As many of you will know a story that is entwined with that of my family is the story of Royal Navy’s greatest ship The Mighty Hood, my grandfather was lost on Empire Day 1941 when this majestic vessel, the pride of the Navy, the symbol of Britain’s post-first world war supremacy was sunk with the loss of 1415 men, just 3 surviving from the ship’s company.
The loss of the Hood was a story told and retold in my family as I grew up, it became a huge part of my life and our family story. I became a member of the Hood Association at a time when most were veterans of service on the ship and I started attending the annual memorial service each year at St John’s Boldre and I was privileged to meet both Ted Briggs and Bob Tilburn as a teenager at that service (I think at 50th anniversary).
In 2001 when the wreck of was found I watched from my work desk with amazement as images were streamed via real player on the channel 4 website, I remember thinking as the camera on board the submersible hovered on the incredibly well preserved ships bell amongst the debris field, wouldn’t it be wonderful to just reach out and pick up such a significant artifact, a permanent memorial to the men of the Mighty Hood.
Then a few years ago rumours started to spread that someone might be going to go back to her resting place and do just that. Over the years I’d mellowed and wondered if this was a good idea, but on balance I was excited by the expedition, knowing it was with the approval of the Association, knowing that Ted Briggs himself had desired to see the Bell again mgave me confidence that this would be done well and handled with the sensitivity such a mission requires.
For some though it was a step too far, sacrilege and an abuse of the resting place of the Hood’s lost. Angry words were exchanged on the Hood Association’s forums on facebook. People were upset and I understood why, though I wasn’t in complete agreement. That first expedition failed to retrieve the bell and some sighed a sigh of relief. Then last year news reached us that a second attempt had been successful, I was pleased, others less so. It’s always hard when so many deep emotions are involved. I was conscious that I never knew my lost relative, for others this was more raw, more painful.
Today I was privileged, with my family, to be able to get to the unveiling of the Bell at the Historic Dockyard. It was an unbelievably emotional occasion. Memorials, and memories Princess Anne unveiled the bell and as she struck the end of a watch that started 75 years ago to the day, we honoured the crew who never came home.
A little later I was at in the Jutland Exhibition where the Bell will spend the next few months and was amazed to be able to touch the bell that governed my Grandfather’s life onboard ship. But the reason for my post today is because of an encounter I had with some other Hood family members. In particular one lady, who had lost her father on the fateful day. The raw emotion she had at being able to see, touch and be near this artifact from the bottom of the ocean, a relic that is so personal to the life of a ship, so real and tangible confirmed for me the decision made by those who could, to raise this bell as a permanent memorial to the brave, brave men of HMS Hood.
So to the Association, the Admiralty and the sponsor of the expedition. Thank you for making it possible for such a lasting and tangible memorial to the lost.
Some of my images of the ceremony and exhibition can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kneewax/albums/72157668059028940