Remembering HMS Verulam’s part in the last great WWII sea battle

The bell of HMS Verulam.

The bell of HMS Verulam. - Credit: Archant

The last major naval battle of the Second World War - which involved St Albans’ adopted ship HMS Verulam - marks its 75th anniversary this weekend.

The St Albans Warships Week luncheon, as featured in the Herts Advertiser.

The St Albans Warships Week luncheon, as featured in the Herts Advertiser. - Credit: Archant

The Battle of the Malacca Straits, between May 15-16 1945, saw HMS Verulam and her four sister ships in the 26th Destroyer Flotilla sink the Japanese Cruiser Herguro.

Local historian Bill Forster has recorded the history of HMS Verulam on the website vandwdestroyerassociation.org.uk.

He explained how the second HMS Verulam had been adopted by St Albans after a successful Warships Week National Savings campaign in 1942 which raised £635,999 (£8.12s 0d per head), three times the target figure.

A publicity booklet with advertisements by local companies and an emotive cover image of German troops outside the Abbey and in Market Place was published to encourage donations.

HMS Verulam, which fought the final naval battle of WWII on May 15-16 1945.

HMS Verulam, which fought the final naval battle of WWII on May 15-16 1945. - Credit: Archant


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It was originally intended that St Albans would support HMS Scimitar (H21) a World War I vintage destroyer, but was subsequently decided it would be more appropriate that the city should adopt a new destroyer still under construction which would be given the name HMS Verulam.

The ship’s crest combined the arms of the City of St Albans, a St Andrew’s Cross and a sword laid on top pointing upwards, together with the name of the Earldom and the motto of Francis Bacon, the first Earl of Verulam: “We know there are better things in store”. The launch of HMS Verulam in October 1943 led to the establishment of the Verulam Sea Cadet Unit in St Albans.

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The bell of HMS Verulam hangs outside the Council Chamber in St Albans and is rung at the beginning of each full session.

Unfortunately, the crest of the ship presented by the Admiralty to the city remains in a locked cupboard in County Hall instead of hanging alongside the bell.

Nazis at St Albans Cathedral! The cover of the Warships Weeks booklet produced in St Albans.

Nazis at St Albans Cathedral! The cover of the Warships Weeks booklet produced in St Albans. - Credit: Archant

Bill explained: “I had been pressing for it to be returned to St Albans before VE Day and the anniversary of the sinking of the Herguro. The chief executive of St Albans district council and the Head of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies at County Hall have agreed to the transfer but it seems that the coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible for this to be done.”

Instrumental in bringing about the return of the crest was district and county councillor Anthony Rowlands, who said: “Along with many other local residents, I am grateful to Bill Forster for all his work in reminding us of the role of HMS Verulam at the end of World War II.

“I have been delighted to help Bill by obtaining permission for the crest to be passed from the County Archives to the district council with the intention of placing it on public display in the Civic Offices. This will be recognised in a ceremony when COVID-19 guidelines permit.”

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