Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Revealed ... last resting place of tragic Northern Ireland Wren Annie Mary Bell

By Eddie McIlwaine

The mystery of sailor Annie Mary Bell's final resting place has been solved - at long last.

Former seaman Mark Jenkinson and I have been searching for three years to discover where the Leading Wren from Northern Ireland, who was killed in a road accident in 1975 while home on leave from Naval Training Ship HMS Raleigh, is buried.

No last resting place could be found in cemeteries in Belfast, or elsewhere in her native province. And we found this baffling, along with several of her old friends.

We can tell you now that 21-year-old Annie's grave is at a cemetery in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester.

"It seems her funeral was held there on September 4, 1975, for family reasons," says Mark Jenkinson.

We've discovered that Annie's family moved away from Belfast a few years before her tragic demise.

Annie was a passenger in a car involved in a crash while she was on leave, but nobody can recall where the crash that killed her happened - although it was somewhere in Northern Ireland.

Ex-seaman Mark (61), who spent 16 years in the Royal Navy and is now in business in Sweden, has been trying in vain to find out more about Annie, who is in a Wren Book of Remembrance on display in St Mary's Church on The Strand in London.

"She simply disappeared from the records - until now," he explains. "For years, it wasn't known where this young woman was buried.

"Even her close friends were astounded at the way she appeared to have vanished."

For some reason no photographs of Annie can be turned up at HMS Raleigh, and the record books at HMS Caroline, the former training ship based in Belfast, couldn't shed any light on Annie, either.

"The records of Wrens who lost their lives in wartime service have been well detailed," adds Mark, who also served in the Royal Naval Reserve. "But it appears that peacetime women, like Annie, who died prematurely in uniform, have been ignored to some extent.

"Friends of mine in Manchester are now going to visit her grave to pay homage to Annie and perhaps find out more about her family."

Belfast-bound Lucie's in a sole-ful mood

Singer Lucie Jones, who will be at the Grand Opera House in Belfast next spring in the musical Legally Blonde, is the only artiste I know who is also a Scout.

In fact, Lucie (26), from Cardiff, was at the World Scout Jamboree 2007 in Essex and stood up at one rally to perform the Scouts' theme song, Jambo.

"It was a proud occasion," says Lucie, who will take on the role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, which is to run at the Grand Opera House for a week from Tuesday, February 27. She still goes scouting when she has time away from her busy showbiz career. Lucie is a talented young woman who has acted in the West End and is also sought-after as a top model.

You'll remember her having some success on the X Factor and she came 15th in this year's Eurovision, singing the UK entry Never Give Up On You.

Lucie, whose favourite song is I Will Always Love You, also has a thing about collecting ... shoes.

"I don't know exactly how many pairs I own," she confides, "but there are boxes and boxes of them at my place - and I've worn them all."

Yew'll think I'm making this up ...

If  you've a yew tree in your garden, the chances are that this evergreen will outlive you. I don't mean to sound morbid, but it is a fact that the yew lives to an immense age and is a natural symbol of everlasting life.

Branches of the yew used to be carried at funerals and were laid on top of the coffin in the grave while boughs of the tree are sometimes used in church decorations at harvest festivals to illustrate the triumph of life over death.

It is still unlucky today, I'm warned by Christine Hole, to cut down a yew - especially if it is growing in a churchyard or a cemetery. And if you've lost your watch, a ring, or anything at all, pluck a branch of yew and hold it in your hand and it will lead you straight to the missing object. Or so the legend goes.

There is also a superstition that, if an unmarried young lady sleeps with a yew sprig under her pillow, she will dream of a future husband and he will turn up within a week or two.

Road riddle leaves me bowled over

Housewife Margaret Wylie says I could be right in suggesting that The Longshot, a three-mile stretch of road from Ballyrobert towards Doagh and Templepatrick, was named in memory of the late golfer Fred Daly.

But Margaret has another idea about why the road was so named. She used to travel on it prior to 1947 on her way to Ballyclare High School, where she was a pupil.

"My research shows that the name 'Longshot' came about because the game of road bowls was played there," she claims.

"Players threw an iron ball the size of a tennis ball and the winner was the man, or woman, whose ball went the longest distance."

Margaret says the game of road bowls is still played in some areas in Northern Ireland. If she is right about the Longshot, I don't think it has been a venue for the tossing of that lump of iron for some considerable time.

We'll let illustrious poet have last word on subject of sailors

All the chat about the Women's Royal Naval Service - Wrens - in today's column reminds me that William Wordsworth once upon a time wrote a little poem called A Wren's Nest about the feathered variety of the wren.

The 18-verse poem starts like this:

Among the dwellings framed by birds

In field or forest with nice care,

Is none that with the little Wren's

In snugness may compare.

No door the tenement requires,

And seldom needs a laboured roof;

Yet is it to the fiercest sun

Impervious, and storm-proof.

Nasty nettles have their uses, so think before weeding them out

When I was a lad and occasionally got stung by nettles, there was always a remedy near at hand.

A caress with a dock leaf soothed the pain.

So isn't it handy that in the field or garden there is usually a dock root growing not too far away from the stinging nettles?

I've known good folk who use nettle leaves to make soup and a horse breeding friend tells me he feeds nettles to his animals to give them a smooth coat (the sting, of course, should be removed first by drying the nettles).

And butterflies including Red Admirals and Painted Ladies are particularly fond of nettles. So, with butterflies on the decline everywhere, the plants provide an important food source for these insects.

Think twice, then, before removing nettles from the flowerbed.

Cold Feet's James Nesbitt in tune with the Boys' Brigade

Wasn't it nice that James Nesbitt gave the Boys' Brigade a plug in the final episode of television's Cold Feet? In one scene, asked to pick a song, he named Will Your Anchor Hold? and called it the theme song of the BB. I wonder which company James, who was born in Ballymena and grew up in Coleraine, was in. Perhaps he'll get in touch.

As a teenager, James assisted the late Colm Quinn, a well known employee of Barry's Amusements, Portrush. Colm was known as the 'Hobby Horse Man' and worked at Barry's for more than 60 years. James operated Colm's favourite carousel when Colm went for his lunch.

I also remember James playing an old friend of mine, (politician) Ivan Cooper, in Bloody Sunday. The latest series of Cold Feet has been a major success - I hope it comes back for another.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph