Man behind town Naval Association

Members of the Wetherby Royal Naval Association, with Tony Pickard pictured front row, second from left. (s)
Members of the Wetherby Royal Naval Association, with Tony Pickard pictured front row, second from left. (s)

Tony Pickard learned of there having been an HMS Wetherby whilst he was serving in the Navy at Portsmouth and was later to spend a great deal time and effort in researching her history.

Meanwhile, after leaving the Navy and returning to his home town of Wetherby he became the driving force in forming a branch of the Royal Naval Association in the town. He had discussed the idea with John Hook and they needed to recruit sufficient members to form the branch.

The commissioning of the new branch was advertised in the Wetherby News and held at Wetherby Town Hall on January 26, 1996. It was followed by the dedication of the branch standard nine months later – a national record for a RNA. The branch chairman was then John Utley and the secretary was Richard Knight.

Only a couple of years after the branch had been formed, Tony Pickard as Publicity Officer for the branch, wrote to the town council asking for support for a fund-raising race meeting at Wetherby Racecourse. He told the council that the Royal Naval Association Charity Evening races on May 5, 1999 would be covered by Sky TV and it was hoped to raise the profile of the RNA and Wetherby itself.

Royal Naval Association branches throughout the North supported the event which was a huge success with an attendance exceeding all expectations. There was a nautical flavour to the evening and races included The HMS Ceres Novice Chase, The Wetherby Royal Naval Association Handicap Chase, The HMS Wetherby Handicap Chase and The Senior Service Novice Hurdle.

Harrogate Sea Cadet band entertained before the racing, together with Royal Marines buglers from Dartmouth. Racegoers could also try their luck at landing a Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter on one of eight flight simulators. It was a tremendous naval social gathering.

After the race evening Shipmate Tony Pickard presented the racecourse with a crest of HMS Wetherby. He’d originally been told that HMS Wetherby didn’t have an official crest as these were only made official in 1920, but the Above Water Systems Secretariat was later to confirm to him that it would be appropriate for the RNA to use the Coastal Minesweepers Badge as unofficial use of an established badge as a historic reference.

In 1987, Tony was again to write to the Ministry of Defence requesting that one of four recently ordered minehunters should be named Wetherby. Unfortunately the request was too late as other names had already been chosen.

Tony attempted to obtain a model of a sister ship to HMS Wetherby for exhibition during the 750 year anniversary celebrations of the granting of the Royal Charter to Wetherby.

It had always been his intention to make a model of the ship and he had bought plans, drawings and photographs of the ships with that aim in mind. Richard Pickard, son of the late Tony Pickard now holds those plans and I’m grateful to him for providing me with much of the information about HMS Wetherby which I’ve quoted.