The HMS Vesper Association will meet for the last time this weekend before disbanding. Here, with the help of the association, we look at the history of the warship, which was adopted by Skipton in 1942, and the association, which was founded in the 1980s.

HMS Vesper was built in 1916 at the shipyard of Alexander Stephen & Son, on the Clyde.

The shipyard built many warships for the Royal Navy, including HMS Amethyst, which secured a place in history after being trapped on the Yangtze River for three months during the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Vesper – an Admiralty V Class destroyer with the motto Nescis quod vesper vehat (You know not what the evening brings forth) – was launched in December, 1917 and saw service during the remainder of the First World War. She was later decommissioned and placed in reserve.

In 1939 the now elderly Vesper was due to be scrapped but the Second World War intervened and she was pressed into service once again.

She carried out convoy escort duties down the East Coast and along “E-Boat Alley” and in February 1940, with the destroyer HMS Whitshed, rescued 72 survivors of the British merchant ship Sultan Star, which had been sunk by a German submarine south-west of the Scilly Isles.

Vesper also took part in the 1940 Dunkirk Rescue where a flotilla of 900 naval and civilian craft was sent across the Channel under RAF protection and managed to rescue 338,226 servicemen. However, during the evacuation, the Luftwaffe attacked, reducing the town of Dunkirk to rubble and destroying 235 vessels and 106 aircraft. At least 5,000 soldiers lost their lives.

The ship continued her convoy duties both close to home and further afield across the North Atlantic to Halifax, in Nova Scotia, taking part in further rescues.

In April 1944, Vesper was chosen to take part in Operation Neptune, the assault phase of the upcoming invasion of Normandy, scheduled for early June.

She was at Omaha on D Day – the ship’s company cynically believing she had been sent because, being old and worn, she wouldn’t be much of a loss if she was destroyed. However, she survived and for the rest of June 1944, she operated from Milford Haven defending convoys transporting reinforcements and supplies to the beachhead.

She then resumed convoy duties around British waters until the surrender of Germany in early May 1945.

Vesper continued to sail until 1947 when she was sold to BISCO for scrapping. She arrived at the shipbreaker’s yard in March 1948.

Skipton’s involvement with HMS Vesper dates back to February 1942 when the town adopted her during Warship Week.

Across the country, cities, towns and villages were encouraged to organise “warship weeks” to raise money to meet the cost of providing a particular naval ship. The aim was that cities would raise enough money to pay for the battleships and aircraft carriers and towns and village would pay for cruisers and destroyers.

Skipton raised an amazing £492,887 during that week.

There are still people in Skipton who remember, as schoolchildren, writing letters and sending socks and scarves to the men and receiving sweets and chocolates in return. The Admiralty presented a plaque (now lost) and a wooden block acknowledging the adoption. This is now in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth Dockyard.

It was not until 1985 that the HMS Vesper Association was formed.

Its launch followed a letter from Bill Park to the town clerk of Skipton asking whether there was any connection between the town and the former ship’s company. By sheer coincidence, Skipton and District RNA had raised an interest in the ship and it was decided to form an association.

A reunion was organised for March 1986 in the Midland Hotel (now Herriots) – and annual get-togethers have been held ever since.

Plaques to commemorate Vesper’s link with the town were placed in Skipton’s canal basin in 2007 and a letter wishing the association well was received from patron, HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who served on HMS Wallace.

Another patron is Sandy Stephen, the grandson of Alexander Stephen, and he and his wife, Sue, have attended many reunion weekends over the years. Sandy has also read the lesson on many occasions at the “parade” service in Holy Trinity Church.

The second Sunday in September has been designated “Vesper Sunday” at Holy Trinity and the ship’s ensign hangs in the church. The closing hymn at the service each year is “for those in peril on the sea” and it never fails to bring a few tears.

Over the years the association has grown into a family who care about one another to the point where a “ring round” system was set up in order that everyone received important information as quickly as possible.

Sadly, due to the fact that there are so few of the crew left who are able to travel, the association will formally disband this year.

However, that is not the end. Those who remain, including the widows, children and even grandchildren of these wonderful men will still meet in September each year to celebrate Vesper and carry on the “family tradition” of raising a glass of rum to old comrades.

The final reunion will be held this weekend at the Three Links Club on Rectory Lane and the association invites all friends to attend a social evening on Saturday from 8pm.

Long may HMS Vesper be remembered in the town.