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Kent Messenger made by sailors on board HMS Kent during the Second World War with assistant editor Herbert William Dench

By Claire McWethy

When sailors were out at sea during the Second World War, they sought comfort in getting news from home.

But one group of resourceful servicemen decided to go one better than taking a copy of the Kent Messenger – they made their own.

The wartime replica was produced on board HMS Kent, with the first issue published in February 1942 – around the time the ship was accompanying convoys to and from northern Russia.

Officers of HMS Kent enjoying a game of deck hockey

The first article appeals for copy of no more than 250 words from would-be contributors, due to a paper shortage.

An instructive front page added: “Those whose articles are printed may shout ‘scoop’ or ‘flash’ at intervals of not less than one hour.”

The front cover of the first "Kent Messenger" published aboard HMS Kent

Its pages provide an invaluable insight into maritime life with the latest film listings for the Kent Picture Palace, updates on the ship’s airing of “Radio Invicta” and details of sporting contests, although the reporter dryly notes that no outdoor games are arranged and the inter-port soccer league was scrapped due to too few fixtures.

The fortnightly publication included factfiles on foreign countries likely to be encountered as well as cartoons and poems.

A cartoon from the sailors' Kent Messenger

There is even advice to give the shipwrecked soldier “an equal chance with Old Father Neptune” and to remove the dread from the order “Abandon Ship”.

The series is now in the possession of Mike Ash, a relative of assistant editor Herbert William Dench, who would have been in his late 30s when it launched.

Mr Dench died in 1979, but little is known about him.

Mr Ash, who is in his 70s and lives in Wales, said: “A whole caseload of papers came to me from my step-daughter.

Assistant editor Herbert William Dench

“The ‘Kent Messenger’ was amongst these and there were copies of each issue, one to 12, which I believe was the complete run.

“They look as if they were produced on a hectograph, a messy process involving special inks laid on a jelly bed off of which copies could be taken, one sheet at a time – no copiers in those days.”

The ship was one of 11 vessels to have been named HMS Kent. It was launched in 1926 and sold for scrap in 1948 once the conflict ended. She could carry 784 officers and men. Her service also involved escorting convoys in the Indian Ocean.

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