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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 17:25 GMT
HMS Belfast sails into history
By Maggie Swarbrick
BBC Newsline reporter

HMS Belfast
For the last few years the ship has been moored at Tower Bridge

These may be troubled times - but the guns that led the Allied bombardment squadron on D-Day will never be fired in anger again.

When they sounded across the Thames this week, it was to mark the 65th anniversary of HMS Belfast.

For the last few years the ship has been moored safely in the shadow of Tower Bridge in London as part of the Imperial War Museum's collection.

The vessel - built by Harland and Wolff and launched on St Patrick's Day 1938 - is the only large gunship of her type left in Europe - and she is still thought of with great affection by those who sailed on her.

Bob Donaldson served on the ship named after his home city on her last commission - from 1959 to 1961.

Bob Donaldson
We had such a good name right from when she left Harland and Wolff and right round the world
Bob Donaldson

He reckons he is one of only a few men left who served on her, who actually hail from Belfast, and he is proud of his associations with the ship.

"She was a clean and tidy, friendly ship... everyone just loved the ship. We had such a good name right from when she left Harland and Wolff and right round the world."

Also joining the celebrations on deck this week was a man who was working at Harland and Wolff when HMS Belfast was built.

Ship's rum

Ernie Boston is now in his 80s, but he spent his working life in the offices at the company and reckons he paid out the wages to the men who built the ship.

"It was a great firm and there was a great atmosphere of buoyancy and get-up-and-go. I'm filled with pride for Harland and Wolff, for the men that built HMS Belfast and her crew," he said.

The 65th birthday party was a day for nostalgia - a day for shared memories for those who built her and those who sailed on her.

But mingling among old boys sharing out the cake and taking tots of ship's rum were some younger faces, representing the Harland of Wolff of today, and they hope, the future.

Ernie Boston
It was a great firm and there was a great atmosphere of buoyancy and get up and go
Ernie Boston

Company sales manager David McVeigh said he thought that while HMS Belfast represented all that was good about the company's past, a successful, if different future for Harland and Wolff, was on the cards.

"The future for Harland and Wolff is demonstrated by this vessel," he said.

"The outstanding quality means this vessel is still here 40 years after her operational life. It demonstrates that Harland and Wolff still have the ability to bring customer satisfaction."

When the cake is all eaten and the toasts made, HMS Belfast will go back to being a floating museum.

However, it remains a source of pride to those involved with her over the years that as the tourists tramp over her deck, they are visiting a little bit of Belfast's history.

BBC Northern Ireland is marking the end of shipbuilding at Harland and Wolff with a day of special programmes on Friday - A Day to Remember - on television, radio and online.


SEE ALSO:
Belfast warship sails into retirement
18 Mar 02 |  Northern Ireland


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