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My aunt's link to the elephant that packed trunk and left Belfast Zoo

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 13/08/2016

As a little boy my aunt Sadie Boyd used to lull me to sleep with the story of how Sheila, the much-loved elephant at Belfast's Bellevue zoo, escaped a sentence of death in the 1941 Second World War Blitz
As a little boy my aunt Sadie Boyd used to lull me to sleep with the story of how Sheila, the much-loved elephant at Belfast's Bellevue zoo, escaped a sentence of death in the 1941 Second World War Blitz
Charming balladeer Katie Markham is calling her touring show Someone Like You with good reason

As a little boy my aunt Sadie Boyd used to lull me to sleep with the story of how Sheila, the much-loved elephant at Belfast's Bellevue zoo, escaped a sentence of death in the 1941 Second World War Blitz. One afternoon, home on leave from her time in the Women's Royal Air Force, she took me to the zoo to see Sheila so that I could be convinced this was no fairytale.

In fact, Sadie claimed it was she who had given that young tusker her name and I had no reason to doubt her.

And since those childhood days, because of my aunt Sadie who died at 73 in 1995 after a happy marriage to trade unionist Sammy Thompson, I've never been able to resist the saga of Sheila and the part-time keeper who saved her.

Indeed, I've written about Sheila's survival against all the odds, thanks to caring animal lover Denise Austin, more than once down quite a few years.

And now just as production on a film telling the amazing story of the relationship between Denise and the elephant gets under way, Paul Lyness has launched a search to find out more about Sadie T, who was his grandmother as well as my aunt. In two relationships she had five children, including his mother Kay, but other information, especially about her time in uniform, is scant and he wants to learn more from friends, including members of a ladies dart team she captained in a Larne league.

Getting back to the film, I'm in some small way responsible for the fact that the story of Sheila is coming to the screen. You see, scriptwriter Colin McIvor was entranced after reading one of my offerings when he opened up a copy of the Telex.

And now Colin, who will also direct, and John Leslie, of Wee Burns Films, are transforming Sheila and Denise into a blockbuster. Here, briefly, is how this Bellevue favourite was able to survive.

Thirty-three animals were shot in case they escaped and attacked the public if the zoo was struck by a German bomb.

But Denise was determined that Sheila wouldn't suffer the same fate.

So she unlocked the elephant house and led Sheila out of the zoo to her home at Whitewell, in the north of the city, where she survived the Blitz in the backyard of her terrace house until that alert at Easter 1941 was over.

I guarantee that this film will pack cinemas everywhere. I'm delighted to have played a small part in making it happen - along with my Aunt Sadie.

Adele full of praise for singer just like her

Charming balladeer Katie Markham is calling her touring show Someone Like You with good reason.

She will be singing the hits of Adele - handpicked by the superstar herself. In fact, the show is being referred to as The Adele Songbook, and included the hits Chasing Pavements, Make You Feel My Love and Set Fire to the Rain.

Markham as Adele is outstanding - and it is Adele who is saying so. Someone Like You is at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6, at Portadown's Seagoe Hotel the following night, then at Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey on October 8 and finally at Vicar St in Dublin on October 9.

Cameraman recalls Bishop Daly

The dramatic film of Bishop Edward Daly, who has just died at 82, waving a handkerchief in the air as he escorted a fatally-wounded young man away from the mayhem on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry might never have been recorded if BBC cameraman Cyril Cave hadn't managed to carry out temporary repairs on a filter with a roll of Sellotape.

Indeed, Cyril got his camera operational just in time to shoot the action as Daly, the then Fr, risked his life to get Jack Duddy, away from the firing line and give him the Last Rites.

A short time earlier the Cave camera had been knocked out of action when it was attacked by an iron bar in the hands of a protester. And Cyril was just in time to film Fr Daly getting the injured youth to safety.

"It's a film that is being screened again now that this courageous cleric has passed away," says Cyril. "I met up with him many times after Bloody Sunday and I'm sorry this man of peace has gone."

Dreyfuss faces Almighty punch-up

Film actor Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl in 1977, says when he dies he hopes he'll get a chance to hit God in the face. Richard who is 68 should be careful. The Almighty might just hit him back.

But when I think about it I realise that this isn't God's way. He'll give Dreyfuss a talking to in the Hereafter when they meet before telling him where he will be spending Eternity.

What's Richard's gripe anyway? He appears to be having a good life with a God-given talent that saw him star in other movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws and Mr Holland's Opus.

Here's what he says: "If there is a God he already knows about this (hitting Him in the face) and as an agnostic I probably won't get the chance. But he deserves it because of everything that happens to you in the third act of life: it's humiliating and debasing."

Perhaps this actor will give us a little more information about what he has got against God and getting older.

Perfect way to sweeten up a nice slice of bread and butter

Never mind the warnings about too much sugar being bad for you - I still enjoy a slice of bread and butter with a sprinkle of the white stuff on top.

Not brown sugar, only the crunchy white variety will do. And I'll tell you this, many Ulster folk of a certain age share this way of cheering up their taste buds. Sure a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

By the way, it has to be real butter on the slice of plain white.

Here's another of my eating habits which I'm sure I share with other folk out there - tomato sandwiches, sprinkled with sugar - not salt.

I've a friend Bill in Scotland who loves strawberries all mashed up and sprinkled liberally with pepper.

Printworks tower tumbled to a running commentary

Remember my story about the Oldpark Printworks in the Cliftonville area of Belfast? It reminded Ernie Magill (83) of the afternoon in June 1938 when he was there to watch a 200ft tall factory chimney being tumbled.

He says his parents told him that BBC Northern Ireland had a commentator on the scene to describe the action for a live radio broadcast.

Ernie is certain that the commentator calling the action was Raymond Glendenning in the days before he became a celebrity at Wembley cup finals and other big games on the wireless.

Former Harland & Wolff employee Bert Knowles says the printworks site was a target for Luftwaffe bombers during the Blitz, mistaking the waterworks close by for the docks and the shipyard.

Charles Wood Festival in Armagh to mark composer's 150th birthday

Composer Charles Wood (1866-1926), a former University of Cambridge Professor of Music who was celebrated for his religious compositions, always had an affection for St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh where he was a boy chorister.

So the annual Charles Wood Festival of Music (August 21-28) will be special this year as it marks the composer's 150th birthday. The only shadow over the occasion will be the death of Wood's son Patrick (19), a lieutenant in the RAF who was killed in the First World War. His passing will be remembered too.

During the week there will be 30 events in churches across the city of Armagh under artistic director David Hill who is training the Charles Wood Singers of 45 young voices.

Belfast Telegraph

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