Beverley-built HMS Beryl was a true World War hero
IT WAS the Beverley-built trawler which held firm during one of the bitterest sieges of the Second World War.
Seventy years ago, the HMS Beryl – which had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy – played an important role in defending Malta.
The trawler, built by Cook Welton & Gemmell, proved a vital line of defence in the port of Valletta, the Mediterranean island’s capital, during a two-year-long bombardment by German and Italian forces.
“Throughout that grim siege of Malta, it was reputed to be the only Royal Navy surface ship that stayed afloat,” said Dr Robb Robinson, of the University of Hull’s Maritime Historical Studies Centre.
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“She was nicknamed The Flagship of Malta, after historical vessels which had often defended the island and became a symbol of defiance for the people.”
Mr Robinson, a maritime historian and author who is from a seafaring family, felt prompted to mark the trawler’s involvement after the recent anniversary celebrations of the siege.
“This is an anniversary, which is passing by,” he said.
“I was watching a programme on the Siege of Malta and, with there being no mention of the ship, thought it would be a shame not to record the link.
“Military historians seem to always concentrate on specialist high tech military equipment but this was a real hero of the war.
“It is symbolic of a whole range of Beverley vessels that distinguished themselves in both world wars when they were requisitioned.”
The Siege of Malta, which lasted from summer 1940 to autumn 1942, saw a bitter stand-off between the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy against the Axis Powers for this strategically important island.
Over a two-year period, the Luftwaffe and the Italian Royal Air Force were said to have flown 3,000 bombing raids in an effort to destroy RAF defences and the ports.
The siege was effectively ended in November, after the Axis diverted their forces to the Battle of Tunisia – throughout which the HMS Beryl had held firm.
“It was built in 1934 as the Lady Adelaide and worked out of Hull for a trawling company, Jutland Amalgamated Trawlers,” said Mr Robinson.
“In 1939 it was bought by the Admiralty and renamed HMS Beryl as they had a whole series of vessels named after gemstones.
“It was built for working the North Atlantic and the Arctic waters, yet spent its heyday in anything but Arctic waters in the Mediterranean.
“It is a really interesting dimension.”
The HMS Beryl also had a connection with the town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, which sponsored it during the war.
“At the height of the war, quite a few towns sponsored warships through fundraising,” said Mr Robinson.
“It was adopted by Bourne during the warship week, when more than £55,000 was raised.”
This link was cemented in 2011, when the market town named two streets in honour of HMS Beryl’s exploits.
The names Beryl Mews and Sellwood Terrace – in recognition of HMS Beryl’s Commander, Harry Sellwood – can be found at the town’s Old Laundry development.
After the Siege of Malta, HMS Beryl went on to take part in the Allied landings at Sicily.
Following the end of the Second World War it was decommissioned, having served longer than any other Royal Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, and returned to work as a trawler, until it was scrapped in the 1960s.
“It is a wonderful story and part of the long interaction that Hull and East Yorkshire has had with the sea,” said Mr Robinson.
“Beverley-built vessels that served in both wars – they had to side launch them into the river, because it is so narrow, and then they would float them down to Hull. They were towed down the river on three tides. You could only tow them on high tide. They’d have be staked up over night and then towed on again the next day.
“Then they would be fitted out in Princes Dock with the engines were built by CD Holmes or Amos and Smith, two of the best known marine engineering firms in Hull in their day.
“There were also large numbers of Hull merchant navy men and fishermen who played wonderful roles in both wars in terms of ensuring that the sea lanes were kept open, that the war was taken to the Germans and vital supplies of goods got through.
“The story of the HMS Beryl encapsulates a large part of that.”