Warwick’s links with HMS Herald

The Ocean Survey Ship, The Herald, served with the Royal Navy in some key conflicts; but why did the town adopt it?

Exactly 30 years ago, in September 1990, HMS Herald was arriving in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of a multi-national force preparing to oust Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait after Iraq had invaded and seized the country’s oilfields.

With a complement of 128 officers and men, the oceanographic survey ship was to support the Mine Counter Measures Squadron, with its flight deck strengthened to take military Lynx helicopters, in what was to become known as The First Gulf War.

Rick Thompson, Secretary of the Unlocking Warwick volunteers who have been researching Warwick’s maritime connections, said, “The town of Warwick was taking a keen interest in Herald’s exploits, having adopted the ship in the early eighties.

There is a beautiful scale model of Herald in the Town Council Chamber. Guests on our Court House Tours often ask why it is there and who made it. We really had no idea where the model had come from and indeed why Warwick had adopted the scientific survey ship.

The man with the answers turned out to be the council’s Sergeant at Mace, Terry Gardner, who is also an Associate Member of the Warwick branch of the Royal Naval Association. He has carefully kept a file about Warwick’s connections with HMS Herald, complete with a year-by-year history of the ship’s operations.

There is a very long tradition of towns and cities adopting Royal Navy vessels, but with fewer ships being built in recent years, local authorities had to be fortunate or very persistent to have a formal association with a warship.”

Sergeant at Mace, Terry Gardner, has kept the records of HMS Herald

Terry Gardner said, “After the destroyer HMS Warwick was torpedoed and sunk in WW2, the town was keen to adopt another ship, but had to wait many years until the Herald became available for adoption or sponsorship. It was a lovely ship. When it was in Portsmouth or Devonport for maintenance, the Commander would invite Warwick councillors, naval veterans and parties of schoolchildren to visit the ship”.

In June 1995, HMS Herald was berthed at Liverpool and its log records that, ‘she was visited by children of Coten End School who had travelled from the ship’s affiliated town of Warwick.’ 

HMS Herald had been built by the Robb Caledon yard at Leith in Scotland and commissioned in 1974. Equipped with echo-sounding equipment, underwater cameras and Wasp helicopters for aerial photography, it operated all round the coasts of Britain and its overseas territories, charting safe navigation channels and locating wrecks from both world wars.

While off the coast of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the ship had a narrow escape. An Iraqi ‘Silkworm’ missile was heading for the Herald but the missile was shot down by the destroyer HMS Gloucester before it could strike. With the liberation of Kuwait, HMS Herald returned to normal duties surveying the ocean floor all around the world.

The First Gulf War was not the first time Herald had been called upon by the Royal Navy. In 1982 she had been refitted as a hospital ship, painted white with prominent red crosses, and joined the Task Force in the South Atlantic treating casualties from the Falklands conflict.

While searching for wrecks, old mines and hidden undersea obstacles in the Mediterranean, the ship was based at Malta and reportedly became very popular with the locals. The ship’s popularity was boosted in 2000 when Herald was involved in the dramatic rescue of the crew of a sinking Cypriot ferry, the ‘Royal Prince’. Helicopters from RAF Akrotiri lifted them all off and landed them on the Herald before the ferry slipped beneath the waves.

Terry Gardner said, “We know the model of the ship was made by someone in Malta, and it may have been a parting gift when the ship left port there for the last time, and the model would then have been presented to the town”.

HMS Herald was decommissioned in 2001 and sold to an Irish survey company and three years later she was sold for scrap and broken up. Derek Fletcher, for 36 years Terry Gardner’s predecessor as Warwick’s Sergeant at Mace and formerly in the Royal Navy, said, “The Herald was a beautiful ship. There were regular visits by groups from Warwick when she was in port, and even a rugby match in Warwick between members of the crew and soldiers from CAD Kineton. We were made extremely welcome on Herald with dinners in the wardroom. It’s such a shame that it was scrapped.”

With thanks to Terry Gardner, Derek Fletcher and Mike Gaffney, former Town Clerk and Patron of Warwick Royal Naval Association.