Towns raise £500,000 for warship

Morning duties clearing the ice from HMS Uylsses after the Arctic storms
Morning duties clearing the ice from HMS Uylsses after the Arctic storms

Tash Tales with Alf Ridyard...

During World War Two, communities large and small took part in fund-raising efforts known as “war weeks”.

Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley held their naval war week from March 21-28,

1942, when they were challenged to raise £500,000.

This sum was to sponsor the cost of a warship, in actual fact £576,396 was raised.

Money was raised to basically lend it to the Government by purchasing the newly introduced National Savings certificates, either as an individual which when retrieved after the war were returned with interest or when raised by companies as an investment to pension funds they were again returned again with interest.

Major contributors were Leigh Friendly Coop £24,800, Hindsford & Atherton Coop £5,000, Tyldesley and District Industrial Coop £8,000. LUT was the biggest contributor with £35,000.

All returned a 3% interest. Many local stories of potato pie suppers and beetle drives or concerts by local artists, individuals knitting socks, gloves and balaclavas for the crews of the adopted ship.

We also had children writing letters and sending cards to the ship’s crew members, this was reciprocated by, when available, crew members visiting the towns that supported them.

Parades through town centres became good for the people’s morale and also the crews.

One fascinating fund-raiser was at Leigh Liberal Hall Church Street, Leigh, when they held a “Grand Radio Evening” – surely the forerunner to having a DJ.

Records were played and people were asked to guess the artist or guess the tune and the winner would receive a Gilbert & Sullivan record.

The charge for entry was 1/- (5p) and proceeds went to the Mayor’s support fund as did the proceeds from beetle drives and potato pie suppers, the Mayor’s fund was in excess of £30,000

The local Leigh, Atherton, Tyldesley ship was named HMS Ulysses, whose keel was laid at Camel Laird in late 1942 and launched in April 1943, after sea trials she was commissioned in December of the same year and allocated to the 25th destroyer flotilla.

During the ship’s early service she was used in home waters hunting U-boats and of course in preparation for the, so thought, impending invasion.

Later in the early months of 1944 she was transferred onto Arctic convoys in which not only had she to contend with U-boats and enemy aircraft but horrific storms also, as our supporting picture shows.

One fact from these convoys is that novelist Alistair McClean who also served on the convoys on HMS Royalist, based his fictional best-selling novel HMS Ulysses on these terrible journeys.

Another coincidence regarding our local ship was in her later years of service she was involved in a collision with her sister ship HMS Urania or as some records show HMS Ushant in the fog, when, both were on duty shelling the Japanese mainland islands, on 29th July 1945.

The coincidence of that is that the WW1 destroyer which also bore the name Ulysses was lost in a collision with one of its sister ships in the Firth of Clyde on October 29, 1919, making the 29th an unlucky day for the superstitious among the crew.

Ulysses was taken off convoy duty and in June 1944 was present at the D-Day landings, where she was used to support the landings, by shelling the German coastal batteries at Gold beach.

The end of the war in Europe did not see the end of our ship’s war service, she was then allocated firstly to the Far East.

After a refit, follwing VJ Day she was put in reserve at Devonport until being allocated to the Mediterranean fleet and was used in the 1956 Suez crisis, this being the last action that she saw and was once again put into mothballs before being scrapped in 1970 at Plymouth.

The ships bell is kept in Leigh Parish Church and a plaque in Leigh Town Hall which was given to the

ship by the town’s folk of Leigh.

These war weeks raised millions for the war effort and more than 1,200 ships from aircraft carriers to trawlers were built.

The big cities sponsoring the battle ships and aircraft carriers to the village communities raising funds to provide the trawlers.