to the trawler when it was at Weymouth during Easter, and took with him a dart board, a monster parcel of books and 400 cigarettes, not to mention stockings, mittens, scarves and jerseys which had been knitted by Rotarian Ladies.

‘The members of the Inner Wheel have certainly put their shoulders to the wheel and must have been knitting overtime for they have not only made comforts for the men of the trawler, but also for the Somerset Light Infantry, Yeovil Hospital and the Red Cross Society.

Quiet Waters” would seem to be as inappropriate a name to give a minesweeper, as to call an Inn “The Quiet Woman” (I have yet to hear of one). But however stormy and hazardous may be the lot of the trawler’s crew we all wish them a safe return and if they ever visit Yeovil when the war is over we can promise them plenty of good fishing in the River Yeo, although they will have to be content with rod and line.

‘I am reminded of one Yeovil soldier who was seasick five times when he crossed the Channel. He must have wished he was on board the “Quiet Waters” for, after all, there is something in a name. The only regret I have is that the Yeovil is not sufficiently navigable to permit of the “Quiet Waters” sailing gently up stream to the town that has adopted it. What an attraction it would be. However, congratulations to the Rotary Club and the best of luck to the skipper and his crew.’

The Quiet Waters survived the War and was returned to her original owners in 1946.

Jack Sweet
Decemeber 2019

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