A Journey by Lieutenant Commander & Mrs P Danks RN.
My wife and I visited Wetherby on 12th July one of the drier days of the summer of 2012. Whilst there I thought that an article on the history of Wetherby and some key dates in the development of the Writer Branch would be of interest to all Writers in general, especially those who did not carry out their training in Yorkshire and in particular the Royal Naval Writers Association in this our 125th Anniversary year.
As in the First World War, Wetherby experienced the billeting of members of the Armed Forces within its environs. In 1940 a holding Battalion of four regiments occupied the larger buildings including the Racecourse, Town Hall and Masonic Hall. When these troops left the racecourse was taken over in turn by the Pioneer Corps, the RAMC and later the Royal Engineers. In 1943 Wetherby Grange the former home of the Gunter family was converted to a Civil Defence Training School; later hutted military camps, each for the accommodation of 750 men, were built in Wetherby Grange Park and at Scarcroft.
The town was patriotic in both wars, during the first the town supported the crew of the Racecourse Class Minesweeper HMS WETHERBY (notes from the parish council), during the second “dug for victory” in the allotments, donated money to buy a Spitfire and adopted the old First World War Hunt Class Minesweeper HMS SELKIRK.
This started through a crew member contacting a member of the St John’s Nursing Division. The people of the town provided 2 of the crew’s main needs – pullovers knitted from raw wool which was smelly but waterproof and string gloves that were worn under stout leather gloves used to protect the hands when hauling in hawsers.
Equally significant in the long term was the decision to erect two hostels one in Hallfield Lane and the other in York Road. The hostel in Hallfield Lane, the site of the present High School, later became HMS CERES (Moorland) better known as the “Wrennery”.
The other hostel on the York Road, now HM Young Offenders Institution, was commandeered by the Admiralty and converted into a shore training establishment under the name HMS CABOT. When sailors arrived at the railway station from Bristol they marched ceremoniously through the town to their new ship but found that nobody had expected them. This was made worse when, as the camp was not fenced, they could not have their daily tot of rum. Lord Haw Haw, the wartime traitor who broadcast from Germany, thinking a ship based in Bristol had disappeared, claimed HMS CABOT had been sunk to the amusement of the Wetherby locals. To add to the confusion “the ship” later became HMS DEMETRIUS. HMS DEMETRIUS had its former wartime home in Highgate School, London N8, where it had been established as HMS PRESIDENT V since being requisitioned and commissioned on 1 November 1941 as the training school for Accountant Branch ratings. HMS DEMETRIUS later became HMS CERES (York Road) on 15 July 1944.
There are still many retired personnel who remember doing their initial training in Wetherby. The navy was popular, especially with the publicans, the young ladies of Wetherby and the Trustees of the Town Hall, which was financed by the ever popular Saturday night dances. In the main the sailors were well behaved but a “naval picket” boat had to be sent up Cemetery Lane early on Sunday mornings to collect discarded contraceptives
Bibliography: Wetherby through the ages by Dr J S H Lodge, Archives Photographic Series – Wetherby, Wetherby – History of a Yorkshire Market Town by Robert Unwin
Three ships and two shore establishments have been named HMS CERES after the goddess Ceres of Roman mythology:-
1. HMS CERES was an 18 gun sloop launched in 1777 and captured by the French frigate IPHIGENIE off Saint Lucia in December 1778. The British recaptured her in April 1782 and renamed her HMS RAVEN. The French again captured her in December 1782 and renamed her Ceres. They sold her at Brest in 1791.
2. HMS CERES was a 32 gun Fifth Rate launched in 1781 and broken up in 1830
3. HMS CERES was a C Class light cruiser launched in 1917 and sold and broken up in 1946.
1. HMS CERES was the Supply and Secretariat training at Wetherby, Yorkshire between 1944 and 1958.
2. HMS CERES was an RNR Communications Training Centre in Leeds between 1984 and 1995. Ceres Division is the Leeds based satellite unit of HMS CALLIOPE, Newcastle’s RNR Unit.
The above text was taken from Royal Naval Writers’ Association and can be found here if you want to carry on reading past this point.
Thank you to Peter Danks for letting us use his work
The Moving of H.M.S Ceres
Here is a extract from the hansard.parliament.uk that shows a parliament debate in the commons 05 March 1958
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, in view of the fact that the shore establishment, H.M.S. “Ceres”, at present at Wetherby, Yorkshire, is shortly to move to Chatham and in two years’ time be transferred to Portsmouth, why this establishment cannot remain at Wetherby until it moves to Portsmouth, thus reducing the cost of a double move.
The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
The decision to move H.M.S. “Ceres” to Chatham was taken before it was decided to close, in 1961, the various naval establishments at Chatham and the work required to accommodate H.M.S. “Ceres” at Chatham is now almost complete.The possibility of deferring the move of H.M.S. “Ceres” was very carefully considered; but it would cost more to keep the establishment at Wetherby open until it could move to Portsmouth. A decision now to move the establishment to Portsmouth would not, therefore, reduce the cost, but delay the closing of the establishment at Wetherby and the resulting saving on overheads.
Can my hon. Friend assure me that, bearing in mind what happened the last time hostilities broke out, H.M.S. “Ceres” will not be immediately decamped back to Wetherby as soon as hostilities do break out?
I cannot give my hon. Friend any undertaking of that kind.
Wetherby Parish Council about HMS Wetherby
An extract from Wetherby Parish Council handwritten minutes of June 11, 1918 sates:
“The chairman read a letter from a naval officer (R S Sloane, Eng. Lieut. RNR) notifying that one of His Majesty’s minesweepers had been named Wetherby after this town and asking for comforts for the men of the ship.
“The council resolved that the above be made as public as possible and appealed for comforts for the men, and Mrs Crossley was asked to bring the appeal before the public in the Wetherby News.