9th Feb 2021
‘Love and the Museum’
29th March 2018
Ilfracombe’s very own warship:
Did you know that our little town raised enough money during the hardships of World War Two, to pay for a naval ship? This month, as we approach the 74th anniversary of D-Day on 6th June, we have a photo of HMS Ilfracombe for you, and here is her story.
HMS Ilfracombe was a minesweeper that carried out the essential but mundane work of clearing the seas of enemy mines. Cables were towed underwater behind these ships, trawling for mines that were then cut free and destroyed. Minesweepers and their crew were the unsung heroes of the navy, and it was dangerous work. HMS Ilfracombe’s sister ship HMS Clacton – a whole series of minesweepers bore the names of seaside towns – struck a mine in the Mediterranean in December 1943 and sank with all hands.
HMS Ilfracombe was launched in January 1941, having been built in Glasgow. She was a small minesweeper, 174 ft. long, with a typically shallow draught of less than 10 feet. At this time she hadn’t been adopted by Ilfracombe, so how did this come about?
By 1941, the British government was drastically short of weaponry and money. The imminent threat of German invasion from only a few miles across the Channel meant a massive program of
arms manufacture, ship and aircraft building was urgently needed. A clever scheme was used to raise funds for the war chest – the British public were asked to ‘invest in the war’ by buying war bonds and National Savings certificates. Special fundraising weeks were organised for specific causes, such as War Weapons Week, where the slogan was ‘Lend to Win!’
National Warship Week took place on the 10th to 15th November 1941. Each region was allotted a fundraising target based on its population. A target of minesweeper was set for Ilfracombe and district, and if enough was raised then that ship could be adopted. The local War Savings Committee worked flat out in Ilfracombe and the villages to persuade residents to commit the little savings they had to the war effort. The target was daunting – £136,485 in just six days! Near the end of the week a desperate committee warned the readers of the Ilfracombe Chronicle that only £44,500 had been raised: ‘You are asked not to give but to INVEST. Your Country this week is awaiting your answer. You MUST act today or tomorrow.’
The warning worked – by the end of the week Ilfracombe district had raised £122,152, enough for the town to adopt HMS Ilfracombe. Incredibly, across the country, Warships Week amassed the equivalent today of £39 billion, enough to pay for over 700 new naval ships. In December 1941 a copy of HMS Ilfracombe’s ships crest was sent by the Admiralty to Ilfracombe, and the ship carried Ilfracombe’s towns’ crest on her Quarter Deck. Her actual duties during wartime were, of course, not revealed to the town for security reasons. But we know something about her service, from former crew member George Lunn, who lived in Woolacombe after the war. He had fond memories of serving on this rather cramped little ship, and was particularly proud of the part she played in D-Day.
HMS Ilfracombe was one of hundreds of minesweepers used just before the Normandy Landings. She was part of the 16th Minesweeping Flotilla, which cleared mines, under enemy fire at times, from 5-7 June 1944, so that landing craft could get onto the beaches, and Allied battleships could get close to the French coast to shell German defences. It was hazardous work, as the area was thick with mines, and had to be done in secrecy. But the success of the little minesweepers’ work meant that relatively few landing vessels were struck by mines, and this helped the greatest invasion force ever assembled to get a foot-hold on German territory.
For the rest of the war HMS Ilfracombe toured the North Sea area clearing mines and escorting ships, but in 1948 she was considered unsuitable for updating to a magnetic minesweeper and so was scrapped. All that remains of her, the ship’s crest, is now displayed in Ilfracombe Museum’s Maritime room.
14th December 2017
A recent donation to Ilfracombe museum gives us a new view of a vanished house:
We are often offered objects and photos that are still precious to people, but which they can no longer look after. Museums have an important role as custodians of local family history as well as places where curios and collections are looked after. We were donated some mementos of the Down family of Ilfracombe back in the summer, and the photos in this little collection have breathed new life into the family’s connection with Burrow House, a now-demolished grand residence that once stood in the midst of town.