This Ham class minesweeper was named after the village of Sparham in Norfolk. I have chosen this vessel to represent the class as the village is only a few miles from where I live and several friends and family members have made it their home. HMS Sparham had a very brief career in the Royal Navy; she was laid down in 1954 and completed on 26th July the following year. Built in Portsmouth by Vosper she was sold to the French Navy on 30th September 1955. Thus she was a British warship for just over two months. Ham class minesweepers were still being built for several years and one wonders why her time as a RN ship was so short. Perhaps the offer from the French was too good to refuse. She was renamed Hibiscus by the French and her number was changed from M2731 to M785.
Other Ham class minesweepers with a local connection had a rather longer life. HMS Reedham was completed in November 1958 and remained in the Royal Navy until 1966, and HMS Yaxham was completed in 1959. In November 1968 two of these Ham class minesweepers sailed up the river Yare on an official visit to Norwich. (I have been informed by a member of the crew that they were HMS Dittisham and HMS Flintham.) Besides the local villages already mentioned, other vessels with an East Anglian name included HMS Saxlingham, HMS Sandringham and HMS Ludham. HMS Saxlingham became a merchant navy training vessel in the Hebrides after being sold by the Royal Navy. She was damaged in an incident and later scrapped. HMS Sandringham was sold in 1986 and became a ferry in the Greek islands.
HMS Yaxham later became the survey vessel HMS Woodlark, and under that name she ended her days as the Southampton University Royal Navy training vessel. Her ultimate fate was to be sunk as target practice.
The Southampton University Royal Navy training unit now has HMS Blazer, an Archer class patrol vessel. Here is a picture of my mother-in-law Doris Turner between two members of the crew when vessel paid a visit to Great Yarmouth during the 1990s. Still in her Royal Navy days HMS Blazer also made a trip up the river to Norwich. On this occasion, the last visit made by an RN warship to the City, she was accompanied by the same Lowestoft born seaman who had earlier crewed HMS Dittisham on her visit to Norwich, only this time as Commanding Officer.
The Ham class minesweepers were built of wood to minimise their magnetic signature although certain parts like the Perkins diesel engines had to incorporate some steel. They were designed to work close to the shore in estuaries and rivers. They were armed with a single Bofors gun and this would have been used to destroy any mines they found. They had a compliment of 15 men; this number could be increased to 22 in times of war.
There were 93 Ham class minesweepers. There are still a few of them in the UK, now all decommissioned and in private ownership. They come up for sale from time to time and if you want one it will cost you about £30,000!