Remembrance Day rightly, belongs to the memories of those who lost their lives in the line of duty. Sometimes the stories of the many who have experienced such conflicts can add to the importance of ‘remembrance’. One such local story is the life and times of HMS Campion and those who shared her journey.
In 1942 the Battle of Britain had seen the Luftwaffe defeated. On the home front food and other supplies were in short supply, rationing had been in place since 1940. In all fields of battle, for example North Africa, allied forces needed supplies to stem the tide. One life line were the convoys of ships of every size and age slowly bringing supplies across the Atlantic.
These Convoys were a life line, in what became known as the Battle of the Atlantic. In the cold grey depths of the Atlantic lurked the U-Boats of the German Navy, silently dogging the slow convoys by day and attacking them by night. Sailors have told of the hideous roar of exploding torpedoes and the blinding glare of igniting cargo sounding their death knell as helpless merchant ships were despatched one-by-one to a watery grave.
Goebbels boasted that ‘our submarine fleet will bring England to its knees’.
In Chard and surrounding areas 1942 iwas bitterly cold. Many of the menfolk were away serving in the armed forces. Those who were still at home were joined by the wives and families who worked long hours in the fields and factories supporting the war effort.
During "Warship Week" in February 1942 the Government asked communities across the country to come together and raise money to adopt and fund warships. Chard’s focus was on a Flower Class Corvette called HMS Campion. The Chard and Ilminster News devoted it's front and centre pages to the cause, detailing all the events for the week. Saturday February 7th saw a Grand Parade through the town to start things off.
There were concerts and dances; football and boxing matches; chess, Bridge and Whist competitions. By the end of the first week the sum of £64,951 had been raised and money was still coming in. By February 21st, the Chard and Ilminster reported that the town had raised £90,000, equivalent to nearly £1.5 million today. Later that year the Commanding Officer of the ship sent a letter of thanks to the people of Chard.
As well as convoys moving across the Atlanta others took supplies from the United Kingdom to distant battle fronts. HMS Campion did service in the Mediterranean as an escort for these British convoys, rescuing seaman from the ships that had been torpedoed by the German U Boats. Although HMS Campion carried out many attacks on the U Boats, it was never credited with a "kill".
Chard has not forgotten HMS Campion over the years; a Whist Drive was held in 1943 to raise money for the crew as an Able Seaman would earn less than a £1 a week. At the end of the war remaining funds were given to surviving crewmen.
At the end of the War, four years of relentless work escorting the convoys had taken its toll and HMS Campion was paid off and scrapped. She, and her crew are still remembered in the town though; there is a "Warship Week" plaque, a photo and the magnificent ship's bell in the foyer of the Guildhall and Chard Museum has a display of HMS Campion's artefacts donated by former crew members.