Toast to memory of ‘lucky’ gunboat

IN BATTLE: A painting of HMS Scarab, by artist Gordon Wright, which is in Sudbury Heritage Centre.
IN BATTLE: A painting of HMS Scarab, by artist Gordon Wright, which is in Sudbury Heritage Centre.
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A memorial to a Second World War gunboat, nicknamed “the lucky ship” due to its improbable survival, has been unveiled in Sudbury.

HMS Scarab, an insect class gunboat weighing 625 tonnes, originally saw service in the First World War but was also called into action in the 1940s.

The ship was adopted by the people of Sudbury and Long Melford in 1942 following National Warship Week in February of that year. The week was part of a Government savings campaign which encouraged fundraising to finance the war effort.

Sudbury and Long Melford were set a target of £75,000 but managed to amass a total of £144,000.

The boat then went on to fight in the Mediterranean, supporting landings in Sicily and other parts of Italy.

In August 1944, it also provided covering fire in southern France while the Allies landed troops on the French Riviera, helping to liberate around two-thirds of the country in 30 days.

Despite many near misses, the ship’s crew, which was credited with shooting down a number of German dive bombers, never suffered any casualties.

On Monday, a specially -commissioned picture of HMS Scarab was unveiled at Sudbury Heritage Centre in the town hall, along with a carved wooden shield of the ship.

The shield, which was recently found with another in the town hall cellars, was presented to Sudbury town and Long Melford parish councils which adopted the ship.

“The story of the Scarab is fantastic,” said Valerie Herbert, a member of Sudbury Museum Trust. “The communities really got involved in supporting it and people used to send parcels to the ship from the area for whenever it was in port.”

John Nunn, from Melford Heritage Centre, which also displays one of the shields, said they were found by “pure chance” while looking for other artefacts.

The painting of the boat was commissioned by Russell Taylor, from New Zealand, who visited Sudbury two years ago and whose father Frank served on the boat.

Sudbury mayor Jack Owen toasted the memory of the Scarab and said he hoped it would attract more visitors to the heritage centre. “We have a great deal of history in Sudbury and we really want to promote the centre,” he said.