St Albans man, 96, reunited with bell from World War II warship

PUBLISHED: 07:39 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 07:39 14 May 2019

Frank Witton from St Albans (third from left) aboard HMS Woolston. Picture: Supplied

Frank Witton from St Albans (third from left) aboard HMS Woolston. Picture: Supplied

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A 96-year-old St Albans man was reunited with the bell from the Royal Navy ship he served on in World War II.

Frank Witton from St Albans and his son Alan with the bell from HMS Woolston. Picture: Bill ForsterFrank Witton from St Albans and his son Alan with the bell from HMS Woolston. Picture: Bill Forster

Frank Witton, who lives on Ashley Road, boarded wartime destroyer HMS Woolston when she was sent to Bergen in May 1945 to accept the surrender of German naval forces.

His son Alan, who lives in North Carolina, discovered the bell from HMS Woolston was on sale on Ebay from an auction house in Portsmouth, and wanted to get it for his father as a gift.

The bell was sold to someone else living 200 miles away, so Alan got in touch, drove to the new owner's house and haggled for the bell, eventually agreeing to pay a premium on the original price. He then visited St Albans and gave the bell to Frank in time for the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen on May 15.

Frank Witton from St Albans with the bell from HMS Woolston. Picture: Alan WittonFrank Witton from St Albans with the bell from HMS Woolston. Picture: Alan Witton

Alan said: "The feeling of disbelief and excitement in being able to find this for my dad was unbelievable.

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"Flying over from the USA with the ship's bell in a backpack had its own challenges. As you can imagine 36lbs of bronze bell going through an X-ray machine at the airport had everyone running in my direction!"

Frank Witton from St Albans (second from right) aboard the HMS Woolston. Picture: SuppliedFrank Witton from St Albans (second from right) aboard the HMS Woolston. Picture: Supplied

Family friend Bill Forster, who lives on Holywell Hill and is a member of the V and W Destroyer Association, got to know Frank and Alan after writing a book on the ship his father Lt William Forster served on, the HMS Venemous.

He said: "Frank is absolutely delighted. It's got the name of the ship and the date 1918 on it. Frank was able to tell me where it used to hang on the ship.

"I've known Frank for a long time. He astonished me by producing a small aluminium box, beautifully engraved. It was given to him by a Russian POW [Prisoner of War] who came aboard his ship at Bergen and gave it to him in exchange for a new penknife."

Frank Witton from St Albans with the engraved box he was given aboard HMS Woolston. Picture: Alan WittonFrank Witton from St Albans with the engraved box he was given aboard HMS Woolston. Picture: Alan Witton

Frank, who lives with his wife Kath, was born in St Albans on December 16, 1922. His father worked as a coachman for a retired judge, who paid for Frank to attend a school run by two spinster sisters in Holywell Hill.

After disembarking from HMS Woolston he joined HMS Suffolk and was sent to Melbourne in Australia.

He left the navy in 1946, married and lived in Edinburgh for a few months before returning to St Albans, where he worked as a boiler man at Roses Lime Juice in Grosvener Road for 35 years.

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