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Ulster log: Battleship's bell to toll for church worshippers

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 29/08/2015

Battleship HMS Hood
Battleship HMS Hood

The faithful being summoned to morning service at Sinclair Seamen's Church tomorrow will be forgiven if they feel a little bit puzzled.

They will be called to worship on the ship's bell of the battleship HMS Hood (below), built in 1891 at Chatham and scuttled in Portland Harbour in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.

The bell was a gift to them from the naval section of the British Legion, explains retired clerk of session Billy Chambers (88), after the Hood was taken out of service.

But the congregation of the church with a seafaring tradition has learned that another Hood bell has just been recovered from the depths of the Atlantic.

From a different Hood altogether. From the battleship built on the Clyde in 1918 and sunk by the German Bismarck in 1941, with only three survivors from a crew of 1,418 - the worst loss of life from a single ship during the Second World War.

One of the survivors was Lieutenant Ted Briggs, whose dying wish seven years ago, was that the bell would be salvaged from the wreck and become a memorial to his shipmates who lost their lives in the horror.

And now it has come to pass.

Philanthropist Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, heard the old seadog's plea and with the approval of the Royal Navy, set up a team to find the bell that meant so much to Ted. The billionaire's yacht, Octopus - equipped with a remotely-operated mini-submarine - was used in the search of the wreck, 9,000ft down in the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland where this Hood was attacked.

And at last, Ted's wish has come true with the recovery of the precious bell, which will spend the next 12 months being restored before going to Portmouth's Royal Navy Museum.

The sinking of Hood-2 in 1941 was a huge blow to the Royal Navy, who looked on her as one of their best fighting ships, built on the Clyde. The only bright note at the time for the Allies was that soon afterwards the mighty Bismarck suffered the same fate and was sunk.

The bell from the early Hood, named after Samuel, will figure prominently on Sunday, September 6, at a Merchant Navy Association service in Sinclair Church.

Rachel’s new gig really doesn’t add up

Rachel Riley of Countdown has a brain and the good looks that I admire.

But I’ve a bit of advice for her — take a long break from that daft panel game show 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

Hosted by Jimmy Carr, it’s a crossover on Channel 4  from the original and doesn’t impress me at all. Rachel does herself no favours by running the numbers and the letters here, too.

It’s rubbish being served up as comedy, and is no place for this 29-year-old Oxford graduate to be seen.

The real Countdown is where she belongs, although there is talk of the BBC wooing her to a show of her own involved with her adding-up skills.

I’d like to see Rachel in Belfast to switch on the Christmas Tree lights.

Get cracking you lot at City Hall.

How Best’s life was simply an open book

Tears have been shed in the Grand Opera House in Belfast, by sell-out audiences at the musical Dancing Shoes that tells the story of George Best’s turbulent life, with Aidan O’Neill as the football genius I was privileged to know.

Some say George had a wasted life, but I and most others disagree. He brought a lot of pleasure into this drab old world as Dancing Shoes shows.

I’ve memories of George that don’t feature in Dancing Shoes. I remember Belfast City Hall being overrun by teenage girls when he was a guest of the Lord Mayor one afternoon.

Actually, the first time we met was in the dressing room at Windsor Park when he was just 17 and about to earn his first Northern Ireland cap. Years later he scored a fabulous goal at Windsor against England by nudging the ball out of goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ hands and into the net only for the referee to disallow the goal.

George was a keen reader. I met him at Aldergrove once clutching a copy of Lorna Doone. “I get engrossed in stories like this and the classics when I’m waiting for a plane,” he told me.

Belfast Telegraph

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