Two former sailors who served on board Belfast’s HMS Caroline will revive an age-old family maritime tradition when their grandchildren are christened together on the historic vessel.
Ballymena-basedJohn Taylor joined the crew in Belfast in 1968. Since then, his life has been intertwined with the ship.
Originally from Birmingham, Mr Taylor has a plethora of tales from the 29 years he served on Caroline. From meeting his wife, Eileen, to disco dancing on deck.
“During my time on HMS Caroline I met the wife, she was a wren and as you can imagine, your whole social life was on board so we would have gone to discos onboard together and things like that. Then, when she got pregnant after we got married, she had to leave the navy.”
However, all three of Mr Taylor’s children, Joanne, Michael and the ship's namesake, Caroline, were christened onboard.
“It was my second family, I had one family at home and one at sea.”
It has been a long-standing tradition for serving navy men and women to christen their children on their ship. The same was true of HMS Caroline with generations of local people who served onboard having christened their new-borns there since her arrival in Belfast back in 1924.
It is evident that this is a custom that Mr Taylor and his family hold dear as it has been carried through the generations with his grandson Daniel being christened onboard in 2019.
“It’s one of the last traditions in the navy, a lot of the ships now are war ships and people don’t have the time for things like this anymore.”
He has even been able to persuade Bangor’s Reverend Desmond Hanna to come out of retirement to conduct the christening.
“The same padre that christened my children over 40 years ago will christen my grandchildren, so it feels like things have come full circle.”
However, this will be a particularly poignant event as it will be the last christening ever using the treasured ship’s bell which has been brought out especially for this unique occasion.
“It is a royal navy tradition to christen your children inside the ship's bell, but this will be the last christening before the bell goes into a dust case never to return so it’s really special.”
For 54 years Mr Taylor has been connected to HMS Caroline in some form. In June 2016, it was opened to the public as a museum ship and forms part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy which is when he became a volunteer, taking people around the ship and explaining its rich history.
“We are back open to the public now after covid, over the summer we were open seven days a week and now coming into the winter it’s five days but I really enjoy it, there’s so much history in the Caroline it’s great to have the opportunity to share it especially with the younger generation.”
He was also part of the original Caroline Comrades group that worked to secure the funding to keep the ship in Belfast.
“When the Caroline was decommissioned in 2012, they were about to scrap her, so we all got together from the north and south to try and save her.
“We received €1m from down south and then we applied for £14.8m from the heritage lottery fund.
“We didn’t think we’d got the lottery funding because we hadn’t heard from them, so we decided we’d go to Robinson's to drown our sorrows and we started at 9 o’clock in the morning so we were on it.
“Then a friend got a call from the lottery fund, and he turns round and says, ‘lads what can we do with 14.8m, can we buy Robinson's?'," he laughed.
Having been linked to HMS Caroline for over half his life it’s clear Mr Taylor would not change it for the world.
“I’m 72 now and even if I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing," he added.