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HMS Coltsfoot and Amesbury

In a corner of the Amesbury History Centre lies a somewhat forgotten and dusty plaque commemorating the adoption in 1942 of HMS Coltsfoot by the town of Amesbury. When this plaque, was shown to me shortly after my becoming a volunteer at the centre I became interested in its history. The plaque which is ornate cast iron on an oak shield had apparently been displayed in a sports pavilion or scout hut for many years before arriving at the AHC. The following is a brief history:

The Latin script on the plaque translates as “Official seal of His Britannic Majesty’s Admiralty”

In 1942 the government introduced a British National savings campaign in the form of “Warship Weeks”. Communities throughout the country were encouraged to raise enough savings to adopt a Royal Navy ship. Whilst large cities would adopt larger battleships, the smaller communities would be asked to contribute towards smaller vessels. In addition to the important money raising, there was a social aspect where Womens Institutes, churches and schools would provide knitwear for the crews of the vessels, and there was also correspondence between the communities and the crew. The crew would on occasion visit the towns which would be celebrated by parades.

There was a patriotic rivalry between the communities, and Amesbury like most other small rural towns was keen to do its bit, and a target of £55,000 was set. This was the cost of the hull of a corvette class ship. Amesbury’s particular warship week was February 21st- 28th and a host of events took place including military processions, church parades, concerts, whist drives, model exhibition, boxing displays, featuring Freddie Mills(a very famous boxer of the time), dances, football matches (including players from Manchester United and Charlton), photographic exhibition and a “Farmers’ and Children’s Day” {which probably wouldn’t be an acceptable title these days?} The advertising cost was donated by the Plaza cinema.

However a report in the local paper two weeks later had the headline:


The figure reached was though an impressive £51,000. More funds must have been raised fairly quickly, as within a few weeks a headline in the Salisbury Journal reads:


It goes on, “A telegram was received by Amesbury District Council, congratulating Amesbury upon the success of the Warship Week when £52,100 was raised.

One Hundred and sixty four corvette class ships were adopted throughout the country and Amesbury adopted HMS Coltsfoot. This was a Flower class ship with Pennant K140. It was built by Alexander Hall & Co Ltd (Aberdeen). Work began in early September 1940 and it was launched on 15th May 1941. It serve throughout the rest of the war under the command of T/Lt The Hon. William Keith Rous, RNVR from June 1941 to July 1943 and then by T/Lt George William Rayner until the end of hostilities in Europe.

HMS Coltsfoot at anchor probably taken in 1943 in Alexandria

Coltsfoot was involved in the protection of the Malta supply; this was known as Operation Pedestal. At that time Malta was a base for British ships and was regularly attacked by submarines and aircraft. From 1940 to 1942 the Axis powers conducted the siege of Malta with air and naval forces but with the help of such ships as HMS Coltsfoot, enough supplies got though for the island to resist. On 15th December 1941 she picked up 39 survivors from the British merchant Empire Barracuda which had been torpedoed and sunk by U-boat U-77, 34 nautical miles from Cape Trafalgar. Little more information is available except that in 1947 it was sold and became the merchantile Alexandra.

Malta issued a stamp in 2012 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Operation Pedestal.

What is thought to be the sister plaque to the Amesbury example ( probably the plaque displayed on board ship) is owned by Mr & Mrs Wilf Bishop of Yorkshire who bought it in an antique shop in Wiltshire. I am indebted to Mr Bishop for supplying the photograph of HMS Coltsfoot which seems to be the only picture in existence.

The association of HMS Coltsfoot with Amesbury is also remembered in the name of a residential road known as Coltsfoot Close.

As a footnote, I should just mention HMS Amesbury which appeared in the 1953 “Sailor of the King”. This was an entirely fictional ship. The ship in the film was actually HMS Cleopatra.

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