Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My column in this week's Visiter


I have had a busy and varied week honouring people who served in WW2, handing out prizes to students and launching the Mayor’s Toy Appeal.

Captain Johnny Walker was not always the ‘top brass’s’ favourite man. He broke with received naval wisdom to develop new ways of tackling the U-Boat menace in WW2 and protected the convoys that brought a besieged Britain essential supplies in the darkest days of the war. From the Gladstone Dock in Bootle he set out to hunt down and destroy the enemy’s submarines and he was the most of successful naval commander. Bootle Town Hall received from Captain Walker many of the most important artefacts from the Battle of the Atlantic. Every year the Mayor hosts a service to honour his memory. In the evening the University Royal Navy Unit (URNU) abandons tradition and does not hold a Trafalgar Night celebration but instead holds a mess dinner to honour the memory of Captain Johnny Walker. I was privileged to attend that event and to hear the students tell the story of Walker’s heroic efforts.


The second war hero I had the opportunity to honouring was Waterloo resident John Shankland to whom the French Government wanted to give their highest medal the Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of Europe.


Waterloo lost one of its great characters and indefatigable campaigners with the death of local historian Brenda Murray. It was her dream to erect a monument to the four time Prime Minister William Gladstone in Seaforth where he had lived. She achieved that objective and turned her attention to new projects to preserve the history of her home town. Days before her death she was lobbying me to track down important items relating to Waterloo’s past. She will be greatly missed.

Brenda was the oldest ‘old girl’ of what is today Sacred Heart College and I was there on Monday as their guest at their presentation evening. This is one of our most successful schools not just because of its excellent academic achievements but also because of the breadth of the opportunities it offers its students. It lives up to its motto of ‘caring and achieving excellence in a Christian community’.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Opening the Aintree Community Hub with A P McCoy

Sir 'AP' McCoy, Aintree Chair Rose Paterson and IBB



Saturday morning dawned bright and clear but very cold. I was booked to be at Aintree (which is in Sefton rather than Liverpool) to open the Jockey Club's new Aintree Community Hub.

The Aintree Community Programme has five themes – Health & Wellbeing; Mental Wellbeing; Community Engagement; Disability; Riding in the Community. All programmes have been designed to ensure we focus on the important issues in our community whilst being aligned to racing and Jockey Club roots. Most recently, the Aintree Community Programme received funding from the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Trust to build a Community Hub at the Racecourse in order to focus and support the key themes of the programme.

You can read more about the event here. It was good to meet many of the people involved in successfully launching this programme. I was particularly pleased to see that 'Mental Welbeing' was one of their chosen themes.

I also got the opportunity to meet some of the folk who use the centre who had been invited to the opening. One young man invited by Everton in the Community, an excellent programme organised by the Goodison Club, was going to take part in the guard of honour at Everton's Sunday match aginst Man United.

I also met the wife and daughter of the sculptor who produced the bust of Peter O'Sullevan and which now is an impressive focal point of the new hub. If you get to visit make sure you ask to hear the audio of Rory Bremner 'doing' Peter O'Sillevan, it is brilliant.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sacred Heart Presentation Evening


I was delighted to be back at Sacred Heart College. I was their guest speaker at their Presentation Evening. I was very impressed on my first visit. You can tell a lot about a school by the things they put on their walls. It was really good to see a visual presentation of the breadth of the schools endeavours. The real temptation is to narrow down the curriculum to the few subjects that Ofsted or league tables concentrate on. Here I saw art, excellent music, sports and community service finding its proper place alongside high academic achievement. All this has been achieved at a state comprehensive school. As its name implies Sacred Heart is a RC school and its demonstrates that best that tradition as to offer. The school lives up to its motto 'caring and achieving excellence within a Christian Community'

During the evening we had two musical interludes one each from the choir and the string ensemble and the College tweeted part of the performance . https://t.co/BezkGbMv9E

In addition they had two students who achieved 10 A* Grades at GCSE and nine further who got 10 A* or A Grades.

Sadly on the night of my visit news began filtering through of Sacred Heart's 'oldest old girl' Brenda Murray. Brenda had a wealth of local historical knowledge which I know she was determined to pass on to future generations

Waterloo man presented with Legion d'Honneur

Presenting John Shankland with the Legion d'Honneur

It was a genuine pleasure to meet John Shankland, who lives in Waterloo, and present him with the Legion d'Honneur on behalf of the French Government in grateful recognition for his part in the Liberation of Europe.

John was a regular soldier and before the war was stationed in India. He was at Dunkirk and finished the war with the British detachment at Beslen. I met his Grandson who had accompanied him a recent visit back the the battlefields of WW2.

At the end of the war John came to work fro Crosby Council and became the Mayor's chauffeur a post which he held up until 1984. I was a member of the council back thaen and recall that all the Mayoral staff were real 'characters'

I have presented one of the medals to a Southport man Ernest Jones and on that occasion I read out the citation from the letter that accompanied the medal. I did so again:

 As we contemplated this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.'

Two events to commemorate Captain Johnny Walker UK's leading wartime submariner

The memory of Captain Johnny Walker is cherished in these parts. He was a real war leader whose innovative approach to hunting down U-boats in the Battle of The Atlantic made a real difference to saving allied lives and providing a much safer passage for the all important arctic convoys.

The day began with a service in Bootle Town Hall. Capt Walker was based in Bootle's Gladstone dock and when he laid up the flags from his boats including HMS Wildgoose, Starling and Stork along with other items he chose to do so in Bootle Town Hall. Generations of local school children have learned about his exploits. His grandson Patrick was among the naval personnel past and present who attended the service which was led by the naval chaplain Fether David Gamble.
Father Gamble, IBB, Patrick Walker an the RM Officer commanding HMS Eaglet

Most prized of all the memorabilia is the General Chase Flag. We tell those undertaking the tour of the Town Hall that it has only been flown three times in history, once by Sir Francis Drake, when he chased the Spanish Armada from the Channel in 1588, and again by Nelson when he defeated Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. In our version of history, the third time ever that the flag was flown was On 30 July 1943,when Walker's  2nd Support Group encountered a group of three U-boats on the surface while in the Bay of Biscay. Captain Walker signalled "General Chase" to his group and fired at the U-boats, causing damage that prevented them from diving. Two of the U-boats were then sunk by the Support Group and the third by an Australian flying boat. “General Chase” is signalled to release ships from a line of battle, or other formation, in order to pursue a retreating or beaten foe.  I have subsequently discovered that is not strictly true because, at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914, Sturdee hoisted General Chase at the beginning of the action. I have to say as the day went on and I attended the Captain Walker Dinner on HMS Eaglet I discovered that quite a few of the 'facts' we impart on these tours are not strictly true.




The commemoration of  Captain Walker moved on to a mess dinner in the evening. Instead of celebrating Trafalgar Day the University Royal Navy Unit (URNU) Liverpool holds a Johnny Walker Dinner. The senior student this year who presided over the meal was Chris Vroom. Between each courses, he called on one of his colleagues to tell the story of Captain Walker's exploits. In many ways it felt like a scene out of Beowulf. You could easily imagine sitting around the fire in the Mead Hall in Heorot listening to how Beowulf defeated the monster Grendel.

First up Chris Vroom set the scene

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Liverpool University Royal Naval Unit’s Captain Johnnie Walker Night Dinner. This evening we will share with you the story of the Battle of the Atlantics most successful anti-submarine warfare commander.


Convoy HG76 sailed from Gibraltar on December 14th 1941, 7 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Its 32 ships were arranged in the standard column formation, with the 36th Escort Group providing protection through HMS Stork, HMS Depthford and 7 flower class corvettes, with the then Commander F J Walker in command. Three destroyers and escort carrier HMS Audacity would join this force later. Against established routine, Walker arranged his ships in two screens, one close to the convoy and one much further out. This meant that for the first time, U boats would encounter the escorting warships before being able to close and attack the convoy. It was risky, but Walker was confident.

After the first course we moved on to the second installment of the story-which is where I discovered we were handing out 'duff' information to the visitors to Bootle Town Hall.This part was retold by Chris C

At 0900 hrs on the 17th December, an aircraft reported the U-131, 22 miles astern of HG76 and forced it to dive. The U-Boat was seen on the Stork's radar and Walker decided to test his so far unproven theory of offensive escorts. Taking HMS Stork and his 3 additional destroyers, he raced back along the convoy track towards U-131. Faulty hydrophones failed to inform the submarine of the approaching danger and the destroyers damaged the U-Boat with depth charges, but it remained submerged. 


Walker then formed a search line and began to hunt. About two hours later, the submarine surfaced and was immediately spotted. Walker ordered the attack. Sub Lt Fletcher in his Martlet aircraft dived on the U-Boat but was shot down and killed. His body was later recovered by Walker. After 20 minutes of shellfire U-131 abandoned ship. After collecting survivors, Walker had his first kill. That same afternoon a second submarine was sunk by the outer screen. Two U-Boats sunk and thus far, no losses.

Before part three I should pause to say that the food was excellent and the wine plentiful-but I was holding myself for the port.. Aoife Richardson told us of the night he sank four U-boats.

At 0400 hrs on December 19th; U-574 spotted and torpedoed HMS Stanley. Walker ordered his team to use a pre-arranged plan known as "Buttercup". As one they turned away from the convoy firing starshell, forcing the U-Boat to dive, hence allowing HMS Stork to pinpoint her on ASDIC and launch a combined ramming and depth charge attack, crippling the submarine.

That night HMS Audacity took up her night position away from the convoy and was torpedoed by U-751. Despite a desperate search the U-Boat was not found. However, HMS Deptford sighted a U-Boat on the surface and together with HMS Stork successfully attacked it with depth charges. A second submarine was also damaged.

By now the escorts were running low on ammunition and damage was mounting. HQ Western Approaches sent two destroyers and coordinated air cover to finally see the convoy home. In London the Admiralty was delighted; 4 U-Boats sunk and one badly damaged for the loss of 2 merchantmen, an escort carrier and a destroyer. 

Thanks to Walker's tactics, they now admitted a major rethink was needed in the Atlantic.

We now move to the more escoteric naval customs. A glass of port was poured and placed on the table next to the painting and bust of Johnny Walker. We then had the l

oyal toast-in these parts 'the Queen, the Duke of Lancaster.

No 1
Things then got very strange. Chris Vroom stood and declared: 'Can all those who have created vessels in honour of this evening please parade. Ladies and gents can you all please make note of the one you believe would be the biggest adversary to the U-Boats'
No 2
No 3




We were then asked the cheer for the vessel we favoured. It will come as no surprise to those who remember Boaty Macboatface that the small chaocolate swiss roll representing a torpedo (I presume) won.

Monday, 28 November 2016

First civic visit to Southport Mosque, inter-faith charity dinner great success

A little piece of history was made this week. I became the first Mayor to make an official visit to Southport Mosque. The event was jointly organised by the Iman Soyful Alam and Vicar of Holy Trinity Rod Garner. Members of both faith groups sat down together to share an excellent meal prepared by Mosque.
Rev Jane Morgan, Mayoress, me Soyful Alam and Rod Garner

The meal was the first joint event and built on visits that have been taking place between the two groups for some time. Everyone was made very welcome and over the meal we all had the opportunity to get to know more about the activities of one another. The one thing that shone out was how much we all had in common.

Holy Trinity provided the desserts 9you can just see the
date & nut chocolate made by the mayoress
The joint meal raised over £400 for a local charity selected by the Mayor.I explained my choice. I have been involved with mental health work for a long time. Recently someone I had known for almost thirty years committed suicide and it has had a great impact on me and my work colleagues. I nominated Southport Samaritans to receive the donations from the meal.


In a world where some people are determined to ferment hatred, fear, and division this meal was a hopeful demonstration that there is a better way. Instead of erecting walls and barriers we should get to know each better and recognise our common humanity. The death of the MP Jo Cox is a terrible demonstration of the consequences when hate not hope wins the day.


A pupil of Linaker School this lad was keen to meet the Mayor

During the event, several people spoke to us. We all have so much to learn from each other. As I have gone about my work as Mayor it is clear to me that faith groups make a major contribution to the wellbeing of our communities. Mosques play their full part in that work. I know from my time as a school governor that there is a lot of contact between schools and our local Mosque and how positive that partnership has proved to be.


The world can seem to be a frightening place but I am convinced that simple acts like sharing a meal, sitting down together and getting to know people as individuals can help to remove misplaced suspicions. One of the speaker from the Mosque on Monday night finished his contribution by quoting from Tom Paine who came from a Quaker family: ‘all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion’.

I had a sinking feeling when mentioned Tom Paine as that was the quote I had jotted down to use at the end of the evening when I was to speak. Fortunately, I had stuffed in my pocket a copy of Burn's 'A man's a Man for a'That' which I was going to use later in the week. I chose the last verse which I think it fitted the bill:
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin yet for a' that,
That Man to Man the warld o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

I want to thank Soyful and Rod for their invitation. It was an excellent evening and Soyful’s parting words to us were ‘the door is now open’. I think for many of us our only regret is that we should all have met up sooner.






Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Bootle Remembrance

The Saturday of the Remembrance weekend is the traditional time for three short ceremonies in Bootle. We began by a simple cross near by the War Memorial where a dozen folk gathered quietly to remember. Prayers were led by the Vicar of Christchurch

We moved on to the Town Hall to lay two wreaths, one by the Roll of Honour for Council employees and the second standards that local regiments have laid up in the Town Hall 



These ceremonies do not attract the crowds that come on Sunday but the are important. Ir was good to have the support of local councillors