The post-war years were certainly a time of commercial growth. Barry Bell would tell of the time in the late fifties, and early sixties when SD Bell’s had contracts with the Admiralty to provision warships from Britain, Spain and France, that frequently called in to Belfast Port to top up their supplies.
These ships ranged from submarines to destroyers to frigates but the occasion of this story centres on the Canadian aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure [VAC1] paying a return visit to Belfast. She had been built by Harland & Wolff in 1943 with the name HMS Powerful, and may also have undergone a refit at this time.
The usual format was for Bell’s to supply the ordered goods as speedily as possible and then in their own time forward the account to the Admiralty in quadruple. This time, however, things went rather differently, and having been on the quayside at 6.30 supervising the arrival of lorry loads of milk, vegetables, Bramley apples, along with multitudinous other items, including of course, coffee and tea, 24-year old Barry was sitting in the office relaxing, peacefully content in the knowledge of a huge task successfully completed, when a telephone message came informing him that the carrier was leaving on the tide in two hours, and would he please come down with the bill for payment, as this ship must now pay its own way!
Frantically the account was written up and Barry rushed to the dockside. Most of the gang planks were away, and as he found his way on board, past a huge refrigerated store where there were hanging hundreds of sides of meat, and deep down through the vast ship to the Pursers office, he could feel the mighty rumble of the awakening engines. The Purser opened a safe the size of a garden shed and started handing out bundles of £5 notes!
A quick handshake and a ‘good luck’ by both parties, and Barry retraced his labyrinthine steps to the about-to-be-lifted gangplank, and ashore. At once, alone and vulnerable standing on the quayside with armfuls of notes, he set out on the long walk through Sailortown to the security of Company Headquarters.
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